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Doctor Butcher M.D. / Zombie Holocaust
The lunatics at Severin Films specialize in digging up the shabbiest, most infamous, woefully wonderful exploitation movies ever. The one-hit wonders, the also-rans, the genre equivalent of the kids who get picked last for dodge ball. These films ride the ragged edge of disrespectability; they're proud of it, and we love Severin Films for giving them an almost deserved pat on the back. Doctor Butcher M.D. epitomizes the Severin aesthetic. This 1980 coattail rider is so daft, gore-drenched and incomprehensible, it has to be seen to be believed.
With all due respect, Doctor Butcher M.D. is the horror movie equivalent of the 80-year-old, mentally ill, chronically homeless person wandering downtown's deserted streets at 4am, raving about several different things at once. In New York, someone sneaks into a hospital morgue to slowly saw the hand off of a corpse. An intern with a fondness for the ancient religion Kito is the culprit, later dropping a fresh heart and bolting for the door when he's found out. Ian McCulloch as Doctor Chandler, and Alexandra Delli Colli as Kito expert Lori Ridgeway hotfoot it down to Kito Island to figure out what's going on. Alas, what's going on in is a crazy doctor turning already lunatic cannibals into zombies! It's a cinematic Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, two horrible tastes that taste even more horrible together, so savagely, stupidly delightful it's really a wonder the zombie/cannibal-hybrid movie genre isn't to this day more robust.
McCulloch does his James Bond/Everyman best, bravely slogging through near incomprehensible mania. (Originally titled Zombie Holocaust and pretty damn incomprehensible in its native form, the movie was recut by an American distributor to make it even more daft for 42nd Street.) Exploring the island, Chandler, Ridgeway, a journalist couple, and their guide Molotto (played by the mighty Dakar) stumble on some nutso cannibals who promptly dismantle the intrepid boyfriend in the group. After that, it's on, as the cannibals munch, the guts fly, the outboard motors destroy faces, and more. Chandler et al only escape death when super slow zombies stagger out of the woods to hiss menacingly. If you can dig that, then this movie is for you.
There's little logic in Zombie Holocaust, but what's there is obliterated by the Doctor Butcher M.D. cut. Acquired by Aquarius Releasing's Terry Levene, Zombie Holocaust was basically a cash-in on Lucio Fulci's Zombie, up-to and including casting McCulloch in the lead. But that wasn't enough for director Marino Girolami, who decided to stir a bunch of cannibals into the mix, while asking Delli Colli to get naked and stay that way for the remainder of the movie. Compared to Butcher, Holocaust is almost rational, it even half-heartedly attempts to be a horror movie. Chandler and Ridgeway spend way more time creeping around in the jungle while spooky music plays, generating a tiny bit of tension. Despite every whack-a-doo element, that tone manages to sustain itself, creating a somewhat serious air.
I guess Levene knew such high-brow pretensions wouldn't fly in America, so he recut, reorganized, and somehow sped the movie up while inserting totally unrelated footage from a Roy Frumkes short subject. Adding insult to injury, he replaced the original atmospheric score with clumsy, comic synth music by Walter Sear.
The magic worked, I guess, as there are still a handful of morons such as myself who love this fabulously wrong-headed nightmare like a fake child constructed from gross dried-up bandages and tied together with used dental floss. This is the real deal, folks, Severin's got you covered! Tons of cheap gore! Tons of nudity! Tons of Extras! A Barf Bag! Severin's 2-disc special edition of Doctor Butcher M.D. earns a coveted place on your shelf! DVD Talk Collector Series.
Severin Films bring us both versions of the movie fully restored in 1.85:1 ratio, 1080p Full HD, from newly discovered original vault elements! The films look as good as they're ever going to get, and that means they look pretty damn good. Quality does vary somewhat, as the credits sequence appears a little dark and muddy, but things start looking up quickly thereafter. Film grain is plentiful, but fits the experience. Colors are quite vibrant and natural, while details fare rather well in brightly lit scenes, and do just fine in darker scenes. Of course the added detail helps point out the chintzy quality of the effects work, but what are you going to do? Some film damage crops up in the credits, and at other places here and there, but nothing to really complain about. Overall, the transfer doesn't suffer from compression artifacts or any digital problems, and is pretty awesome.
English 2.0 Digital Audio really makes those disparate scores sound great, for good or ill. The mix is solid, if by nature not very active, and dialog is both clean and clear. Soundtrack elements, including the score, are at appropriate volume and enjoy a wide dynamic range.
Here's where things get nutty. Even if you don't consider the inclusion of Zombie Holocaust on Disc 2 as a true extra, it gets its own set of prodigious bonuses. But first, enjoy the Reversible Cover highlighting poster art for the two different versions of the movie. Then, if you're one of the lucky first 5000 orders, you'll get a Limited Edition Doctor Butcher Barf Bag, just like the ones originally used to tout the movie.
Doctor Butcher M.D. comes with 80-minutes worth of extras, including a 30-minute Interview with Terry Levene, the infamous distributor of European exploitation, a man to whom we all owe a great debt. Roy Frumkes and Chris Pogialli take us Down On The Deuce for an engrossing 20-minute tour of historic 42nd street locations. We get 8 minutes of footage from Roy Frumkes unreleased anthology Tales That Will Tear Your Heart Out, footage used in Doctor Butcher and here narrated by Frumkes. Gore Gazette's Rick Sullivan talks for 12 minutes about his 'zine, the scene and more. Editor Jim Markovic takes ten minutes to tell us about Cutting Doctor Butcher, while Gary Hertz contributes an Illustrated Essay about his time warping his brain on 42nd street. Lastly, you get three Trailers for the movie.
Zombie Holocaust comes with its own set of extras, 72-minutes worth, for a grand total of almost Three Hours of extras. Voodoo Man finds Ian McCulloch talking up his career for 8 minutes, while special effects artist Rosario Prestopino gets 23 minutes to talk about his work. An audio segment with still shots gives Enzo G. Castellari 8 minutes to talk about his dad, Butcher director Marino Girolami. Sherry Holocaust allows actress Sherryl Buchanan time, 24-minutes-worth, to reminisce, after which we get another 4 minute Special Effects Interview. 3 minutes of wistful Then And Now footage recreates exterior shots of New York used in the movie, and then we listen to Ian McCulloch Singing for 2 minutes. (He's got a good voice.). Two Trailers and the option to Watch Zombie Holocaust in Italian minus subtitles, wrap up the package.
Doctor Butcher M.D., one of the most infamous, most ludicrous Italian gut-munching, zombie-face-chopping movies to wash up on our shores, gets the respect it almost deserves in this fantastic, over-the-top, two-disc presentation. This is the real deal, folks, Severin's got you covered! Tons of cheap gore! Tons of nudity! Tons of Extras! A Barf Bag! Severin's 2-disc special edition of Doctor Butcher M.D. earns a coveted place on your shelf! DVD Talk Collector Series.
- Kurt Dahlke