Tuesday, July 26, 2016


Continuing their stellar track record, Severin’s newest Blu-ray of everyone’s favourite zombie/ cannibal gut-muncher, DOCTOR BUTCHER M.D. is, as the packaging proudly proclaims, a “Definitive 2-Disc Edition”, which not only presents both versions of the film, but also has a heaping helping of extras that are second-to-none. 

The rudimentary plot, which closely follows Lucio Fulci’s tried-and-trusted ZOMBIE (1979) template, begins in New York City as a rash of corpse mutilations are plaguing the city’s hospitals, a gruesome state of affairs which leaves pathologist Dr. Lori Ridgeway (Alexandra Delli Colli) and Dr. Drelock (Walter Patriarca) at a loss (“Something like this would make sense in a society of primitive savages, but today in New York City?!”).  After catching one of the orderlies about to feast on a fresh heart, he promptly jumps out the window in a panic – hilariously (and memorably) portrayed by an obvious dummy, whose arm becomes detached when it smashes to the pavement far below – but, before dying, he manages to utter just one word: “Kito.”  Although an esteemed anthropologist herself, Lori is referred to Peter Chandler (Ian McCulloch) who, on behalf of the Department of Health, is investigating this recent and ongoing rash of mutilations and cannibalism.  As in ZOMBIE, their search – the searchers also include Peter’s assistant George (Peter O’Neal) and his girlfriend Susan (Sherry Buchanan), a feisty reporter – leads them to Kito, a mysterious island, where they run afoul of the local cannibals, but their host, Dr. Obrero (Donal “Donald” O’Brien) is hiding a few secrets of his own.

After the worldwide success of Fulci’s aforementioned ZOMBIE, producer Fabrizio De Angelis decided to capitalize on his modestly-budgeted hit, and along with Gianfranco Couyoumdjian, the head honcho of Flora Film, they developed an ultra-cheap but unforgettable mix of gory jungle thrills that was part “Island of Dr. Moreau” and part Italian cannibal gut-cruncher.  Directed by veteran “Frank Martin” a.k.a. Marino Girolami – father of famed action director Enzo G. Castellari – and utilizing both ZOMBIE’s star Ian McCulloch and the same island locations, this incredibly cheap cash-in is never boring despite the derivative nature of the entire production.  In a particularly cheeky move, the filmmakers – most likely De Angelis – even incorporate a couple of long shots from ZOMBIE while Nico Fidenco’s low-key, brooding synth score is, for the most part, quite a departure from his usual work. However, some of the tracks are simply reused from Joe D’Amato’s EMANUELLE AND THE LAST CANNIBALS (1977).  It’s certainly a slapdash production, but the sheer gusto of it all is absolutely undeniable, which incorporates outrageous gore scenes at regular intervals, including dismemberment, disembowelment, eye-gouging, scalping and, in the one of the more infamous scenes, a zombie’s head is turned into a pile of mush by an outboard motor. 

Over the years, DOCTOR BUTCHER M.D., and later under its alternate title ZOMBI HOLOCAUST, (re-titled as ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST on most DVD and Blu-ray sleeves) has been in circulation since the early days of VHS videocassettes.  Most people – in the U.S., at least – were first introduced to this film under its alternate Terry Levene-produced cut (known as DOCTOR BUTCHER M.D.) on either Paragon Video or Thriller Video.  Since 1998, the ZOMBI HOLOCAUST version of the film has been in print on both DVD and Blu-ray from various specialty labels throughout the world complete with varying extras, but, in a rather unfortunate turn of events, the DOCTOR BUTCHER M.D. reedit had remained stubbornly absent.  Thankfully, all that has been rectified with Severin’s exhaustive 2-disc set, which includes both versions of the film.  Disc one contains DOCTOR BUTCHER M.D., which for those unfamiliar with this version, incorporates some alternate opening footage from an unfinished horror anthology entitled Tales That Will Tear Your Heart Out – co-directed by Roy Frumkes – and other small alterations/modifications, including some more energetic – and surprisingly, now-inseparable – music cues from Walter Sear.  Sear, who died in 2010, was the owner of Sear Sound in New York City and provided electronic music for such films as John Hancock’s LET’S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH (1971) and Peter Gimbel’s and James Lipscomb’s BLUE WATER, WHITE DEATH (1971). Later in the same decade, he became an avid associate of director Roberta Findlay on many of her porn and ’80s horror films; incidentally, some of the cues heard in DOCTOR BUTCHER M.D. can also be heard in Findlay’s ANYONE BUT MY HUSBAND (1975). 

