Severin Films delivers the gory goods with their new 2-disc Blu-ray release Doctor Butcher M.D. / Zombie Holocaust
Perhaps no other film in horror history fully completely captures the skeezy, splicy, fluid-soaked energy of New York’s famous 42nd Street “grindhouse” experience better that distributor Terry Levene’s hacked up version of Italian director Marino Girolami’s Zombie Holocaust.
The infamous head of Aquarius Releasing acquired the rights to the 1980 film (also known as Queen of the Cannibals, a much more appropriate handles seeing as there are only a few ghouls present, certainly not enough to qualify for holocaust status), massaged in completely creepy and totally unrelated footage from Document of the Dead filmmaker Roy Frumkes’ student film Tales That Will Tear Your Heart Out (Snuff Maximus indeed!), killed Nico Fidenco’s score and replaced it with a new electronic spazz-out score by Walter Sear and re-christened it Doctor Butcher M.D. (Medical Deviate). Propelled by a stunningly grassroots marketing campaign and a lurid (and misleading) poster, Doctor Butcher would go on to become a huge hit, both on “The Deuce” and on VHS, where it was released domestically via the beloved and now defunct Paragon Video.
But the truth is, the film – a favorite of this writer’s fave film journo of all time, the late, great Chas. Balun – was never all that good nor as gory as it was reputed to be. In any cut.
But it sure is fun.
After the success of Lucio Fuci’s towering Zombi 2 (aka Zombie), producer Fabrizio De Angelis essentially remade the movie, even going so far as to re-casting Ian McCulloch as a character named Peter, but smashed it up against the new wave of equally profitable and repellent Italian cannibal films, not the mention the tawdry, exotic Emanuelle pictures. In it, a gorgeous doctor (Alexandra Delli Colli, credited as Alexandra Cole in the U.S. cut), after a spate of weird flesh eating crimes in Manhattan, hooks up with another doctor (McCulloch) and travels to a remote island to investigate the cannibal cult of “Kito”. There, they find a brilliant ex-pat surgeon (Donald O’Brien) who is supposed to be studying the tribe. In reality, he’s just a batshit bananas quack who has turned the natives back to cannibalism for some reason and is slowly turning them into crusty-faced zombies…for some reason.
Butcher/Holocaust doesn’t want you to look to closely at its plot nor production values. It’s a cheap film, a sharp contrast to the lush, haunted tropics of Fulci’s film, quickly made and with sloppy, rickety gore effects. Though it’s meant to take place in some sort of green inferno, most of the movie appears to be shot in some sort of well manicured wood. Of course, that gore, while generally unconvincing, is certainly ugly and mean and that, along with the plethora shots of Delli Colli nude, has led to its pretty hardcore cult.
Regardless of your passion for the film or lack thereof, Severin Films once again knocks it out of the park with this insane 2-disc Blu-ray release, featuring both cuts and different extras on each platter. The cover art is reversible too, with the original Italian poster on one side and the infamous Levene art on the other. Zombie Holocaust looks great in HD, almost too good as the seams in the FX are even more glaring. It sounds great too, with Fidenco’s tribal-prog score clear and pretty in 2 channel stereo. The main extra is an interview with the ever-cranky McCulloch (full disclosure: I directed this feature) remembering his days doing battle with the Italian undead as well as great chats with FX artists Rosario Prestopino and Maurizio Trani. There’s a sweet piece with exploitation legend Enzo G. Castellari remembering his dad, director Girolami, as well as other odds and ends, including footage of McCulloch singing his UK “hit” Down by the River.
The Doctor Butcher disc is even better and truthfully, the U.S. cut is a much more effective and grubby version. The central reason for this, I think, isn’t the inclusion of Frumkes’ weird stuff, but the replacement Sear-sculpted moog music. The composer was hired to supply equally odd sounds to replace Fabio Frizzi’s music for Fulci’s The Beyond in Aquarius’ version of that classic, The 7 Doors of Death. Frizzi’s music was far superior and its absence does that movie no favors. But here, the Sear stuff is SO tacky and out of control that it elevates the often mundane proceedings to dizzy heights. I’m convinced that it was the music just as much as the blood and skin and marketing that helped make Butcher such a dirty early ’80s favorite.
Severin packs this cut with a stunning, master-class interview with Levene, that is funny, informative and a bit sad; it hurts to know that this glorious age will never be duplicated and that men like Levene have all but ceased to exist. There’s also a fun tour of 42nd street with Frumkes and Temple of Schlock editor Chris Poggiali as well as a great interview with controversial Gore Gazette guru Rick Sulivan, who also just happened to be the guy riding in the “Butchermobile” yelling at pundits to drop their dough and see the movie. There’s more, much more. It’s exhaustive, really. In a very, very good way.
It’s getting monotonous, this endless praising of Severin’s output as of late. But they earn the accolades. This is the ultimate audio/visual love-letter to a glorious time in cinema history long passed. Who would have thought that greasy, hacked up Eurohorror gutmuncher quickie would eventually serve as something so educational and essential?