Zombi Holocaust (1980)


“I could easily kill you now, but I’m determined to have your brain!”


[aka Zombie Holocaust aka The Queen Of The Cannibals aka The King Of The Living Dead aka Dr Butcher, MD aka Zombi 3]

Director:  Frank Martin (Marino Girolami)

Starring:  Alexandra Delli Colli, Ian McCulloch, Donald O’Brien, Peter O’Neal, Sherry Buchanan, Dakar, Walter Patriarca, Romano Scandariato, Roberto Resta

Screenplay:  Romano Scandariato, based upon a story by Fabrizio de Angelis



Synopsis:  After several bodies in the morgue of a New York hospital are mutilated, Dr Lori Ridgeway (Alexandra Delli Colli) is confronted at her apartment by a reporter, Susan Kelly (Sherry Buchanan), who tries to question her about rumours of a wave of cannibalism. Lori refuses to respond, but Susan persists, asking her about the many artefacts that decorate her apartment; Lori explains that she has a degree in anthropology as well as being a doctor. Susan is particularly interested in a ceremonial knife, which Lori tells her was used for human sacrifice. Another body is desecrated. This time, after cutting out the victim’s heart, the perpetrator, an orderly called Toran (Roberto Resta), begins to eat it – only to be caught in the act by Dr Dreylock (Walter Patriarca). When Lori mentions the police, Toran tears himself free of the two interns who are holding him and throws himself out of a nearby window. The others hurry down to him; he lives only long enough to mutter, “Keto!” Lori and Dr Dreylock are summoned to the office of Dr Peter Chandler (Ian McCulloch), of the New York Department of Health, where they learn that instances of body desecration and cannibalism have occurred in several places across the country. Lori explains that “Keto” is a word with religious significance throughout South-East Asia. Peter tells her that Toran came from an island in the Molottan Archipelago; while his assistant, George Harper (Peter O’Neal), asks if the natives of that area ever practiced cannibalism, which she confirms. Peter shows Lori and Dr Dreylock pictures of the other instances of desecration, as well as one of another perpetrator, who was shot by the police while resisting arrest. Lori points out the tattoo on his chest, which Toran also had. Peter asks her to arrange a meeting between himself and Professor Stafford (Romano Scandariato), Lori’s former anthropology professor, for whom she still does research. Stafford tells Peter and Lori that “Keto” was not only the name of a native god, but that of the island on which he supposedly lived; and that the tattoos were of the symbol of Keto. He adds that the followers of Keto performed human sacrifice. Lori returns to her apartment to find that it has been ransacked. Peter arrives to pick her up: he searches the apartment, but finds no-one there. Lori tells him that the only thing stolen was the ceremonial dagger – which bore the mark of Keto on its handle. Peter drives Lori to his office, where he tells her that he and George have been authorised to travel to the Molottan Archipelago to investigate the source of the cannibalism, and that he wants her to accompany them. He explains that Dr Obrero (Donald O’Brien), a famous surgeon who has lived and worked in the area for years, has agreed to help them get to the island of Keto. Lori is reluctant, explaining that she lived in the Molottas as a child, and doesn’t want to have her memories spoiled by seeing the area with adult eyes. However, she is finally persuaded – although she is not pleased to learn that Susan, who is George’s girlfriend, will also be joining the expedition. Arriving in the archipelago, Peter and his companions seek out Dr Obrero, who tells them that he has arranged for a boat, a guide, and some bearers, to help them get to Keto. Lori retires to her room to shower and rest, but finds in her bed a maggot-ridden severed head, with the mark of Keto nearby in blood…

Comments:  So, in 1979, Lucio Fulci made Zombie. And then, a little later, Ruggero Deodato made Cannibal Holocaust. And a couple of months after that, Marino Girolami made Zombi Holocaust.

You gotta love the Italians.

So—after this card, do I still have to write a review?

And the other thing you gotta love is the way I keep inviting you guys along to witness me humiliating myself by wussing out over a particular gore effect inevitably found in these Italian zombie epics. From the moment that wood splinter met goat’s eye in Zombie, the graphic eye-gouge became de rigueur for all of Fulci’s copyists (who, of course, include Fulci himself), initiating a sick competition to see who could come up with the most spectacularly horrible way for some minor character or other in their film to lose an eyeball.

Thanks to various of my colleagues, I knew going in that Zombi Holocaust features a double eye-gouge; and I was more than a little unnerved by Will Laughlin’s observation that this scene constituted one of the film’s better-executed effects. On the other hand, I also knew that the early suicide scene featured the arm snapping off an obvious mannequin – and subsequently reattaching itself – which encouraged me to believe that the special effects bar wasn’t set particularly high in the first place, and that “better-executed” was a very relative term.

So let’s get started, and see how I do this time.

The weird thing about Zombi Holocaust – heh, “the” weird thing about Zombi Holocaust – is that it is actually is far more a cannibal film than it is a zombie film…and yes, it does have both: Marino Girolami makes good on the promise inherent in his title on that score, anyway. I can only assume that Fulvia Film decided that zombies were more marketable than cannibals, or at least less controversial; Cannibal Holocaust may have hit the fan by then. The other remarkable thing is that by my rough count, this was the 765,550,000th film to be sold to the public as “Zombi 3”. I guess that was de rigueur too.

