DOCTOR BUTCHER M.D. is making house calls once again on Severin Films' all-out special edition Blu-ray of the Italian gorefest turned 42nd street grindhouse hit.
A series of grisly thefts of body parts and organs from cadavers at a New York teaching hospital is covered up by Dr. Drydock (production designer Walter Patriarca, SYNDICATE SADISTS) and his colleague Dr. Lori Ridgeway (Alexandra Delli Colli, NEW YORK RIPPER) until a heart is torn out of a living patient. When the culprit turns out to be orderly Toran and he commits suicide when caught, Ridgeway and Drydock learn that Dr. Peter Chandler (Ian McCulloch, ZOMBIE) and his assistant George Happer (Peter O'Neal) of the Department of Health have been investigating a series of similar cannibalistic crimes in other parts of the country. Lori, also an anthropologist, notices that Toran and the body of another suspected cannibal share the same tattoo. She and Peter take that and Toran's dying words "Keto ordered it" to Lori's mentor Professor Stafford (writer/assistant director Romano Scandariato, THE ARENA) who reveals that Keto was a god to whom primitive cannibal societies on a Southeast Asia chain of islands made blood sacrifices, including an island named after the god himself. Chandler recruits Lori to accompany himself, George, and the latter's ruthless reporter girlfriend Susan (Sherry Buchanan, WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO OUR DAUGHTERS?) on a trip to the islands under the guise of researching the primitive tribes. Although missionary doctor Obrero (Donald O'Brien, EMANUELLE AND THE LAST CANNIBALS) warns them against going to Keto, he equips them with guide Molotto (Dakar, PAPAYA: LOVE GODDESS OF THE CANNIBALS) and porters to take them to the island. When the boat's motor overheats, they are forced to stop at a closer island but it seems that they may indeed have stumbled upon Keto as cannibals start thinning out their numbers… and then the zombies show up.
Although the film's original Italian and English export title ZOMBI HOLOCAUST suggests a combination of Lucio Fulci's ZOMBIE (ZOMBI 2) and Ruggero Deodato's CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST – and, indeed, the success of the Deodato film seems a likely springboard for the fusion – the film was shot on leftover sets and locations from the Fulci film while recycling crew and other elements from ZOMBI producers Fabrizio de Angelis' (KILLER CROCODILE) and Gianfranco Couyoumdjian's (THE LAST HUNTER), and Joe D'Amato's earlier production EMANUELLE AND THE LAST CANNIBALS (1977) including composer Nico Fidenco (EMANUELLE IN AMERICA) – augmenting his score for the earlier film with synth cues and additional electronic effects – writer/assistant director Scandariato, his wife Silvana (NIGHTMARE CITY) on costumes, and editor Alberto Moriani (ZOMBI 3), and ZOMBI production designer Patriarca on sets and onscreen. An atypical credit for prolific comedy director Marino Girolami (SEXY SINNERS) – possibly contacted because his son Enzo Castellari (ESCAPE FROM THE BRONX) was offered direction of ZOMBI 2 – under the name Frank Martin (a variation on his Franco Martinelli pseudonym), ZOMBI HOLOCAUST actually gains much of its unintended comic value from Girolami's rather flat handling of the actors and extended scenes of body mutilation as executed by Maurizio Trani (DAWN OF THE MUMMY) and Rosario Prestopino (DEMONS). The cannibal scenes are fairly gruesome but, in trying to one up ZOMBIE's scenes of carnage, actually allow the viewer to assess the techniques of sculpting latex, clay, and spilling bovine offal. While ZOMBIE had the splintered eye as its setpiece, ZOMBI HOLOCAUST has a bit of nonconsensual brain surgery ("The patient's screaming disturbing me, performed removal of vocal chords"), more gruesome in its lead up than the actual reveal. The zombies – as sculpted by Trani without the supervision of Giannetto de Rossi (HIGH TENSION) and more in line with Trani's BURIAL GROUND designs – leave the flesh-eating to the cannibals and have little to do (other than one getting its head decimated by a hand-wielded outboard motor). As a zombie film or a cannibal film, ZOMBI HOLOCAUST is rather forgettable. On the other hand, as a grindhouse experience…
