If you ever wondered what it would look like to cross the Italian cannibal genre and the Italian zombie genre, then Zombie Holocaust (1980), by director Marino Girolam, might be for you. Zombie Holocaust is also known as Zombi 3, but any attempt to make sense of the numbering of European zombies films is futile. Just go with Zombie Holocaust.
Now if you are one of those movie watchers who enjoy a tight script that actually makes sense, smart dialogue, and believable acting move along. Why the fuck are you reading about European zombie films anyway? But if you can get past the lack of real storytelling and just enjoy the gross out effects, buckets of gore and eye-popping nudity, carry on.
Zombie Holocaust (1980) is an unofficial sequel to the popular Fulci film Zombi, )or Zombi 2, or Zombie 2, or Zombie Flesh Eaters) however there is little in common between the films. Beyond the title and the casting of Zombi star Ian McCulloch in a similar role, similar settings, and the use of the undead, and nothing else is similar.
Like Fulci’s classic, Zombie Holocaust starts off in New York City. There are a series of cannibal attacks at a large hospital. When the culprit is caught it turns out he is from a group of Asian islands that was also the home of morgue assistant Lori, played by Alexandra Delli Colli. Investigating with Dr. Peter Chandler, played by McCulloch, they find there have been a rash of cannibal attacks across New York.
They head out to the islands and confer with a Dr.Obero, who assigns them guides and directs them to the furthermost island to investigate. They set sail to the island but boat trouble forces them to land on another island instead. Here they are attacked by cannibals, and most of their party is killed and eaten. Chandler and Lori are about to be put on the menu when zombies appear and frighten off the cannibals.
Fleeing from cannibal and zombie alike, they run into Dr. Obero who, learning of their plight, comes to rescue them. However it soon turns out Obero has a more sinister motive than just rescue. It seems Obero has been using the cannibals in his experiments to pressure the dead. Thus he now controls the zombies and intends to use Chandler in his next experiment.
Lori escapes Obero, but is quickly captured by the cannibals. They take her back to their cave lair where they strip her naked, paint her, and declare her queen of the cannibals. It seems these cannibals are always looking for a blonde chick to be their queen. After the ceremony, which gives the viewer some awesome anatomical shots of Lori’s body, the newly crowned queen leads her subjects to attack the doctor and his zombies. After the almost laughable battle, Lori and Peter escape, running from the wrath of Fulci fans and into the closing credits.
As far as European zombie films go, Zombie Holocaust isn’t the worst of the bunch (see Zombie 4:Killing Birds, or Zombie After Life for reference), but it is far and away from Fulci’s Zombi. The story and plot are pretty ridiculous, even for Italian standards, and the zombie effects are really shitty to be honest. The cannibal scenes are a bit more realistic and are bloody enough to keep the gore hound placated.
The overall plot is pretty standard, and similar to Fulci’s film. Attacks in New York send investigators to remote island to investigate. However the story with Dr. Obero is just confusing and goofy. I was never really sure what he was attempting with his brain transplants. Was that how he created zombies? Or was he actually experimenting in actual brain transplants?
Also you are never really sure why the cannibals hated him. He says he persuaded them to go back to cannibalism, he provides them with food, even gives them the scalps after his experiments. Hell you could even look at the zombies as meals on wheels almost, a mobile buffet. Still, none of this matters in an Italian zombie movie. It’s style over substance and you have to accept that.
So for style, the weakest part of the film were the zombies. Their make up was beyond amateur. It basically looks like guys in rubber masks with some gore smeared on. None of them really seemed to be rotting away either, in fact more looked pretty healthy and strong.
The zombies themselves seemed to be caught in some limbo between pre Romero Haitian voodoo zombies and modern fast track zombies. They didn’t ever really run but they were prone to bursts of speed near the end of the film. Early on they did nothing but shamble, like a good zombie should, but during they last half they were able to grab fleeing characters and hold them tight. Plus they were apparently able to be controlled by Dr. Obero.
The stronger parts of the film included the cannibals who were realistic enough, and there was plenty of bloodshed. Still it’s hard to fuck up cannibal make up. Just grab some exotic, native looking extras, put them in loin cloth and face paint and viola!
By modern standards the gore might look cheesy, but there is quite a bit of it. A man has his eyes pulled out by a cannibal who is munching on his guts, the eyes then become snacks. A zombie has his head shredded by a boat propeller. We see a woman who has been scalped alive. Beyond all this numerous shootings of cannibals, people caught in traps and murdered, and even scenes of cannibals eating a fighting zombie.
The acting is goofy, but I can’t knock it too hard since I watched a dubbed copy. Now before you start yelling about subtitles, I love subtitles. Whenever I am watching a serious foreign language film I opt for subtitles whenever possible. However when I am watching Euro Zombie, and some chop socky martial arts films, I like the dub. It adds to the already silliness of the script. My first experience with foreign cinema was dubbed Italian horror and westerns, and I guess it’s grown on me.
So while the dialogue and acting seemed silly, I can’t be sure how much was due to the dubbing factor. One of my favorite goofy lines, paraphrased, “The cannibals eat dead people. Last I checked we were all alive” and cue the first scream.
One of my favorite parts of Zombie Holocaust was the beautiful Alexandra Delli Colli as Lori. Tall blonde and shapely she undresses completely for the camera twice. Not shy we are treated to two full frontal scenes, one of them lying spread eagle on a table as it is raised, leaving little to the imagination.
Usually when watching a European movie from the 70s or early 80s, I have to make some comment about female pubic grooming. Well for the time period, Alexandra was groomed much tidyier, than the female leads in the Spanish Countess Perverse. Really there’s a difference between natural and abandoned homestead.
I liked Zombie Holocaust, but then I am a fan of these garish, gory, and at times silly movies. If you are able to enjoy a film without taking it too seriously, you might like it too. It’s no Walking Dead, no Romero, or even Fulci, but in the pantheon of European zombie films, it’s worth seeing.
Zombie Holocaust was released under the title Dr. Butcher M.D, with added scenes and a different score. While it was never officially on the video nasty list, it was only released uncut in the U.K in 2001. In the US, the original uncut version was released in 2002 on DVD by Shriekshow. Check it out.