Actually, although I put all this upon the shoulders of Marino Girolami, the man to blame – or to thank – is almost certainly producer / story source Fabrizio de Angelis who, not content with producing the highly profitable Zombie, obviously decided to wring a few more lire out of the horror-watching public by throwing together this cheap knock-off. To that end, he re-cast Ian McCulloch and Dakar; used exactly the same settings; got Walter Patriarca to re-dress exactly the same sets; and even tagged Giannetto de Rossi again, although most of the final effects would be the handiwork of Maurizio Trani. Lightning conspicuously failed to strike a second time (those who bad-mouth Lucio Fulci might want to think about that), but you still have to admire the economy of de Angelis’ manoeuvrings…or at least the ruthless efficiency of his recycling.

The Germans seem to have grasped the essence of this film.

And speaking as we were of de rigueur, like most Italian zombie films – and most Italian cannibal films – and, as it turns out, most Italian zombie / cannibal films – Zombi Holocaust opens in New York. Not for Marino Girolami the atmospheric harbour shots of Zombie, however: instead, his footage consists primarily of pans up skyscrapers and street scenes of yellow cabs jostling for position, not to mention repeated real-time sequences of characters walking back to their cars and getting in (or the reverse).

Anyway, in Girolami’s visually uninteresting NYC, a particular hospital is being plagued by body mutilations; an outbreak that might just conceivably be related to the complete absence of morgue security. We watch as a shadowy figure saws the hand off a male corpse, an act discovered when the same body is later used in an anatomy class. Dr Dreylock, conducting the class for half a dozen students, notes the missing hand and exchanges a worried glance with his colleague, Dr Lori Ridgeway, but goes on with the class anyway. As he explains what “the stomach” is to his students – which I kind of hope a bunch of medical students would already know – Dreylock cuts open the cadaver with a scalpel; a process greatly facilitated by the fact that New Yorkers seem to have evolved beyond the need for a ribcage.

As Dreylock pokes around in an indiscriminate mass of organs (if that’s what the poor guy had in his chest, no wonder he’s dead!), the students notice the missing hand and start snickering about it. Dreylock reproves their callous attitude and dismisses the class. Well – that was certainly an example of making good use of precious resources. As the students file out, Lori tells Dreylock that the body was intact the night before, while Dreylock comments on this being the second such incident in the past month. “There must be a psychopathic deviant in the hospital!” he adds. Lori suggests calling the police, but Dreylock scotches the idea, on the grounds that going public would give the hospital a bad name.

Hmm. Not as bad as the one it’s going to have when it becomes known that this had been going on for a while and you didn’t call the police, I should think. But then, what do I know? It’s only corpse mutilation, after all; and besides, what hospital doesn’t have a psychopathic deviant on staff?

The Thais, far from sharing my particular hang-up, chose to put it on the poster…

And then, speaking yet again of de rigueur— At the seven minute mark of Zombi Holocaust, we get the following exchange:

Dr Dreylock:   “Something like this would make sense in a society of primitive savages, but today, in New York City…?”
Lori:   “But, Dr Dreylock— Do you really think we’re that much different from savages?”

Ah, the Who are the real savages? speech! What would any pseudo-pretentious Italian cannibal movie be without it? And by the way, am I the only one with a picture in my mind of Marino Girolami marking items off a checklist?

The next body mutilation is a heart-ripping – in the course of which, someone manages to leave a puddle of blood on the floor beside the victim’s bed without in any way messing up the sheets. We cut from this to Lori entering her apartment, and—


You know, when you choose to watch horror movies, you take the risk of inviting certain disturbing images into your psyche; images with the power to leave a scar upon your mind; even upon your soul. I have watched a lot of horror movies in my life, and I have seen a lot of horrible things; but nothing, nothing to match the sheer, soul-scarring horror that is—

—the decor of Lori Ridgeway’s bedroom, which is, in all seriousness, the single most appallingly tasteless piece of interior decorating I have ever seen. It even beats out the recurrent burnt-orange curtains and browny-velour of It’s Alive, which at least had the excuse of being made in 1973.

And, I’m sorry, you’re going to have to excuse me for a minute, because I don’t think I can go on without alcohol. Just…carry on. Talk amongst yourselves for a minute…

Think of it as a spiritual eye-gouging…

Ah! A cheeky little rosé! What, sorry? Oh, right.

Lori here strips off to her underwear, possibly in a kind attempt to provide a visual distraction from the nightmare that is her bedroom suite (I appreciate the effort, but— Sucks to be a heterosexual female), then throws on a flimsy robe and wanders out into her living-room, which is decorated with “artefacts”.

We then get an hilariously mystifying moment when Lori opens her fridge: the camera zooms in on a packet of plastic-wrapped meat, a movement accompanied by a dramatic musical sting. As it was established with amazing clumsiness a few minutes earlier that Lori is a vegetarian, I’m guessing that the anonymous lump of meat is supposed to be the ripped-out heart, and that its presence is either a threat, or a red-herring hint that Lori is – gasp! – one of them. However, since the film forgets this point as soon as raising it, we never find out.

