The Film (4/5)
As a quick refresher to readers here the Italian cannibal film cycle started as a response to the “Mondo” film trend in the mid-70's by a pair of films, Man from Deep River by Umberto Lenzi, and Last Cannibal World by Ruggero Deodato. It would be these 2 directors, and 2 of their subsequent films Cannibal Ferox (Lenzi) and Cannibal Holocaust (Deodato) that would immortalize the genre, and cause it to live in cinematic infamy.
In 1978 George A. Romero made what is arguably his most famous film Dawn of the Dead with assistance from producer and director Dario Argento. Because Argento produced the film, he was given permission to do a European edit of the film. This edit focused more on the action, and cut out the humor present in the American theatrical cut. This was called Zombie, and was a smash hit in Europe. It was unofficially sequelized by director Lucio Fulci in his film Zombi 2 (Zombie in America, confused yet?). This set off a trend of cheaply made European and Italian Zombie films that would continue into the mid-80's.
Early on in the cycle, however, the producer of Zombi 2 Fabrizio De Angelis excited about the returns he saw on the initial film decided he would like to rip off, his rip off, and see if he could see the same results. However, in this instance he kept certain things similar, but added new elements. The film would blend the cannibal and zombie genres with a dash of the mad doctor to create something truly bizarre and unique. The film would be released as Zombie Holocaust, and after an American re-edit Dr. Butcher M.D. in the states.
As far as comparisons go, the location is the same as the one for Zombi 2, and they cast the star of that film Ian McCulloch. Though Zombi 2 hinted at the madness of Dr. Menard (Richard Johnson), the Doctor on this film's island is definitely of the mad doctor variety, and the zombies aren't of the voodoo sort, but results of his experiments. That being said though the film is known popularly as Zombie Holocaust, the film primarily in the cannibal film camp when it's not Mad Doctor-ing it up.
The film follows a group of amateur explorers including Dr. Peter Chandler (Ian McCulloch), and a reporter Susan Kelly (Sherry Buchanan) along with 2 others who discover a cannibal tribe operating in New York City. They decide to investigate, and end up in the tribe's home island where they find themselves trying to evade the cannibals lest they become their next meal. Also, on the island is a scientist trying to find the cure for death (Donald O'Brien), who seems eager to help the group at first, until they get in the way of his experiments.
I can't argue that Zombie Holocaust/Dr. Butcher M.D. is a good film on most levels. However, the film is an absolute blast of violent psychotronic Italian splatter cinema. This came during the period where Italian horror was at it's gory apex, and Zombie Holocaust was the film to take all the successful ingredients of those prior films and throw them together into an insanely delightful cinematic cocktail.
The performances are solid for what they are, and the direction from Marino Girolami keeps things looking solid, and the film flowing from one wonderfully bizarro set piece to the next. The score from Nico Fidenco is solid, and does the trick, but it did it before it the film Emmanuelle and the Last Cannibals.
Severin have included 2 version of the film in this package (thank you Severin!). The original international cut of the film Zombie Holocaust that has all the gore and nudity you deserve and more (including a scene shot in 16mm that has not been included in prior releases). We also get the American release entitled Dr. Butcher M.D., this version is about 7 minutes shorter and includes an opening sequence with a zombie that is not featured in the film coming out of a grave. This sequence doesn't match the style of the film,, because it was taken from a student film shot by Street Trash producer Roy Frumkes. Nonetheless, it is quite interesting in it's inclusion, and recommended for fans to check out.
Zombie Holocaust as presented here looks better than it ever has on home video before. Both cuts of the film are presented in 1:78:1 1080p AVC encoded transfer. Both films have fairly nice detail throughout, solid blacks, accurate flesh tones, and nice organic grain fields. The DR. Butcher cut has a different opening and thus different source material for that. It does stand out, and is definitely from a lesser source, but still looks quite good. The Zombie Holocaust cut has a 16mm deleted scene integrated into the film. The quality dip there is noticeable, but overall everything looks quite excellent.
The audio is presented with a DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono track in English. Both tracks sound quite good with dialogue and score coming through audibly and no issues surfacing with pops, cracks, hissing, or any other audio anomaies.
Severin have put together one of the year's best extra features packages for their release of Zombie Holocaust. The Blu-ray contains 2 disc one for each cut of the film, and the extras on each disc pertain to the specific cut. The first disc contains an interview with Terry Levene of Aquarius Releasing who put together the DR. Butcher cut of the film. We also get a tour of the Deuce as it is today. An interview with the editor of the Gore Gazette, deleted scenes from Roy Frumkes anthology segment, and more. The second disc interviews people more on the Italian side of the film including Ian McCulloch, FX artist Rosario Prestopino, Enzo Castellari, the son of the film's director (And a director of many cult classics in his own right). There are also lots of other documentaries, featurettes, trailers, interviews, and much more.
I never thought I would see Zombie Holocaust get treated this well on home video, and here it is on a level that exceeds the output of many Criterion releases. Both versions of the film look and sound marvelous on these 2 Blu-rays, and the extras are positively insane. This will certainly be on our year end list in a few months, and it is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.