(A.k.a. ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST; DOCTOR BUTCHER MD; ISLAND OF THE LAST ZOMBIES)
Limbs and internal organs are being stolen from fresh cadavers in a New York hospital. Nurse Lori (Alexandra Delli Colli) is also a keen anthropologist, so when it's revealed that the culprit is a porter who was originally a native of a small island called Kito, she's keen to learn more. She lived there as a child, after all.
Enter Peter (Ian McCulloch), a doctor who sees it as his place to show Lori a gruesome slideshow exampling modern-day instances of cannibalism which all seem to be related to the Caribbean island of Kito. He's keen to lead an expedition to the island and see what's going on over there. Does cannibalism still exist in this world, as the primitive acts of the aforementioned culprit seem to suggest?
With the help of Lori's mentor, Professor Drydock (Walter Patriarca), we learn that the natives of said island are a highly superstitious bunch to this day, intent on making flesh sacrifices to their deity.
Hitching a ride are Susan (Sherry Buchanan), an ambitious local journalist who gets a whiff of an outrageous story, and Peter's right-hand man - and Susan's beau - George (Peter O'Neal).
Reaching the island, it's revealed that the group are to meet up with a Dr Obrero (Donald O'Brien). He's a world-famous surgeon who relocated there several years ago to dedicate his life to curing the natives of local ailments. Allegedly...
In actual fact, what our hapless bunch of Western explorers are due to find there are hungry native cannibals, sinister - and heavy-breathing - zombies which have been created by science rather than nature, and an extremely useful speedboat motor. You know the scene I mean...
ZOMBI HOLOCAUST is a raw gem from the halcyon days of video nasties, Italian gore flicks and politically incorrectness. It's rife with gratuitous nudity (Ms Delli Colli, take a bow), flimsy performances and unconvincing gore. It is, in other words, an absolute blast from start to finish.
There's no denying that McCulloch's presence lends some grace to proceedings. The well-mannered Brit's refined accent and stoic mannerisms are always a welcome addition to low budget trash (CONTAMINATION, for example) - even if he appears to be almost sleep-walking through his role here. O'Brien, on the other hand, is positively excitable as the deviant villain: sweating profusely, tensing the veins in his neck and leering at Buchanan with ill intent ... he's a great, cartoonish baddie to boo at.
Delli Colli steals the show during the final act, where she's mistaken for a deity by the locals and her naked torso is painted as part of a bizarre ritual. No complaints here.
As for the gore ... As mentioned above, it's enthusiastic from the start - and certainly graphic - but none of it is going to fool Charlie Sheen into thinking he's watching a snuff movie. Whether it be eye-gouging, intestinal ripping or machetes embedded in cannibal’s faces, there's an agreeable pantomime-style ludicrousness to it all.
In fact, ZOMBI HOLOCAUST feels for the most part less like a horror film and more like one of those old "boy's own" adventures that used to play as matinees in cinemas many, many moons ago. With added tits and blood.
Marino Girolami (directing under the pseudonym of Frank Martin) has a keen eye for his island location visuals, while filming on the same sets that were used for Lucio Fulci's ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS affords the film an agreeable familiarity which is heightened by the presence of both McCulloch and FLESH EATERS co-star Dakaar.
Fast-paced, pulpy and unpretentious, ZOMBI HOLOCAUST delivers its trashy goods with aplomb. It's not great art, but with a pulsating electronic score and standout set-pieces of absurd bloodletting, it's earned its place in the heart of old-school gorehounds everywhere.
ZOMBI HOLOCAUST comes to UK blu-ray courtesy of 88 Films. Their disc has taken some time to arrive, having at first been announced as a maiden title for fledgling company Exposure Cinema who then drafted in 88's help when they realised the work involved in restoring the film.
With film elements in such rough shape, 88 Films took on the task - instigating a successful crowd-funding scheme to help pay for the film's costly restoration.