The extras on disc one begin with “Butchery & Ballyhoo – Interview with Terry Levene”, who was the producer and distributor of DOCTOR BUTCHER M.D. and the owner of Aquarius Releasing, whose offices were above the Selwyn Theater on 42nd Street.  In “Down on the Deuce – Nostalgic Tour of 42nd Street”, Temple of Schlock editor and filmmaker Roy Frumkes are on 42nd Street talking about and pointing out where all the old theaters once stood, as well as giving some of the history surrounding them.  In “Tales That Will Tear Your Heart Out”, all 8 minutes of Frumkes’ footage is shown, with accompanying commentary.  The extras keep coming with the unexpected return of Rick Sullivan, the infamous editor of the long-running splatter/sleaze zine Gore Gazette, who talks about “the Butchermobile”, his rivalry with Sleazoid Express editor Bill Landis, his appearance on The Morton Downey, Jr. show and his sudden “retirement” all those years ago.  In a nice companion-piece to the Terry Levene interview, editor Jim Markovic is interviewed about his work for Levene, and more specifically, about the reassembly of ZOMBI HOLOCAUST into DOCTOR BUTCHER M.D.  Other extras include an “illustrated essay” on the memories of 42nd Street by Gary Hertz, the U.S. theatrical trailer, plus a couple of video trailers, including one from Thriller Video.

Corresponding with the original European or English-language export version of the film on disc two – which, by the way, looks the best it ever has with, an excellent colour scheme and natural grain – the first extra, “Voodoo Man”, is an interview with star McCulloch, who talks about his trio of Italian films and freely admits to never even watching ZOMBI HOLOCAUST.  In “Blood of the Zombies”, an earlier interview with “FX Master” Rosario Prestopino produced by Freak-O-Rama, Prestopino discusses the rather crude but effective gore effects.  In “Neurosurgery Italian Style”, yet another Freak-O-Rama produced interview, this time with FX artist Maurizio Trani, he briefly talks about some of the FX in the film and how he got “bored” after working on some of the later Italian genre pictures, like WITCHERY (1988) and TROLL 2 (1990), but admits it was a mistake to leave for loftier or “artsy” goals.  In an audio interview with director Enzo G. Castellari, he discusses his father’s long, and very interesting life, which is nicely illustrated with all sorts of great family and candid on-set photos.  In “Sherry Holocaust”, produced in conjunction with Nocturno, Sherry Buchanan talks at length about the “exhausting” makeup process on ZOMBI HOLOCAUST and some of the other films she worked on, such as Mario Gariazzo’s The EYES BEHIND THE STARS (1978).  Some of the other extras herein include a tour of the New York City locations as they appear today, and, in still another audio bonus – again nicely illustrated – from 1964, Ian McCulloch sings “Down by the River” while a couple of theatrical trailers finish off the extras.  Lastly, this second disc also includes the Italian-language version, which is presented without any subtitles. But to be perfectly honest, the English version is the best way to view the film, since McCulloch dubbed his own voice and it’s always nice to hear the familiar voices of Susan Spafford, Pat Starke and the like.  Bonus perks include a reversible sleeve with German artwork for ZOMBI HOLOCAUST and, not only that, but the first 5000 copies even include a “Free Barf Bag”!

This is, quite simply, a truly outstanding and very “Definitive” Blu-ray set which is quickly shaping-up into one of the best discs of the year.  It’s an absolute must!  Order it from Diabolik DVD.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016


In the same general period as the Italian film industry was imploding in on itself due to a lack of budgets and enthusiasm, director Lucio Fulci decided to try something different: a self-reflexive look back over the latter part of his career as a famed horror director.  While the end results have divided even some of his most hardened fans, Fulci’s A CAT IN THE BRAIN (1990) is certainly a novel concept – in terms of Italian horror films, at least – plus, taking his Hitchcockian cameos to the next level, Fulci casts himself in the lead role as a tormented director who is beginning to blur the line between his excessively gory filmic output and everyday reality.

Sometimes referred to as “Dr. Fulci”, first seen is his now trademark woolen cap and matching hunter’s lumber-jacket, he is suffering from terrible hallucinations (“a woman hacked to death with an axe”) that, according to him, feels akin to a ‘cat in his brain’, which is hilariously depicted by a ferocious feline – an obvious hand-puppet – ripping apart the inside of his grey matter.  Sandwiched between numerous gore scenes from late-entry Italian splatter flicks – including many of his own – Fulci’s violent hallucinations are very easily triggered, even as he performs the most mundane of daily activities, so he seeks the help of psychiatrist Egon Swharz (David L. Thompson) to help quell his ever-increasing loss of reality.  Unfortunately for Fulci, his psychiatrist merely uses him as a pawn to continue indulging in his very own – and very real – murder spree.