The doorbell rings, and— Oh, lord, it’s the pushy reporter (tick!, says Marino Girolami), in this case a female one called Susan Kelly, who barges her way in and starts questioning Lori about the rumours of cannibalism in her hospital. Lori deflects the questions, at which point Susan notices all the “artefacts”. In the film’s most gob-smacking moment, we then learn that before qualifying as a doctor, Lori earned a degree in anthropology.

Well. Coming on top of Around The World Under The Sea, with its marine biologist-medico, I guess if the movies have taught us anything, it’s that a double-doctorate is most likely to be held by a leggy blonde with a vacant expression and a pouty attitude.

Susan’s attention is caught by a knife hanging on the wall – which like the packet of meat, gets a zoom and a sting. Lori tells her it is a ceremonial knife once used for human sacrifice, before succeeding in pushing her out the door.

“I am so too both a doctor and an anthropologist!” said Lori, stamping her foot.

Back at the hospital, our psychopathic deviant is at it again, this time slicing open the chest of another body (it wobbles alarmingly up and down as he makes the incision) and cutting out the heart – which in this poor bastard sits exactly where his manubrium should be. The perpetrator lifts the heart and goes to take a bite out of it. We just have time to see that it is one of the orderlies, Toran, before Dr Dreylock, Lori and two other orderlies enter, springing their trap.

(Nice of them to wait until after the body was desecrated to spring it; I guess they didn’t want to give a defence attorney room to move.)

Lori again mentions the police, at which the guilty party pulls himself free of the not-particularly secure grip of the two orderlies and jumps at a (closed) window. He hurtles to the ground below, and as he hits—

How does one describe this particular miracle of special-effects work?

One does not. One supplies screenshots.

Toran mutters, “Keto!” before dying; and we get a zoom-sting on the tattoo on his chest, which is the same symbol as on the handle of Lori’s ceremonial knife. Lori and Dreylock are subsequently called to the office of someone whose authority the film never bothers to clarify for us, beyond a piece of expeditionary gear marked with “Health Dept.” In our most blatant piece of Zombie call-backing, the male lead here is played by Ian McCulloch – whose character, I’m sure you’ll be astonished to learn, is named “Peter”; Dr Peter Chandler, in fact. In the following conversation we learn, sort of, that “Keto” is the name of a god. We also learn that, rather than the South American cannibals of Cannibal Holocaust, this time around we’ll be dealing with some South-East Asian cannibals. Lest any of you feel tempted to consider this a touch of originality, let me remind you that Man From Deep River, the original Italian cannibal film, was set in Asia, and so was the later Ultimo Mondo Cannibale.

ZH80-arm4b  ZH80-arm2b
Arm comes off………………………………………………………..…arm goes on.

Peter’s assistant, George Harper, asks Lori whether the word “Keto” was used in the dialects of the natives of “the Molottan Archipelago”. (Sic.?? I’m sorry, but everyone who says this pronounces it differently; the whole thing being compounded by George’s insistence upon “Archie-pelago”.) Lori confirms this, learning that one of the islands in the archipelago was Toran’s home. Peter leads the way into the next room, where he wants to show some slides; and on the way, George asks Lori whether the natives in the Molottos practice cannibalism?

“All primitive peoples practice it, without exception,” replies Lori, her tone of voice suggesting, “Well, duh.”

Welcome to the wonderful world of the Italian cannibal flick, folks!

(George also calls Lori “Miss Ridgeway”; jeez, how many doctorates does a girl have to get – !?)

Peter reveals that similar flesh-chomping incidents have happened in different parts of the country; while the only other perpetrator to be caught “reacted so violently” that the police had to shoot him…smack between the eyes. (Mwoo-ha-ha!) Shown a slide of the dead man, Lori points out that he has the same tattoo as Toran. Peter has Lori arrange a meeting with her anthropological mentor, Professor Stafford (played by the screenwriter of Zombi Holocaust, Romano Scandariato), who tells him that “Keto” is also the name of an island. He then sketches the symbol of “the sect of Keto”, which turns out to be the mark on the handle of Lori’s ceremonial knife, as well as the tattoo on the two dead cannibals.

An indeterminate amount of time later, Lori returns to her apartment. Fortunately, it’s been ransacked, so we never get as far as – *shudder* – the bedroom. She is running out again when Peter arrives; he does a quick search and declares all clear. Lori realises that the ceremonial knife has been stolen, but declines Peter’s suggestion of the police: “What’s the point?” Jeez, I dunno: what was the point of calling them over a little cannibalism? Oh, that’s right – they didn’t.

The gang’s all here: Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy…

Oddly, after earlier parting from Peter with a declaration that she didn’t want to get involved, Lori is next on her way to his office to meet up with the other members of his “expedition”, namely George, and George’s girlfriend – Susan. Groan. “I bet she’s been telling you I’m a rude and nosy bitch!” says Susan by way of an opening gambit. Well, no, but now that you mention it… This section also reveals that Lori spent some of her childhood in the Molottan Archipelago with her parents; a fact that won’t really become relevant at any point in the film.

