In the beginning there was Night of the Living Dead which has, to date, spawned four official sequels, the first of which was Dawn of the Dead (AKA, simply, Zombi), which has spawned a fuckload of unofficial sequels, starting with Zombi 2, it's official sequels Zombi 3 and Zombie 4 (and a lot of other films that purport to be Zombi 3 and Zombie 4) and their unofficial sequels Zombie 5: Killing Birds and Zombie 6: Monster Hunter, both of which were released prior to either Zombi 3 or Zombie 4.
I've recited that same set of lines so many times on this site that I'm quite sure that a whole slew of my readers (assuming a slew has remained) just barked out "this shit again?" and turned off their computers. My point about all this is that less than one full year after Zombi 2 slouched into theatres worldwide, another film was released that utilized the same sets, the same star, much of the same footage and primarily the same plot as Zombi 2. Yes, yes, yes, the unofficial sequel with unofficial sequels galore also has a remake. Hell... and... damn!
Zombi Holocaust is a pretty damned inept remake at that! The high-quality of this film is illustrated early on in its run-time when a hospital orderly dives out of a window to the concrete sidewalk many stories below... and the obvious dummy they used to double him breaks in a most obvious way, with one of its mannequin arms flying off in one direction, while the rest of it bounces lamely. Before the question of just why the eff-you-see-kay film editor Alberto Moriani and director Marino Girolami left this incredible Faux-Pas in the film can either be answered by facts or erased by apathy, the scene switches to the hospital staff surrounding him (while he's still alive[!]) and both of his very intact arms.
This, coupled with the theft of an ancient dagger of Kito(!), provokes a team of "I Can't Believe They're Not Professionals" to embark on a journey from New York to a strange island to investigate the origin of this weirdness. Those of you familiar with the plot of Zombi 2 will already find this remarkably familiar, but when the leader of the expedition, Dr. Peter Chandler, is revealed to be played by Ian McCulloch, the similarities are as hard to ignore as those between Mary-Kate and Ashley!
Enter our superbly hot female lead, Doctor, Anthropologist, Hottie, Lori Ridgeway, played by Alexandra Delli Colli, who engages in long, drawn out clothes-changing rituals and spends a whole lot of time either topless only, bottomless only, completely naked, completely naked, but covered in Margi-esque body paints and (occasionally) clothed. Lori has a tie of some sort to the island from her childhood... and unlike her counterpart in Zombi 2, she's not there to find her dad.
We're even given our weird "native" guide, in the form of Dakkar's Molotto and the adventurous couple of wise-crackers in the form of Peter O'Neal's George Harper and Sherry Buchanan's cutie Susan Kelly (I half-expected her to do a nude scuba-dive, but it didn't happen).
It's all about meeting up with and seeking the help of Doctor Obrero (Donald O'Brien), the one man who might know the truth behind the secrets of the island, the ripples it has caused in that other island (meaning Manhattan, of course) and the terrors that both are linked to. If the fact that this was released in the United States under the title of Doctor Butcher M.D. is any hint to you, the man is up to no good.
Interestingly enough, though the plot of Zombi 2 (such that it had one) remains as a framework throughout the events of Zombi Holocaust, the film rips off a lot more than just that. In fact, Zombi Holocaust actually trades in the "Zombi" hoards for a more realistic villainous army of vicious natives. This allows the gang to successfully cash in on and mine from the Cannibal Exploitation subgenre of horror. Truth to tell, although beings resembling Zombies (really near-mindless victims of vile experiments performed by a Medical Deviate) do permeate the entire second half of the film, Zombi Holocaust actually does fit into the Cannibal Exploitation mold more than that of the Zombie flick, source plot aside. What can we say? A movie called Cannibal Holocaust had already been released the month before.