Directed a year after his much-touted, but decidedly meager, ‘comeback’ film DEMONIA (1989), Fulci decided to really let loose and try something entirely different, and while this is yet another very low-budget effort, it’s considerably more memorable and even – gasp! – rather audacious for the once-fiery director.  Like Fulci himself, by the end of the film, most people will also be tired (or bored?) by the seemingly unending stream of gore and realize it’s closer in spirit to a comedy than a horror film.  Even much of the ‘borrowed” footage consists of Fulci’s TOUCH OF DEATH (1988), a darkly comic, and equally gory, look at a modern-day Bluebeard as portrayed by Brett Halsey, who, in A CAT IN THE BRAIN, is merely credited as “the monster.”  In actuality, much of this footage plays quite well alongside A CAT IN THE BRAIN’s original material as Fulci becomes paranoid of eating steak tartar, a man chopping wood, a microwave oven, or even a young girl in wheelchair, scenes which are always punctuated by some sort of splattery nightmare. However, as the film progresses, the gimmick does begin to wear-out its welcome, which may well have been Fulci’s original intent; to try and smother the viewer with as much gore as possible until it no longer resonates and leaves viewers inured to its effects from simple repetition.  It’s a fitting close to one of Fulci’s most popular periods in his 40+-year career.

Despite the heaping amounts of squishy gore on display, it’s left up to the cast to inject any real substance into this “Fulci’s Greatest Hits” package, and aside from the novelty of Fulci as the lead (adequately dubbed in the English version by Larry Dolgin), most of the cast is only amateurish at best.  As the psychotic shrink, Thompson doesn’t exhibit any acting range whatsoever, and comes across almost like a caricature of all those ’70s gialli killers.  On the other hand, it’s always nice to see Malisa Longo (credited here as Melissa Lang), star of countless ’70s Italian ‘sexy’ films, who here appears as the bitchy, unfulfilled psychiatrist’s wife and meets a particularly nasty end.   

A popular title among Grindhouse Releasing’s catalogue since the laserdisc days, A CAT IN THE BRAIN first appeared on DVD in 2006 as a 2-disc Special Edition (the initial batch even had a nifty lenticular cover), which was loaded with extras, but if you’ve never seen this film or are possibly considering an upgrade, then Grindhouse’s newest 3-disc set, which houses 2 Blu-rays and one soundtrack CD of the complete 15-track Fabio Frizzi score, is yet another incredible set well worthy of the double-dip.  Due to the film’s low-budget origins, A CAT IN THE BRAIN would never be considered demo material, but the team at Grindhouse have, as per their usual standards, created yet another small miracle with their latest Blu-ray; it’s hard to imagine it looking any better than it does here. 

Presented in its customary English language version as NIGHTMARE CONCERT (the film’s alternate English language export title), Grindhouse have also provided the Italian language track with removable English subtitles.  All the extras from the earlier DVD are reinstated, including “Genre Terrorist” and “The Television Years”, a massive two-part interview with the late director.  Further interviews with Halsey, Longo, Sacha Maria Darwin and Joffrey Kennedy are also included alongside new interviews with director of photography Sandro Grossi, composer Frizzi, co-writer Antonio Tentori and poster artist Enzo Sciotti.  More extras include hidden Easter eggs, the obligatory Grindhouse trailers – and even a few for some of Fulci’s rarer films, which are located in the filmography section of the disc – and poster galleries.  An excellent booklet with essays from Antonella Fulci, Eli Roth, David J. Schow and Martin Beine, who gives a great rundown of the ALL the borrowed footage that appears throughout the film, is also included.  Lastly, the first 3000 units come with a portrait of Fulci, which is supplied as a thick insert card. 

Definitely not for everyone, Grindhouse has nonetheless put together another incredible, praiseworthy Blu-ray, which continues their impeccably high standards.  An absolute must-have for any Fulci fan!  Order it from DiabolikDVD

Monday, July 11, 2016


Produced through his prolific Red Shirt Pictures, director Michael Felsher has enhanced many a DVD and Blu-ray over the years with his numerous documentaries and special features, but JUST DESSERTS, in my humble opinion, is his magnum opus, a beautifully-constructed and fascinating look into the making of George A. Romero’s CREEPSHOW (1982), the much-beloved – and rightfully so – ’80s horror classic.  Originally conceived for Universal’s 2-disc, U.K.-only DVD released in 2007, this documentary, unfortunately, never made it to the domestic DVD or Blu-ray, but because Universal owned the rights to CREEPSHOW solely in the U.K., this caveat enabled Felsher to retain the rights for the rest of the world.  Thankfully, in conjunction with the good folks at Synapse Films, he has decided to release this magnificent doc as an extras-stuffed, stand-alone Blu-ray, which, even if you own either the 2-disc DVD or the more recent U.K. Blu-ray from Second Sight, Synapse’s Blu-ray contains numerous extra goodies to warrant a double-dip.  