Now, I’ll concede that cannibalism in New York hospitals is the Department of Health’s business; but why it would approve, let alone fund, an “expedition” to South-East Asia is beyond me. However, this would hardly be a proper Italian cannibal flick is a bunch of naive “civilised” people didn’t stick their noses in where they could be bitten off, so heigh-ho!

Heigh-ho indeed, as the next shot finds out intrepid idi—I mean, explorers, in the Molottan Archipelago. (If some of the jeep-driving scenes here look familiar, it’s because they were lifted wholesale from Zombie.) They are greeted by “world famous surgeon” Dr Obrero, who invites them into his home – it’s been done over since the Menards left – well, not left, exactly – and introduces them to his assistant, Molotto. Lori retires to her room in order to take a shower and to fulfil the film’s nudity quota; while Obrero (who also favours “Archie-pelago”) tells the others that Keto is at the far end of the chain of islands, and warns them that the natives there are, “Cruel, superstitious – and absolutely unwilling to accept any form of Western civilisation!” The ungrateful little bastards! No wonder Dr Obrero is— Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Having prepared for her shower without noticing that someone was watching her through the window, Lori now prepares for bed without realising that someone’s been in her room. She spends some time striking poses first, though, showing off her breasts and offering a quick frontal flash before donning her night-gear, a T-shirt that—well, that doesn’t—oh, let’s just say that it seems to have shrunk in the wash, or at least shortened. She then pulls back the bedclothes to discover – a rotten, maggot-ridden head!!

Wait a minute… I know that street! And that jeep! And that donkey!

And tick!, said Marino Girolami.

Lori shrieks, and Peter and Obrero come running. Lori points out the symbol of Keto, drawn on her sheets in blood. And maggots. Obrero is remarkably casual about the whole thing, assuring Lori that, had the natives wanted to hurt her, they’d’ve done it. Oh, thanks, doc.

Undeterred, the next morning the party sets out in a boat piloted by Molotto, accompanied by their – oh, groan – “native bearers”. As the day draws to a close, George emerges from down below with the unwelcome news that the engine is overheating. The party decides to pull in for the night on the nearest island, and set out again on the following day. A sensible decision, it would seem, except that…Molotto smirks.

Wait a minute! I’ve seen that smirk before! It’s the same smirk that was smirked by Wu in Mesa Of Lost Women! Treachery!!

The party makes camp – on a convenient patch of freshly mown lawn – and George offers up the comforting thought that as the natives only like dead bodies, they should be fine as long as they’re alive. One of the bearers wanders off for no reason – well, okay, I guess there is a reason; it’s not like an Italian cannibal film to be so coy, though – and the next moment, an agonised scream sounds from the bushes.

Peter dismisses the notion of going to look for the bearer in the dark, but in the morning he, George and Molotto search for the missing man, with Susan insisting on tagging along. Peter and Susan nearly tread on what’s left of the poor bugger, and the subsequent commotion brings all the others to the spot. (Amusingly, both Peter O’Neal and Alexandra Delli Colli find it necessary to step over the “body”, in order for George and Lori to get into the right position to look down at it in horror.) Peter gives a snotty, It’s his own fault speech, while George, who has just gotten through reproving Susan her callousness in photographing the body, dismisses the remaining bearers’ fears and orders them to bury their friend – “And be quick about it!”

After the success of Zombie, Ol’ Worm-Eye fell victim to typecasting.

Suddenly, Lori gasps, pointing at the symbol of Keto on a tree, drawn in blood. Peter then confronts Molotto, insisting that this island is Keto, and that he was taking them to the wrong place. Molotto gets flustered, finally explaining apologetically that, “All these islands look alike.”

The, heh, “expedition” presses on, until Peter declares that the village should be just up ahead. On cue, a native appears, and then several more. One of the remaining bearers panics and bolts, and winds up on the receiving end of a booby-trap of deadly spikes. As he hangs there, the natives close in. They cut his throat, then slice open his abdomen and start munching on his guts.

The guts. Why the guts?? WHY, of all the possibilities, would you choose to eat just the guts??

(Yeah, I know…but come on.)

The others eventually catch up, and Peter and George shoot a native each. Seeing the bearer impaled several times, and with his throat gashed open and his guts hanging out, Peter goes to check whether he is alive. (Anything but carry your own gear, hey, Peter?) He then orders Molotto and the final bearer to, “Take him down and bury him”; while George suggests finding some higher ground, “Where it will be easier to defend ourselves.”

Or you could, oh, I don’t know, LEAVE. I mean, I’m sorry if I’ve missed something, but what exactly was the point of this expedition? To prove that they practice cannibalism on Keto, was it? If so, I’d say mission accomplished.