Released theatrically by Terry Levene's Aquarius Releasing in an unrated version that trimmed down some additional dialogue and transitions – inserting a grainy stock shot of a plane landing in place of the jeep ride through the village from ZOMBI – adding a new title sequence based around footage from the aborted Roy Frumkes-supervised anthology TALES THAT WILL TEAR YOUR HEART OUT and wiping Fidenco's score in favor of new keyboard cues and library music by Walter Sear of Sear Sound (who also rescored Fulci's THE BEYOND for Aquarius' 7 DOORS OF DEATH release), DOCTOR BUTCHER M.D. made it to videotape first through Paragon Video Productions in 1982 followed by a reissue on International Video Entertainment's "Thriller Video" line in 1986 (like their editions of BURIED ALIVE, 7 DOORS OF DEATH, and MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY, Elvira opted out of providing introductions). The original export edition first became available legitimately stateside when Media Blasters' Shriek Show released an anamorphic DVD in 2002 with extras primarily focusing on the US version even though it was not included itself, as well as an interview with effects artist Trani as well as a deleted scene that appeared in the American version but not in the Italian and export editions in which McCulloch and Delli Colli traipse through a very un-tropical stretch of forest and run across cannibals while the heroine is trapped in a spike-lined pit. Shriek Show reissued the film on Blu-ray/DVD combo pack in 2011 that was roundly-panned for its flat and noisy, heavily filtered HD master. When 88 Films released it in the UK on Blu-ray, they performed a new scan of the 35mm negative and also included the feature-length cannibal cinema documentary "Eaten Alive: The Rise and Fall of the Italian Cannibal Film" (included stateside on Grindhouse's Blu-ray of CANNIBAL FEROX) and a fifty-minute Q&A with McCulloch.
For their two-disc Blu-ray edition under the title DOCTOR BUTCHER M.D., Severin Films not only performed their own new scan of the negative but also accessed vault elements from Levene's Aquarius Releasing to include the coveted U.S. theatrical version. Both transfers (1080p HD and in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio) are composites of a sort in that DOCTOR BUTCHER (81:46) uses the new Italian scan for the body of the film combined with the footage specific to the Levene cut while the ZOMBI HOLOCAUST version runs nearly five minutes longer (88:57) than the Shriek Show (84:05) and 88 Films transfers (84:01) because it integrates from the DOCTOR BUTCHER version the aforementioned pit sequence which is from a film source but one with some jitter, speckling, and some faint vertical scratches (although the added sequence actually does seem better-photographed than the rest of the film).
The ZOMBI HOLOCAUST footage looks better than it ever has over here with the grain giving the poorly-photographed film's long shots a sense of depth and the jungle scenes and zombie close-ups a sense of texture lacking on the Shriek Show DVD (white specks abound in the darker scenes). The TALES THAT WILL RIP YOUR HEART OUT footage is quite expectedly grainy from the film stock and underexposure but looks better than the Frumkes outtakes elsewhere on the disc (since Frumkes supplied Levene with the negatives) while the other Aquarius-specific insert of a "TERROR GRIPS CITY" newspaper headline added to the opening looks as crisp as one would expect of such an optical (most amusing is the DOCTOR BUTCHER title card which is not an optical but a piece of artwork with real smoke blown in front of it). The opening credits on the earlier Shriek Show DVD were computer generated recreations of the titles on a still frame. The ones on the ZOMBI HOLOCAUST version here start off on a freeze frame but the grain of the image starts swimming and a vertical scratch starts running under the producer's credit (perhaps it was always like that or the part of this sequence on the negative might have lost some at the top due to damage). DOCTOR BUTCHER M.D. is featured on the first Blu-ray disc with a reasonably clean English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track as well as an uncredited LPCM 2.0 variation. ZOMBI HOLOCAUST features the English dub as a clean DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track that nicely conveys the throbbing and thumping of Fidenco's main theme along with an Italian LPCM 2.0 mono track. While the lack of subtitles for the Italian track is regrettable, the track sounds rather muffled at some points and the English track features the vocal work of some familiar dubbing artists like Edward Mannix (Jack Hedley in NEW YORK RIPPER), Susan Spafford (Janet Agren in CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD), and Pat Starke (Lorraine de Selle in CANNIBAL FEROX).
