Sunday, July 31, 2011

Zombie Holocaust

Zombie Holocaust.
Original Title: Zombi Holocaust
Directed by: Marino Girolami
Italy, 1980
Distributed by: NjutaFilms/AWE

One of my very first orders from that old institution CineCity in Holland, René’s treasure-trove of video nasties back in the early nineties, was Frank Martin’s Zombie Holocaust on the old Video For Pleasure VHS release. Looking at the cover of today’s DVD and Blu-ray art, I can still feel the same giddiness every time I sit down to watch this film that I felt when I opened the parcel from Holland after waiting two, three weeks for a video tape to find it’s way into my post-box.

Just like some friends hold Andrea Bianchi’s Le notti del terrore (The Nights of Terror) 1981, or Umberto Lenzi’s Incobu sulla città contaminata (Nightmare City) 1980 as the ultimate totems of depravity and surreal zombie horror, for me it’s Marino Giriolami’s Zombie Holocaust.

A quick fix for a movie you should know by heart: Someone is stealing body parts of from a morgue. Lori Ridgeway [Alexandra Delli Colli – later to star in a most memorable and truly disturbing moment in Lucio Fulci’s Lo squartore di New York (The New York Ripper) 1982] isn’t only a doctor at the hospital where the human thefts have been taking place, she’s also holds a doctorate in anthropology, which leads to her joining forces with Dr. Peter Chandler [Ian McCulloch], quirky journalist Susan Kelly [Sherry Buchanan – later to pick up Caroline Munroe’s cape as Stella Star in Bitto Albertini’s knock-off/sequel to Luigi Cozzi’s Star Crash 1978; Giochi erotici nella 3a galassia (Escape from Galaxy 3) 1981], and George Harper [Peter O’Neal, who if he’d been on StarTrek would have been wearing a read jumper as the took off for the jungle] to investigate the island where the cannibalistic assailants are supposedly coming from. Dispatched by the Department of Health they head for the Moluccas Island to meet up with Dr. Obrero [Donald O’Brian], and pretty soon they are attacked by the blood thirsty cannibals that hide in the green jungle hell… but the cannibals are the least dangerous things in that jungle as they notice when slow decomposing corpses start to shuffle out of the jungle…

Being something of an intoxicated mix of Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2 (Zombie) 1979 and Sergio Martino’s La montagna del dio cannibal (Mountain of the Cannibal God) 1978 – and lifting more than one beat, sub-plot and storyline from those two, the movie also owes a lot to Joe D’Amato’s Emanuelle e gli ultimi cannibali (Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals) 1977, and this due to the connection that Zombie Holocaust screenwriter Romano Scandarito also wrote Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals on which he worked with Fabrizio DeAngelis.

Producer Fabrizio De Angelis who worked his way up from being a mail man to one of the most important producers as far as Italian genre classics are concerned, not only came up with the story for this one, he also worked on Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals. Wanting to keep on running with the success of Fulci's Zombie, which he produced too, De Angelis, together with Scandarito came up with Zombie Holocaust – which would later be recut, re-edited and re-issued by Aquarius Releasing under the name Dr. Butcher M.D. (Medical Deviate) in the USA a few years later, with extra footage from a never complete movie shot by Roy Frumkes (Street Trash 1987). Anyone who’s been anywhere near Chas Bauln’s Deep Red books will have read about the movie as Dr. Butcher M.D. but the movie is undoubtedly at it’s best in it’s original shape, with the original score… but I’ll get back to that later.

Despite all the crap you hear or read about this movie, because this is one of those movies people crap all over, it is definitely not a movie for everyone but more a required taste, Zombie Holocaust does go about it’s storytelling in a correct way.

It does set up the premise, it does gives a reasonably logic reason for heading off to the island, and if you want to be really picky, then I’d go as far as saying that the whole first act is what scholars and storytelling guru’s refer to as “the inciting incident” Without Toran [Joseph P. Persaud] stealing body parts from the city morgue, he would never have tossed himself out of that hospital window plummeting to his death on the car park asphalt, Lori would never have seen his Kito tribal tattoo, she’d never have had to tell the story of her childhood on the Moluccas island, then there would never have been any mystery to uncover, and definitely nothing that would motivate Lori and Dr Chandler taking a trip to Dr. Oberon’s makeshift jungle laboratory. Zombie Holocaust even does a damned fine job of keeping the audience in on the plot. And don’t you just love dialogue along the lines “Patient screamed disturbed me, Performed removal of vocal cords… Will now administer a second injection to maintain patients conciseness…" Sadistic dialogue not even the makers of the so-called torture porn flicks could have come up with.