That night, Molotto succeeds in getting Obrero on the radio. The surgeon gives Peter directions to an old mission building, promising to bring help and meet them there. The four remaining men mount guard, while Lori and Susan lie down. They don’t sleep, though, which is just as well: a cannibal sneaks in through (under?) the back of their tent. Not missing a beat, Lori leaps to her feet and swings a machete; and we get a cheap-jack version of a Tom Savini classic, lest we forget the inspiration for Zombie.

“I said, I need you to go over there and pack up the camping-gear.”

While Peter is inspecting the damage, there is yet another cry from the bushes, into which the remaining bearer wandered a little earlier. (You know, under the circumstances, I think a little close proximity peeing would be forgivable.) George and Molotto call the others, and sure enough, the final bearer is lying on the ground with a bamboo pole sticking up out of his gut, although he’s not quite dead.

Lori feels compelled to do the whole serious head shake thing here, just to remind us of her professional credentials. Because, you know, it wouldn’t occur to us that someone having a ruddy big piece of wood rammed through their guts might be fatal, without a doctor to tell us so.

And then there were five. They press on in the morning – leaving all of the gear behind; no bearers, you understand! – and make good ground until yet again being ambushed. This time, the party having run out of bearers, it is Susan who panics and runs. She is finally brought down with a bolas, which looks remarkably like it is constructed of a length of red silk cloth (!), and carried off screaming. Peter and George shoot a few more cannibals, but are finally overwhelmed. George is held down and disembowelled, his body coming apart as easily as a house of cards, as movies like these always insist that the human body does. Evidently, however, George’s guts aren’t filling enough; or maybe the cannibals felt like dessert; because then they reach for his face, and—

Aaaaaaaaand here we go. Now, you’d think if I could look at Lori Ridgeway’s bedroom, I could look at anything, wouldn’t you? I guess the difference is, I knew the eye-gouging was coming, whereas the bedroom suite caught me off-guard (thank you very MUCH, gentlemen!). Actually – I did do a little better this time around; which is to say, seeing what was coming, I flinched back, scrinched up my own eyes, threw up a hand, and turned my head a bit; and watched what was happening on a weird-ish angle and with an obscured field of vision.

And yes, that is better than last time.

Damn. The bamboo really does grow fast on this island.

Oh, up yours!

By the way (not that I’m trying to change the subject, or anything), I can’t help noticing the nifty, mass-produced knives that these primitive savages seem to be carrying.

Meanwhile, Peter (being played by Ian McCulloch, and all) is getting the Hero’s Death Battle Exemption© – and what a HDBE it is! As the cannibals turn their attention – and their confiscated machete – to him, a groaning sound comes from the bushes nearby; and the natives flee in terror as stalking towards them comes – a ZOMBIE!!

Yes, that’s right, folks: forty-nine and a half minutes into Zombi Holocaust, we finally get our first zombie. Frankly, it wasn’t worth the wait.

Just up the path a bit, Lori is having a HDBE of her own (and Molotto, a HDBE-by-association). Another zombie wanders out of the bushes, and their threatening cannibals cut and run too. A third zombie strolls up to the group still chowing down on George, who also beat feet. These zombies all have messed up faces and bald heads, but are essentially normal from the neck down.

They are also slow-moving (at the moment), so our three survivors are able to get away without difficulty. They run through the jungle for a while, and then pretty much accidentally find their way to their destination: the old mission building where they were supposed to meet Obrero.

It seems…familiar.

“Lay off me, man…not everyone gets to work with Fulci!”

And in fact, Obrero is already there. He shakes his head over the fates of George and Susan – no-one cares about the bearers, of course – and urges Peter to get Lori off the island. “There’s nothing more you can do here!” Oh, nonsense! – there are at least two more people Peter could get killed yet, if he really tried! Obrero tells Peter that there is a motorised rubber dinghy down on the beach, which he can use to get back to his boat. He adds that he can’t leave yet, as he has to wait for some of his men to return.

Through all this, a dim bulb has been struggling to light itself in the back of Peter’s brain; and he is firm in declining Obrero’s offer for Molotto to accompany Lori and himself. The two of them stroll off – unarmed, we note; what happened to the guns and/or machetes? – and get as far as the beach before Peter finally says what’s on his mind, pointing out that Obrero seemed to know where they were even though they had put ashore on the “wrong” island. “This island’s hiding something; something even worse than those cannibals,” he concludes, “and Obrero’s done everything he can to keep us away from here!”

Now, all of this is, simultaneously, right, and hilariously wrong. Of course there’s a secret; and of course it’s Obrero’s secret; but as to whether does or does not want Peter and Lori (et al.) on the island, the screenplay is entirely unable to decide. If he wanted them there (as various bits of behaviour will suggest), why not just direct them there in the first place? And why send them away now? And if he didn’t, why not point them in the wrong direction altogether? Or direct them away from, instead of to, the old mission? Or, you know, just kill them?

Finally, Peter decides that he’s going to snoop, while Lori waits offshore in the dinghy. He tries to start the outboard motor – motors; curiously, there are two – but the larger one won’t start. He then begins on the smaller one, as Lori belatedly notices the sound of laboured breathing nearby. A zombie moves purposefully towards them, and then pulls a knife!!!!