Much like the film it celebrates, JUST DESSERTS unfolds like an anthology, with various chapters dedicated to film’s development and production, and in “The Monster Man”, an entire chapter is devoted to Tom Savini’s incredible special makeup effects.  In the first chapter, cheekily entitled “An E.C. Way to Start”, Romero talks about the influence of the now-infamous E.C. horror comics from the ’50s, as well as the film’s initial conception, including Romero’s first meeting with Stephen King to discuss the possible filming of King’s novel Salem’s Lot.  At the time, both he and King, along with Richard P. Rubenstein – Romero’s producing partner and co-owner of Laurel Entertainment – were considering developing King’s epic novel The Stand as a major motion picture, but they didn’t have the necessary budget, or (quote) “clout”, so the idea was abandoned. They were thankfully doggedly determined to work together, however.  Their love for E.C. Comics became the genesis of CREEPSHOW and, as promised, 60 days later, Stephen King delivered his screenplay to Rubenstein. 

Some of the other chapters herein include: “Acting Scared”, “A Comic Book World”, “Creepy Crawlies”, “Anthology Unleashed” and “25 Years Later”, which cover virtually every facet of the film’s production, reception and ongoing popularity, and which are peppered with superb interviews from the likes of Romero, Rubenstein, Savini, composer and assistant director John Harrison, editor Pasquale Buba, artist Bernie Wrightson, plus ones with cast members Ed Harris, Adrienne Barbeau, Tom Atkins, and many others besides.  Of course, Romero and Savini dominate the bulk of the screen time, and as the documentary unfolds, we see that Romero and his crew were, quite obviously, consummate professionals, yet at the same time they were obviously excited to be working with such a stellar cast; even Romero himself at one point expresses his (quote) “intimidation” about working with some of these seasoned Hollywood veterans – including Hal Holbrook, Fritz Weaver and E.G. Marshall – while Savini relates a story about his admiration for star Vivica Lindfors and her role as Queen Margaret in Vincent Sherman’s Errol Flynn vehicle The ADVENTURES OF DON JUAN (1948). But, still more importantly, JUST DESSERTS captures a sense of the incomparable camaraderie felt by participants throughout the shoot, which seems almost impossible to recreate in these hectic and increasingly profit-driven days; as Romero calmly states at one point, “It was a wonderful experience.”  Interspersed throughout the interviews are tons of excellent, rarely seen behind-the-scenes photos and on-set video footage courtesy of Savini, and, thanks to John Harrison, it’s all scored with his highly compelling and memorable CREEPSHOW score, an absolutely inseparable blend of piano and synth, which is just as effective today as it was 34 years ago.

Nothing but praise should be given to Synapse and their remarkable Blu-ray, which is absolutely filled-to-the-brim with extra features, including two separate commentary tracks.  The first commentary features Felsher discussing his overall career, beginning at Anchor Bay, and then covers the logistical complexities of putting together this doc.  The second commentary brings together John Amplas (who played the rotting zombie Nathan Grantham in the “Father’s Day” episode, as well as the title character of Romero’s own MARTIN [1977]), property master Bruce Alan Miller and special makeup effects assistant Darryl Ferrucci, none of whom were available for comment during the actual filming of JUST DESSERTS, so it’s always interesting to hear even more anecdotes related to the filming.  Speaking of which, in “Creepshow Days”, one of the many other extras included on the disc, director of photography Michael Gornick also gets his say on the nature of the production.  Other extras include extended interviews with Romero, Savini and Wrightson; “Horror’s Hallowed Grounds”, with host Sean Clark, follows Clark as he conducts a guided tour of the many Pennsylvanian locations, and we also get a 1982 Evening Magazine segment shot on the set of the film.  However, the real icing on the cake, and one of this generous package’s most significant extras, is SCREAM GREATS VOLUME 1 – TOM SAVINI, a Fangoria-produced documentary from 1986, which has been absent on U.S. home video for far too long.  But even that isn’t all we get! As an extra added bonus, this documentary also features an additional audio commentary with Felsher and Savini. 

Beautifully packaged, including a cool rendition of Paul R. Gagne’s – author of the 1987 book on George A. Romero’s career The Zombies That Ate Pittsburgh - original cover photo from a 1982 issue of Cinefantastique, Synapse Films’ beaut of a Blu-ray is a true labour of love, and one which any discerning fan of CREEPSHOW shouldn’t be without.  By all means, don’t hesitate to pick this up!  Order it from DiabolikDVD.