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.