In a rare bit of horror movie good fortune – HDBE Mark II – the smaller outboard motor chooses just that moment to start, and then turns out to be not attached to the dinghy anyway. Peter swings around with it in his hands, and ewwwww!!, it’s Outboard Motor 1, Zombie Head 0!

“Look, a deserted mission! I’m sure we’ll be safe in there!”

Peter and Lori then turn back and head for the mission. On the way, they see someone they think is Susan – except that it turns out to be a zombie holding her camera. And wearing her clothes. And her scalp.

Inside the mission, we find the real Susan strapped to an operating table, her bloody bare skull exposed; while Obrero hangs over her, dictating Mad Science into a tape recorder (and giving us, to go along with “Archie-pelago”, the ever-popular “juggler vein”). He makes notes of his intention to drain all of her blood, and then put it back in later. Why? You got me. He proceeds to do exactly that, though, planting a large draining needle in Susan’s “juggler”, while she cries and moans and whimpers and finally screams. This gets on the good doctor’s nerves. He responds by snipping Susan’s vocal cords (which he seems to think are found in the vicinity of the tonsils), and then dictates one of the two lines of dialogue that wins this silly film its slice of immortality:

“The patient’s scream disturbing me; performed removal of vocal cords!”

Obrero then gives Susan an injection to keep her conscious – which, considering he’s about to remove her brain, seems unnecessary even by the standards of Mad Science. Susan, although silent, is still thrashing around with surprising vigour, considering how much of her blood is now in an extremely unsterile-looking Buchner flask. Obrero comes at her with a small circular saw, announcing that he is about to, “Traverse a new frontier in science!” I’ll say! He explains that he intends to transplant Susan’s brain into the body of one of the natives, a man, who has been dead ten days. Why? You got me. He also assures Susan of her ultimate zombie fate, before setting to work with the saw.

(You know, I’m not entirely sure the equator is really the right locale for these sorts of experiments…at least in the absence of refrigeration.)

Okay, I guess that Coloured Fluid isn’t so very Mysterious…

Peter and Lori at last find their way back, but it’s nightfall before they do. Breaking in, they find themselves in Obrero’s storage locker. (A little male frontal nudity here, if that bothers anybody.) While they are staring around in horror, they are attacked by a zombie. Peter knocks it down, but the noise brings a gun-wielding Obrero. “I tried very hard to keep you away from Keto!” he declares, which I guess answers the question of his intentions, if not his behaviour. He orders Peter and Lori into the operating-theatre, where he kindly points out Susan to them. Her skull cap has been removed, and her brain is exposed…revealing an almost complete absence of convolutions.

I can’t say that I’m surprised.

Obrero then accuses Peter of having, “Median intelligence” – median, you notice, not average; smartarse – “Enough to discover the existence of my secret, but absolutely incapable of understanding it!” He further declares that the purpose of his science is to “improve on Nature”, and that he is on the verge of, “Increasing Man’s lifespan by over one hundred years!”

Hmm. Given that doing so seems to require yanking the brain out of one person and sticking it in the skull of another, perhaps that should be, “The lifespan of some men.” Because I don’t think this technique will really do anything to increase the average lifespan. Or even the median one.

Obrero reminisces about the early days, and his success in tempting the natives to volunteer for his experiments by promising them divinity. He also confirms Peter’s suspicion that it was he who revived cannibalism on the island. Why? You got me. I can only suppose that Obrero lured some of the natives in by, uh, offering them a free lunch; but then again, considering the only people on the island were all of the same tribe…

And of course, we get absolutely nothing here that even remotely explains how followers of Keto ended up working – and dining – in hospitals across America.

Dr Obrero gives in to a very natural impulse…

Anyway, Obrero gets exasperated with Peter and Lori’s refusal to be wowed by his revelations, and orders Molotto to prepare Peter for surgery. “I’m eager to experiment on a male Caucasian brain!” he declares. So why were you trying to get him off the island? (My brain hurts. I think I’ll have it removed.) Peter makes a desperate feint and succeeds in shoving Lori out the door, but he is recaptured. “You did her no favour by doing that,” Obrero comments, and indeed, Lori is barely out of the building before she herself is captured by the cannibals. Peter is then strapped down and sedated; and we get the one decent suspense sequence in the film, as he struggles to drag a small table of instruments towards him and seize a scalpel to cut himself free, before the drug overcomes him…

Meanwhile, Lori is—


You know, I can hardly find the words to tell you what Lori’s doing. She’s in the cannibal village, in company with two native women – both of whom seem to be wearing gauzy nightgowns. Whether Lori has been drugged, or hypnotised, or cowed, or convinced that she’s participating in some kind of primitive “Painting From Life” class, or is just in a remarkably compliant mood, I really couldn’t say; but we find her just standing there obligingly, buck naked, as one of the native women daubs her all over with pretty flower paintings. Her expression, as she goes through what could fairly be described as an outré experience, conveys absolutely nothing.

