Friday, October 28, 2011

Zombies, Canibals and Mad Scientists; Oh My! Zombi Holocaust (1980)





As part of the wonderful Italian Horror Blogathon over at Hugo Stiglitz makes movies, I have sat down with a Zombie triple shot DVD set and am presenting for your reading pleasure a review of the 1980 Girolami flick "Zombi Holocaust" 

Zombi Holocaust, or as it is also called "Dr Butcher: MD" (amongst others) opens with a grimy still frame set over droning electronic music. The red title card "Zombi Holocaust" and the grim urban seeming image promises a Romeroeque Zombie film, and this expectation with the films opening hospital setting.
But Zombi Holocaust is defiantly not the film one expects it to be beyond the first few minutes. We are presented with a mysterious figure cutting off a cadaver's hand and making off with it, this theft being discovered the next day as a medical professor uncovers the body for his anatomy class. We find the story then following Lori Ridgeway, the professor's assistant holding Degrees in Medicine and Anthropology. The city we are in is New York and Lori is an academic with a keen interest in Anthropology, especially man's more savage cultures. She lives in what has to be an almost million dollar New york apartment stocked with savage masks and artifacts; most prominent of which is a sacrificial dagger with a mysterious symbol adorned on it...

We are quickly treated what becomes a "cannibals in the big apple" story, which sort of then becomes a flimsy reason to head to the Island of Kito in search of the Cannibal cult responsible for munching down on corpses in hospitals all over. This is where the movie proper really starts, as Lori and her fellow investigators (Including Ian McCulloch as Dr Chandler, an annoying female reporter and her brother) travel to the island of Kito with guidance from Dr Obero and his native servant Molotto. The group quickly find themselves under attack by Cannibal tribes men, who subdue and devour them one by one starting with their porters only to be rescued at the last minute by Zombies...

Zombi Holocaust does shift gears a bit in terms of pacing and story, going from investigating Big Apple Cannibals, to fighting to survive in a Cannibal infested jungle to Mad Scientist tale. As you can already tell, this film is a mish mash of ideas based on more successful films in the Zombie/Cannibal genre, it very directly borrows from Zombie Flesheaters and to a lesser extent the infamous Cannibal Holocaust. It also attempts to give us the Romero "party of bickering humans fighting to survive", but the character relationships are not developed enough for this to really gel. The only easily stereotyped character is the reporter Susan, who is just damn annoying. Her brother is almost a non character, Lori is at first strangely compelled by the culture of savage people but quickly looses that motivation when she arrives on the island, and Dr Chandler is a square jawed hero. The guide Molotto is of course trying to misdirect them away from Dr Obero's experiments, which are very Zombie and brain switching centric. On the reveal of Dr Obero's scheme, the film becomes a much more claustrophobic affair. Obero makes his secret lab in an incredibly run down old mission building, staffed by Molotto and some of the most incompetent Zombies around. This local as well as the Cannibal tribe's sacred cave is almost the entire setting of the third act.

The Film's effect shots are effective, lots of gut munching from tribesmen, a very effective dual eye gouge scene and a kinda funny Zombie having it's head mulched by an outboard motor. The film suffers from a terrific lack of tension that mainly results in how much of a damp squib the opening mystery ends up being. The New York scenes are really just a setup for the island adventure, and a pretty flimsy one at that. The change of pace and setting drains the film of some nice mystery and tension that was setup in the first act.

And back to the Zombies. Nice make up on the extras, but these have to be the crappiest Zombies in Zombidom. They are slow, stupid, shambling and seem vulnerable to pretty much everything humans are. After Dr Chandler easily overpowers on on the beach, they are pretty much drained of all menace to our heroes; especially when contrasted with the tribesmen who are terrifying in their ability to kill. They overpower people with numbers and tear them to pieces with knives and their bare hands. Much scarier than the shambling creations of Dr Obero.

It's hardly the worst Zombi knockoff I've seen, but the film's muddled pacing makes it a tough watch at the best of times and it really isn't enough of a gore fest to entertain in the way many of these films do. (Honestly the T&A content is possibly more severe than the gore)