Disc one's extras are also geared towards that version of the film. In "Butchery & Ballyhoo" (31:35), Aquarius Releasing’s Terry Levine discusses how he got into the movie business through nepotism with his parents owning a chain of theaters in London before being bought out and setting up shop in Buffalo, New York. He discusses the company's popularity with independent producers because they could ensure playdates on 42nd Street and in the boroughs. He discusses the company's experiences with softcore and hardcore films like MAN & WIFE, HE AND SHE (released on DVD by Vinegar Syndrome), and the Northeast rights for DEEP THROAT before the film's supposed real backers seized the film, as well its popular martial arts (BRUCE LEE FIGHTS BACK FROM THE GRAVE) and women-in-prison pickups (BARBED WIRE DOLLS) before discussing the ballyhoo used to promote DR. BUTCHER M.D. and MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY (while ribbing Severin about wanting to remaster any of them in HD) and the process of coming up with ad campaigns (United Negro College Fund voice actor Adolph Caesar narrated the trailer for DR. BUTCHER and many others including BLACULA and DAWN OF THE DEAD). He also notes that he despised Joe D'Amato's BEYOND THE DARKNESS which he was "bullied" into buying by an Italian sales agent. Although he performed the bare minimum in promoting the film as BURIED ALIVE with just a monochrome one-sheet and newspaper ads, it ended up doing very well. He also discusses 42nd Street as it once was and suggests that Giuliani's clean-up effort had more to do with capitalizing on real estate taxes for the large area than moral outrage.
"Down On The Deuce: Nostalgic Tour Of 42nd Street" (21:55) is a rather absorbing discussion of the area as it once was by Frumkes and Temple Of Shock’s Chris Poggiali. As passersby gawk at them and react to snippets of their discussion, the two walk down 42nd street pointing out the locations of earlier theaters intercut with the films that once played there and trash like FROZEN and Lord of the Dance that play there now. They also discuss their youthful experiences in the grindhouses where they were the weirdoes because they actually went there to see the shows rather than looking for places to sleep, hook up, or get hooked on. The featurette labeled "Frumkes’ Segment from the Unfinished Anthology Film TALES THAT WILL TEAR YOUR HEART OUT" (8:07) is actually a series of outtakes from the film including the three minutes used in DOCTOR BUTCHER M.D.'s title sequence featuring Frumkes himself as the zombiefied version of a serial killer killing unwed mothers along with a few other excerpts including Wes Craven's bit with a zombie cowboy walking down 42nd Street and the resurrection of punk rocker Snuff Maximus.
"The Butcher Mobile" (12:33) is an interview with Gore Gazette editor Rick Sullivan who discusses the fanzine scene in the late 1970s and early 1980s that consisted of himself, arch enemy Bill Landis of Sleazoid Express, and professional Michael J. Weldon of Psychotronic. Sullivan discusses his involvement with The Butcher Mobile – on which Sullivan was the barker while nurses took the blood pressure of passersby and a doctor stabbed a male patient repeatedly – and how his decision to sell videos through his gazette got him in trouble when someone requested the adult videos Traci Lords made when she was supposedly underage. In "Cutting DOCTOR BUTCHER" (10:12), editor Jim Markovic (FORCED ENTRY) discusses Levene's methods for making some of the foreign pickups seem more American along with himself and credited "executive producer" Ron Harvey. He recalls cutting the film down along with its dialogue-only track and then sending it off to Sear Sound for scoring and sound effects. He also has some amusing anecdotes about carrying a lead pipe and taking self-defense lessons from Ron Van Clief (BLACK DRAGON'S REVENGE) just to walk down 42nd Street to get his paycheck from Levene. Also included on the first disc are "Experiments with a Male Caucasian Brain (…and other memories of 42nd Street)," an essay by Gary Hertz (the victim on the Dr. Butcher Mobile), the DOCTOR BUTCHER theatrical trailer (2:44), and two video release trailers (1:14 and 0:56, respectively), the latter as seen on the Thriller Video release of 7 DOORS TO DEATH.