Lori is next seen being escorted by a group of natives, obviously heading for some kind of ceremony. Her hands are clasped in front, in a very Botticelli’s Venus kind of way, if you get my drift; while we can’t help but notice her insistence upon walking on tiptoe. (I am irresistibly reminded here of Jeri Ryan’s wry response to questions about Seven Of Nine’s perpetual high-heels: “When they put you in a cat-suit, you take all the help you can get!”) But of course, they couldn’t put Lori, suffering from a similar problem, into high heels, could they? – because in a story about a mad scientist encouraging natives to become cannibals so that he can turn them into zombies, that would be ridiculous, right?

“Did I leave the iron on?”

Lori is led into the ceremonial chamber, where we find a stone altar with the impression of a woman’s body in it; and if you tilt your head and squint (kind of like me watching an eye-gouging), it almost sorta looks like – gasp! – the symbol of Keto. The two nightie-wearing native women take Lori to the altar and place her in the impression – which just happens to be exactly the right height, width and depth – and – and – ohhhhohhhhewwww!!!! – all of a sudden I’m having flashbacks to Zombie Lake…if you know what I mean, and I think you do.

At least…well, in a way I am; but in another way I’m not. As I mentioned earlier, we got a pretty comprehensive look at Lori after her shower; and now that she’s lying on the altar with her legs spread, I can’t help but notice that, well, that something’s missing. I leave it to the individual viewer to decide whether these primitive natives succeeded in inventing the razor, or whether along with the red silk bolas and the gauzy nightgown, they also developed the art of the flesh-coloured panties.

A fellow with fancy-schmancy face paint, who we take to be the High Priest, raises the ceremonial human sacrifice knife. (Along with all their other accomplishments, these natives seem to have invented the plastic handle.) However, before he can render all further debates about Lori Ridgeway’s genital area rather moot, the stone altar magically tips itself from its forty-five degree angle to lie flat instead. The natives get very excited about this – in an arm-waving sort of way, I mean. Evidently their society is governed by some bizarre, Lovecraftian kind of cosmic geometry, wherein a woman on the diagonal is sacrificial fodder, but a woman flat on her back is The One Whom Our Legends Foretold.

Or perhaps they just like the view better at that angle.

As for Peter, the bad news is he did pass out before he could free himself; while the good news is that he managed to grab a scalpel prior to doing so. While Obrero and Molotto are removing the scalp from the intended brain recipient, Peter cuts one of the straps holding him, hiding the fact as Obrero turns, scalp in hand, to remark chattily, “I make a point of giving the scalps to the natives to use during their traditional fertility rites. They believe that by wearing them, it increases the male potency. Blond hair is thought to be doubly effective,” he finishes with a meaningful smile. Oh, really? And when, exactly, would the natives have had the chance to develop that theory?

I don’t even want to think about how that impression got in the rock in the first place.

Meanwhile, over in the native village, the cannibals are making “watermelon, watermelon” noises, while a chant that sounds like Doonwazzendah! Doonwazzendah! is dubbed over them. It’s supposed to be issuing from the High Priest, who really needs to work on his lip-synching.

On Obrero’s orders, Molotto finally makes a move towards Peter, who sits up. Molotto and Peter struggle, and Molotto ends up with his throat cut. Peter then makes a break for it, only to find his way blocked by zombies. Two of them grab him, as Obrero comes forward brandishing a gun, and utters the film’s signature piece of dialogue:

“I could easily kill you now, but I’m determined to have your brain! It will be the culmination of my career!”

And when your life’s work depends upon Ian McCulloch’s brain, well…

The zombies, who seem much more physically co-ordinated here than they were earlier, drag Peter to the operating table. He breaks away, though, at which point the zombies revert to slow, arms-stretched-out stalking. Backed against a wall, Peter proves that he was paying attention the last time that he (or at least, Ian McCulloch) was on this same damn island by chucking an oil lamp at them. Sure enough, one of the zombies goes up in flames. The other is ordered by Obrero to re-capture Peter, and all of a sudden becomes spry and vigorous again. It and Peter are locked in hand-to-hand combat when—

—the cannibals arrive! – pouring in through those same flaps near the roof that those other zombies used a film or so ago. Some of them grab the zombie, pulling him off Peter, while others grab Obrero; they then set to work with their machetes. (Although where they got all those from, I really couldn’t say.) At the last moment, the High Priest runs in, and then so does Lori, wearing a flimsy little nightie over her body paint. Obrero and the zombie get gut-munched, while everything else goes up in flames. And that’s about it, really.

For Ian McCulloch, it was déjà vu all over again…

What you’ve got love about that ending is that it never bothers to join any dots for us: we assume that (1) Lori is proclaimed Blonde Jungle Goddess, or some such; and that (2) she uses her new powers to convince the cannibals to rescue Peter; but not a word or an action actually confirms that. I guess Marino Girolami himself was so comfortable in the world of the shameless rip-off, he just assumed the rest of us had seem enough jungle movies with blonde goddesses that he figured he didn’t need to spell it out. In which assumption he was, of course, quite correct.

By the way, final kill counts:

Mad scientist: 1, plus 4 for 4 zombies, plus possession of 8 dead bodies
Nice civilised people: 7, plus 2 zombies
Cannibals:   5, plus 1 zombie
US police:   1
Zombies:   0

And yes, you do read that correctly…


Want a second opinion of Zombi Holocaust? Visit Braineater, 1000 Misspent Hours – And Counting, and  Teleport City.

