Alexandra Delli Colli
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Zombie Holocaust (1980)
2nd Feb 10
When there’s no more ideas in Italy’s schlock factory, Ian McCulloch walks the Earth listlessly like a man in need of a beer and a shag.
The opening titles of this memorably useless but fun low-rent splatter opus boast the credit “based on an idea by Fabrizio De Angelis”. Presumably the “idea” went something like this (albeit in Italian) : “Hey guys, it’s me Fabrizio De Angelis! Let’s combine the titles of the recently successful Cannibal Holocaust and Zombi, nick the latter’s star Ian McCulloch (he’ll do anything for a fiver), set it some place similar and pack in as much rubbery gore and close-up grossness as possible. And tits! We’ll throw in some tits! Everyone likes tits!” As ideas go, there have been worse. Like for instance : “Let’s make the Incredible Hulk a bouncing CG thing”. Or “Let’s follow up The Matrix with two inexorably tedious and self-indulgent wanky sequels”. Or “Let’s keep a hermaphrodite hooker in our loft just so we can toy with her while she sleeps”. (The last one is, admittedly, not movie-related and more of a personal “issue”).
The movie’s tone and intelligence is pretty much set in the first five minutes, with gooey but unconvincing surgical gore and corpse mutilations in a Big Apple hospital. As it becomes apparent someone is deliberately molesting cadavers, characters say astute things like “We must have a psychopathic deviant…” and at one point a horrified doctor observes “Something like this would make sense in a primitive society of savages, but today, in New York City?”. The acting and dubbing are predictably and hilariously naff and it takes forever to get not very far…but they don’t make ‘em like this anymore, you know.
The corpse desecrations have everyone baffled, and catching a cannibalistic hospital attendant (literally) red handed just adds to the sense of bemusement and shock. A frosty blonde female anthropologist (main purpose in film : to wear silly furry hats and show us her ample firm tits) believes a link can be made between these acts and a far Eastern sacrificial cannibal cult. Ian McCulloch - who saves energy by giving exactly the same performance he gave in ZOMBI - supervises an expedition to said far-off island, where the cult is still active. Throat slashings, multiple impalements and maggot-ridden severed heads lurking in the bed sheets all follow.
The “Zombi” element of perhaps this film’s best known (though not best) title is a misnomer : it takes 50 minutes before the emergence of a peculiar, hokey growling undead dude, and the zombie-like minions present for the finale don’t have an awful lot to do. This is, at heart, a splatter-era mad-scientist yarn, complete with marvellously ripe dialogue (“You shall live like the other fiends I have created!”) and, on some prints, a contender for the best movie title of the 80’s (Dr Butcher M.D.).
When the Frankenstein-ish mad doc is finally given some screen time, Zombi Holocaust presents cinema history’s finest ever excuse for a villain not offing the hero when he has the chance : “I should kill you now but I’m determined to have your brain!”. Kudos to McCulloch for keeping a straight face while tied to a gurney waiting to have his brain removed and for spitting out lines like “Bloodthirsty lunatic!” with something approaching sincerity. He makes us proud to be British, and for his services to Spaghetti Splatter surely deserves that knighthood foisted upon the similarly named Gandalf geezer.
The movie looks cheaper and shoddier than the better, more stylish Italian horrors of the time, and its status as a hastily thrown together cash-in is never in doubt. The low-rent feel extends to the make-up effects : gore man Maurizio Trani is certainly no Gino De Rossi : there’s much unenthusiastic yanking out of butcher shop entrails, obvious retractable knives penetrating flesh and some especially weak gun shot squib effects. Still, a good time can still be had with this sublime tack, and the fiery climax surprises by turning the machete-wielding natives into heroes. And, lets face it, even the crappier Italian genre flicks of this period bring with them a rich sense of nostalgia for gore-mongers like us : these movies, ropey or not, made us what we are today. Now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s some tapping coming from the loft…
Versions Better go with the US Shriek Show DVD as it sure beats the UK release.