The HD transfer, from the original negative, has indeed been cleaned up considerably - though it's important to note that no noise reduction has been applied. The film was previously put out on blu-ray by Shriek Show in the US. That release was blighted by a terrible abundance of DNR - it succeeded in wiping away grain, but with it went fine detail, and flesh tones looked awfully wax-like.
Here, the image is natural and filmic throughout. It's largely speck-free too. Grain is evident throughout, as it should be (this is a low budget 16mm film from 1980 that was blown-up to 35mm for theatrical screenings, after all). From the off, it's apparent that this is the cleanest, clearest and brightest - yet truest - presentation of the film yet. By far. Colours are pronounced like never before; blacks are bold and stable.
Yes, night scenes are still overly dark. No, the film is never going to look like TITANIC. But all you need do is play this disc directly next to your old Stone Vision or Shriek Show DVD, or indeed the Shriek Show blu-ray, and you'll soon see the work that's been put in. It's as good as it's ever likely to get, in other words.
On a technical front, the uncut film (it's uncensored; let's not quibble over whether the deleted scene [addressed below] constitutes a cut) is presented here with full 1080p HD resolution, as an MPEG4-AVC file with a very healthy average bit-rate of 35Mbps on a 50gb dual-layer disc. The original 1.78:1 ratio is a given, and the picture is naturally enhanced for 16x9 televisions.
Audio comes in options of both English and Italian. Both are lossless Master Audio mono mixes. It's great to see the film in Italian for the first time, but for me the language of choice will always be English. Not only because lead actor McCulloch's voice lends gravitas to proceedings, but also the dubbing of peripheral characters (the black nurse who discovers a mutilated corpse in the hospital morgue at the film's beginning, for example) is absolutely priceless. Anyway, both tracks are reliably clean and problem-free throughout. English subtitles are defaulted to kick in if you select the Italian language option.
Part of 88 Film's burgeoning "Italian Collection", ZOMBI HOLOCAUST's disc opens to a static main menu page. From there, pop-up menus include a scene selection menu allowing access to the film via 8 chapters.
Of the bonus features, by far the most substantial - and best - is a new 85-minute documentary "Eaten Alive". This charts the rise and fall of Italian cannibal films, taking in some fascinating talking-head comments along the way, Contributors include Mikel Koven, John Martin, Sergio Martino, Umberto Lenzi, Me Me Lai, Giovanni Lombardo Radice and Ruggero Deodato among others.
The well-edited HD documentary also covers a good range of cannibal films, even taking in the likes of SAVAGE TERROR alongside more obvious titles such as CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST and MAN FROM DEEP RIVER. It is, dare I say it, a definitive statement on these ignoble films - one which will achieve greater importance in time as these key players sadly pass to the other side.
There's also a highly entertaining audience Q&A session with McCulloch, recorded at Manchester's Festival of Fantastic Films. This is a delightful 48-minute spell with the actor, who has apparently warmed to talking to horror fans about his exploitation films of the 80s (he used to begrudge the infamy). He's in fine fettle here, discussing how his parents had hoped he'd become a doctor rather than an actor, his early stage career where he worked with future stars such as Judi Dench, and - of course - his memories from his times toiling on the cult films we all love so much.
The aforementioned deleted scene has been seen on several previous domestic releases. It's a 5-minute clip which essentially has McCulloch and Delli Colli being chased through forage, before the latter falls into a man-made trap. It's inconsequential to the plot and was trimmed from international prints for pacing reasons. If you've seen the film on old VHS, you probably saw it complete with this scene in its original place in the film - but the main feature loses by nothing from its omission.
Finally the film's original 4-minute theatrical trailer remains as fun - and as spoilerific - as ever.
This set also comes equipped with a colour art card, a glossy 16-page booklet in which McCulloch discusses his career, and double-sided reversible cover artwork.
A fondly thought-of cult classic gets its best release by far to date. Recommended.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by 88 Films|
|see main review|