Also known as Zombi Holocaust, the American version of this film features a sequence from an unfinished film called Tales That’ll Tear Your Heart Out, a different music score and some edits for pacing. It’s also got a much better title: Doctor Butcher, M.D. (Medical Deviate). And let me warn you right here and now. This is a film that takes no prisoners. It’s everything horrible about horror films, the kind of Satanic panic nightmare that your clergyman warned you about. It is vile, reprehensible garbage. And it’s entertaining as hell.
New York City in the late 70’s is a bad place to be. Even in the hospitals, a maniac is caught cutting off body parts and escaping with them. All the higher ups want to keep the story out of the paper, but morgue assistant and anthropology exert Lori (Alexandra Delli Colli, New York Ripper — imagine having those two movies on your IMDB history!) grew up in the Moluccan islands, where the cannibal came from. Let’s forget what a coincidence this is and just savor the madness that is to follow. As soon as she learns the truth, a journalist named Susan (Sherry Buchanan, Escape from Galaxy 3, Tentacles) breaks into her place. And right after she kicks her out, her ceremonial dagger gets stolen! How could this happen!? And how coincidental — again — that a killer who works in the same hospital as Lori would steal it, get caught and give chase before falling to his death from a rooftop (and magically turn into a mannequin before crashing to the pavement)?
Maybe Lori’s hospital isn’t that unique because this is happening all over town, all with hospital workers baring the same tattoo. Dr. Pete Chandler (Ian McCulloch, Zombi, Contamination), Lori’s anthropologist friend, suggest that she join him and his friend Pete on a trip to the islands. And oh yeah — Pete’s girlfriend is Susan, in another coincidence. God only plays dice in Italian zombie films.
Once they arrive, they meet Dr. Obrero (Donald O’Brien, Ghosthouse, Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals), who warns them that the natives are more like wild animals and will not take kindly to strangers. To prove his point, one of them leaves a maggot-ridden severed head in Lori’s room. At this point, any sane person would just go home. But then, we would not have a movie. Obrero sends Moloko, his assistant along with them on their journey. Is it weird that he has the same name as the island?
Within minutes of the running time of the film, all of the party’s guides and porters are dead, other than Moloko. Soon, George and Susan are raw meat and the rest of the party seem like they are soon to be dinner, too. That’s when zombies attack, sending the cannibals off into the jungle. And strangely, Dr. Obrero gets to them faster than they expected with help.
Let me spoil this one for you — Dr. Obrero is Dr. Butcher. He got the natives to rediscover their cannibal ways and they provide him with the raw material that he needs to create his zombies. He uses them for experiments, moving science forward as he works on the same set as Fulci’s Zombi. He’s a decent fellow, though. He lets the natives keep the scalps, after all.
After killing a zombie with a boat motor, Chandler breaks into the doctor’s office, where he is transplanting Susan’s brain, who is bald because, you know, they took her scalp. Also, she’s still alive. The doctor takes Chandler captive and Lori is taken by the cannibals, who the natives see as some kind of god. You know, blonde hair and white skin and all that. They paint her with flowers as if she were Goldie Hawn on Laugh-In and she lies in a body shape on the altar that looks like the tattoos we saw earlier. Somehow, again through total coincidence, she fits perfectly into the impression.
Lori uses her power over the cannibals to attack the doctor and his zombies, freeing Chandler and allowing them to head back to civilization. Where, you know, they’ll both get over this with no issues at all.
The ad campaign for this film, such as the stolen image of Salvador Dali and lurid copy on the poster, push this movie into a transgressive art experience. And that’s before the Butchermobile hit the road. A rented truck with posters plastered on every side that dripped blood, it cruised the streets of downtown New York City promising that Dr. Butcher, M.D. could deliver an experience that other lesser films could not.
You can learn all of this and more with Severin’s jam-packed blu ray release. From interviews with Aquarius Releasing’s Terry Levene, the men who drove the Butchermobile, Ian McCulloch and Sherry Buchanan to a tour of today’s Times Square, you could almost make the case that the extras are worth a release of their own. Throw in two versions of the film — both the American cut and the original Zombie Holocaust Italian version — and you have a release that simply cannot be beat.
If you ever watched a movie and wondered, “I wish that people got eaten and torn to bits every twenty seconds while loony synth music played,” I have some good news for you. Your horrifying prayers will be answered by this movie.
You can also enjoy High Rising Productions’ Calum Waddell’s documentary Eaten Alive! The Rise and Fall of the Italian Cannibal Film (2015), which is featured on the Grindhouse Releasing Blu-ray for Cannibal Ferox in the U.S. and the U.K. Blu-ray for Zombi Holocaust by 88 Films. Our much adored Umberto Lenzi, Ruggero Deodato, Sergio Martino, along with actress Me Me Lai offer their genre insights for the documentary.
You can watch this movie as Zombie Holocaust on Shudder. Maybe don’t eat dinner while you’re watching it.