Besides the original ZOMBI HOLOCAUST version, disc two includes an interview with McCulloch titled "Voodoo Man" (8:14), which is short because he has never seen the full version of the film. He discusses his early acting roles, glossing over a number of credits but conveying how a role in COLDITZ netted him a bigger role in SURVIVORS which brought him to the attention of the ZOMBI's producers. He regards ZOMBI HOLOCAUST as the more enjoyable shooting experience and regards CONTAMINATION as the silliest. He also briefly touches upon his role in Freddie Francis' THE GHOUL in which he got to look dashing in a dinner jacket through most of the film before a gory end. In "Blood of the Zombies" (23:02), late effects artist Rosario Prestopino (DEMONS) discusses the film and gets a few details wrong (citing McCulloch as an American actor who had a hand in Girolami's directorial decisions) but goes into detail about the mechanics of the effects, including de Rossi's patented throat slashing effect as well as the brain surgery sequence (along with O'Brien's trepidation over performing the cuts with a saw even though it was not actually running). Whereas Shriek Show's interview with make-up artist Trani found him sounding a little put off discussing the title, "Neurosurgery Italian Style" (4:36) finds him discussing the brain surgery effects sequence and fondly remembering Prestopino as a creative and serious technician.
In "Filmmaker Enzo Castellari Remembers His Father Director Marino Girolami" (7:46), Castellari (ESCAPE FROM THE BRONX) recalls how his father was a boxer who retired at twenty with a European championship before going to study cinema at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia. He got onto a set as a professional masseuse hired by Anna Magnani for her polio-stricken son, and gave the actress the story for the film that would become THE PEDDLER AND THE LADY by Mario Bonnard. Girolami would serve as assistant director on a handful of films including American co-productions (THE THIEF OF VENICE) and directing Sidney Salkow's FUGITIVE LADY uncredited. Castellari mentions that his father favored the comedy genre – directing a long string of them in the 1950s – and he was not aware that his father was directing ZOMBI HOLOCAUST at the time because he was working on his own projects.
Most welcome is "Sherry Holocaust" (24:04), in which actress Buchanan reveals that she was born in Mississippi and grew up in Louisiana. She was just out of high school when a location manager friend of her mother's asked her to fill in for a local production secretary on the New Orleans unit of Tonino Valerii's MY NAME IS NOBODY since she spoke French and Spanish. She was asked to continue working on the film when production moved to Spain and then would go on to Rome where actor Giancarlo Giannini (BLOOD FEUD) helped her get into modeling. She then discusses her various roles starting with WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO OUR DAUGHTERS? through ZOMBI HOLOCAUST which she found difficult for the film's infamous effects scene. She left filmmaking after she learned that hardcore inserts had been added to EMANUELLE AND JOANNA and that she was now getting offers for porn films (she has since done some bit parts in CRAWLSPACE and Tinto Brass' CAPRICCIO). The "New York Filming Locations Then vs. Now" (3:03) featurette compares the locations now to the way they appear in the film and attempts to replicate the camera movements (albeit, without the heft of the 35mm camera). Before his acting career took off, McCulloch cut a folk single in 1964 called "Down by the River" (2:40), and it is included here over a still gallery of the actor. Disc two also features the international trailer (4:16) and the German ZOMBIES UNTER KANNIBALEN trailer (3:12). The cover is reversible (with ZOMBI HOLOCAUST artwork on the reverse) and the set is limited to 5000 copies. Those who order directly from Severin Films will also get a DOCTOR BUTCHER barf bag. (Eric Cotenas)
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