Trashy, sweaty and filled with fascinating gore sequences thanks to Maestro’s Maurizio Trani and Rosario Prestopino, this movie can not be ignored, nor ridiculed any longer, as it takes the two most violent genres and mashes them together in a fantastic cocktail of death unlike anything else. Zombie Holocaust is a classic piece of gritty, sleazy, exploitative low budget filmmaking that simply kicks ass.

As the movie goes into the last act, the most is made of the combined subgenres. Lori, now white goddess of the cannibals - told you it ripped off Mountain of the Cannibal God too, and that full body rock tableau that she fits perfectly also looks just like the one Ursula Andress slipped into in that movie – Anyway after an almost obligatory disrobing and initiation ritual segment - complete with remarkable rush of insight - Lori conjures up her loin clothed cannibals to take on the zombie army of Dr. Oberon. Now how the fuck can you not enjoy a movie like that?

You can’t talk about Zombie Holocaust without talking about the cast… It would be easy to imagine McCulloch flying on autopilot at this stage but being the bold Scotsman that he is, he just digs in and get’s cracking, blissfully unaware of just how many of those cheap and cheerful Italian flicks he’d go on to star in… and what a star he became! Alexandra Delli Colli, wife of acclaimed cinematographer Tonio Delli Colli never really made much of an impression on me as a leading lady, but she get’s the job done and never has a daring escape crosscut with a nude initiation been more illustrious – Although I do find her much more enjoyable in New York Ripper. I’d easily have seen Giriolami flip the roles and have Sherry Buchanan as Lori instead of Delli Colli because if there’s one thing I feel is missing from this movie it’s more Sherry Buchanan. Dakar in the part of jungle guide Molotto, is as McCulloch, more or less reprising his part from Fulci’s Zombi.

The original score that I mentioned before… Well the movie does have a great soundtrack by Nico Fidenco – complete with brooding keyboards, crooning quires and all the trimmings one expects from an Italian horror piece from this time period, but the only problem being that it’s not all that original after all it’s actually Fidenco's score to Joe D’Amato’s Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals. See how I mean that Zombie Holocaust owes a lot to that flick? But it works for the flick and I’d never want to hear any other music there, not even Walter E. Sear’s Moogy sounds, which even ended up on the US Version of Fulci’s E tu vivrai nel terrore - L'aldilà (The Beyond) 1981.

Finally I want to tell you about my favourite moment in Zombie Holocaust. No it’s not the corpse who blinks his eyes midst autopsy, it’s not the arm which goes flying off the doll after it hits’ the parking lot beneath the hospital, it not when Delli Colli get’s her kit off in the Cannibal cave, it’s not even the fantastic outboard motor to the face of the zombie on the beach scene… my favourite moment is a much more subtle and minor important, but oh so damned cool. After reaching the camp of Dr. Oberro, McCulloch and Delli Colli remorsefully tell him about the deaths of the rest of the team and a saturated atmosphere sets in. Then there’s a cut, cameraman Fausto Zuccoli pans down to the same location, the actors in the same positions and Dr Obrero tells them about a boat they can take to get off the island. Look at what they are holding… They are all enjoying a cold beer! In the midst of the apocalypse, McCulloch and Dakar sip a cold Carlsberg, and when he’s done he just tosses that metal can into the jungle! Fuck danger, Fuck jungle terrors, Fuck recycling. That’s on of my favourite moments, and if nothing else a great reason for you to go and watch the movie again – or enjoy it for the first time - right now.

Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1

Dolby Digital 2.0. English Dialogue, with optional Swedish, Danish, Norwegian or Finnish subtitles.

Original US and German Trailer, Trailers for other Njuta/AWE releases, Stills Gallery, Filmographies and a great short documentary/interview with Rosario Prestopino. A deleted scene, which I believe to be erroneously removed from the movie at some point in time when it started to resurface on DVD, because that mind-bending scene in an obvious murky autumn forest instead of the vibrant sweaty jungle used to be in the movie. It was in my Video For Pleasure video, and I'd like a dvd or Blu-ray where it was back in place again at some point in time.


LeftFieldFilms said...

I also really love this film! I had the pleasure of meeting Ian McCulloch when a local cinema showed "Zombie Flesh Eaters" and he was there for a Q&A session. He had some great stories to tell about that period in his life!

Keep up the great work!


CiNEZiLLA said...

Awesome! I can just imagine the stories he had to tell. :D

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