Click here for some Immortal Dialogue!


Footnote:  As most of you would know, under one of its alternative titles, Dr Butcher, MD, this film actually existed as a different cut, which removed a portion of the, ahem, character scenes; included one extra sequence of Peter and Lori fighting the cannibals; and opened with unconnected footage from an uncompleted film called Tales To Rip Out Your Heart. It also had a different score.

Dr Butcher, MD doesn’t exist any more, at least not in that form. As far as I know, all international DVD releases have instead restored the original cut of Zombi Holocaust (it seems fundamentally wrong to be using the word “restored” in this context), while including the alternative footage amongst the extras. Anyway, that’s what we got here; and of those extras, I cannot help but recommend the US trailer, which shows every single one of the film’s highlights, including the eye-gouging and Lori’s frontal nudity! Those were the days, I guess.

The other great thing about Dr Butcher, MD is its insistence that its titular madman is operating (so to speak) in New York…even while it’s showing footage of him in his dingy hospital on the island! But otherwise, of course, we couldn’t have had THAT tagline…


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14 Responses to Zombi Holocaust (1980)

  1. Dawn says:

    “So why are you removing this one’s brain to put in that one’s body?”
    “It’s SCIENCE!”


    • lyzmadness says:

      That is, of course, always the best and most correct answer. 😀


      • therevdd says:

        Was this a happy coincidence considering I brought this up recently, or did that inspire you?

        Anyhoo, I had forgotten the punchline following your attempt to watch the eye-gouging. Hee-hee!

        This movie is such a weird blend of good and goofy. The weird, wheezing zombies in this one are some of my favorites, despite how lackluster they tend to be. (Although I am fond of that one up there who looks like the zombie you’d get from one of those things in Stephen King’s Sleepwalkers.) We get some impressive mayhem with death traps and outboard motors…and we also get the breakaway arm. I enjoy McCulloch; I only enjoy Delli Colli when she’s not speaking. We have some good tension with Peter’s attempt to escape before he passes out, as well as zombies your average six-month-old child could outpace. And, of course, we get those special moments like the smooth brain, the ritual stone platform, and that eye-searing decor. As I said, I think this is one of the better examples of this subgenre, although considering most of the competition that’s definitely a “damning with faint praise” statement.


      • lyzmadness says:

        It was already on the list because I name-checked Lori during Hell Of The Living Dead. Actually, I started working on Contamination, but then I realised the Ian McCulloch’s brain joke doesn’t work unless this comes first. 😀

        Well…Marino Girolami will probably hate me for saying this but, eye-gouging aside (obviously), I find this about the most inoffensively fun example of the genre. It’s no Zombie (desperately as it wants to be), but it keeps me stupidly entertained.


    • therevdd says:

      I have to agree, it’s pretty innocuous as far as these go. It doesn’t plumb the depths of outrageous stupidity that most of these do, for better or for worse; and there’s nothing like the whole incestual kid subplot in Burial Ground or the ending of Nightmare City to actively outrage the viewer. Even the gore doesn’t go over the top for the most part; nothing there reaches the heights of intestine puking, head drilling, skull/brain crushing (hmmm…all the same movie there), reverse eyeball poking, or The Splinter. The outboard motor does get close.

      What was I saying about it being saved by mediocrity earlier?…


      • therevdd says:

        Also, I had forgotten that you’d mentioned this being on The List in the Hell of the Living Dead comments, so mea culpa there.


  2. Ronald says:

    “What you’ve got love about that ending is that it never bothers to join any dots for us”

    Well, here’s how someone at Wikipedia apparently thought things turned out:

    “Lori is accepted as queen of the cannibals, and sends them off against the mad scientist and his zombie army.”

    Which IMHO only makes it that much more regrettable that the main story didn’t take place in New York…


  3. ronald says:

    >>>how followers of Keto ended up working – and dining – in hospitals across America

    Perhaps it’s related to how they ended up being *patients* at American hospitals, as seen in “Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals” (1977), with Dirce “Porno Holocaust” Funari in the tour de force role of “Mental Institution Cannibal Girl.”


    • lyzmadness says:

      I’ll have to take your word on that! – though of course I should have seen Porno Holocaust by now, what with its female scientists and all…


      • ronald says:

        Well, I’ve only read about either; I’ve read about a lot more movies than I’ve seen. More time-efficient. 😉 I just selected Porno Holocaust because of everything on Ms. Funari’s resume, it sounded the most egregious example of the antithesis of great film-making. You know, like “tour de force” really isn’t a term one associates with, well, you know, it’s irony and stuff.


  4. Killer Meteor says:

    “dr Butcher, MD doesn’t exist any more, at least not in that form. As far as I know, all international DVD releases have instead restored the original cut of Zombi Holocaust (it seems fundamentally wrong to be using the word “restored” in this context), while including the alternative footage amongst the extras. ”

    It’s on the recent US Blu-ray from Severin


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