Another thing that sets Zombi Holocaust aside from Zombi 2 is its aftermath. Although Zombi 2 was Banned in the UK as a Video Nasty, Zombi Holocaust joins fellow-Cannibal Exploitation flick Ultimo Mondo Cannibale in the long list of also-rans. With the exception of Ultimo Mondo Cannibale itself, this is the film that came closest to being listed as a Video Nasty without actually being banned. Like Ultimo Mondo Cannibale, the VHS release available prior to the BBFC's certifications (aka: "The Pre-Cert") was seized by British Authorities and a dealer who sold the film was even prosecuted in court for distributing Obscene materials. Unlike a lot of people during this era, that dealer was found Not Guilty and the film narrowly escaped the ban. Still, the film did remain unavailable for a long time until the BBFC allowed its uncut release in the year 2000.
All that hubbub for this! Folks, far be it from me to pour derision on the hard work of an artist like Girolami (whose previous directing credit was Flying Sex and his next one was College Girl on Vacation) but I hardly see how this ridiculously special effected, overacted slice of steamed tripe was even worth the Taxpayer Pounds it took to fund the Director of Public Prosecutions' inquiry. Sure the experiments that Doctor Dufus performs are garish, unnecessary and mean-spirited but the whole thing is so cartoonishly over-the-top in such a way that nothing in the campiest echo of Universal-era Mad Scientist could come close to the level of comedy unintentionally smeared on the screen here. McCulloch actually looks embarrassed. I would be too.
Ol' Doc Butcher is damned lucky that he didn't get laughed at every step of the way. O'Brien has the look of a guy who could easily get his feelings hurt, too! I can sort of see him saying "I've been anxious to experiment with a male Caucasian brain! What's... what's so funny? Am I... What, am I a clown to you? Please stop! Please be scared! Please? I've been really working on thi- FINE! I'm going to my room for some ME time. You knock on my door, I won't come out!" And then some words swallowed up by his sobs.
The film is somewhat (!) redeemed by the Prisoner of the Cannibal God reminiscent sequence surrounding Alexandra Delli Colli's all-expense-paid stay with the Cannibal Tribe during which she is made into a naked work of art, tastefully covered in painted flowers. That sounds like the greatest idea in the history of great ideas until one realizes that it's nothing but a prelude to a ritual that is decidedly uncool. In short... the party turns out to be a drag.
It's not that this alone could save the film, but I'm grateful nonetheless. It's comical, really, how occasionally writers Romano Scandariato and Fabrizio De Angelis approach a vague angle of originality only to retreat rapidly from it as if the concept of uniqueness might translate in their minds to a lack of marketability. The recurring iconic symbol and its ultimate meaning has the feel of something that really should give a chill to the viewer. Unfortunately not quite enough skill goes into this to allow for such emotion. Further, the Zombies (if that is what they are) have a unique look to them, but they end up coming off as so funny that they just can't succeed in scaring the audience. And the list goes on and on. From the racially diverse cannibal natives to the lame, rubbery special effects to the goofy attempts at red-herrings and the ham-handed shots at foreshadowing... it all just crashes and burns long, long, long before the final act.
As a B-Movie worth a laugh or three, Zombi Holocaust might just be the flick for your discerning Taste Buds. It's almost as original as "New Coke", however, and those seeking out solid, legitimate entertainment might want to look somewhere else besides the dark corner of the video shelf that this DOG rests on! Then again... who knows, you might get a good deal on it. Needless to say Alexandra Delli Colli is worth seeing every painted inch of! For example, when I bought this mud dauber I found it on the shelf (appropriately, for many reasons, in the "Z" section) in both the individual packaging for $17.99 and the three-disc boxed set called The Zombie Pack 2 (sold with Flesh Eater and Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror) for only $14.99. So, man, they're actually paying us to haul away these other movies, it would seem. Seriously, there are two movies out there deemed so useless that they not only give them away with a scabby smear like Zombi Holocaust, but they actually reduce the price if you agree to take them too. Whew! Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go ponder why it is that Margi and Alexandra Delli Colli never made a movie together! Then I have to imagine just how that might go. Hmmm... and maybe sweet, sweet Me Me could show up? Actually... I'm thinking it's time for me to edit these things together. You won't be hearing from me for a while, guys. See you (eventually) in the next reel.
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