The late seventies/early eighties must've been an exciting time for Italian filmmakers with the rampant success of the zombie and cannibal genres, and when two types of movies are making money it's a sure bet that some enterprising producer is going to combine them--bringing us to 1980's ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST, directed by Marino Girolami and featuring not only an army of the living dead but a bloodthirsty tribe of cannibal savages. In a movie like this, the two of them should've gone together like chocolate and peanut butter . . . and in a way they do, only it's kinda like a Reese's cup you might find under the couch, half-melted and with a funny taste.
Perhaps best known to genre fans in its alternate state as DR. BUTCHER M.D., when it was imported by Aquarius Releasing and given a different score, along with integrated footage from Roy Frumkes's unfinished anthology TALES THAT'LL RIP YOUR HEART OUT. It's been a long time since I've seen that version, so I won't be able to compare/contrast, but HOLOCAUST is widely considered the "better" version. It really doesn't matter, though, since both cuts deliver the exploitive goods yet remain curiously, sometimes frustratingly, muddled.
Somebody's stealing body parts from the morgue of a New York hospital, and it's up to nurse Alexandra Delli Colli and detective Ian McCullough (both of them Fulci veterans, featured in THE NEW YORK RIPPER and ZOMBIE, respectively) to figure out who. The first act of the film provides most of its entertainment, albeit at its own expense with laughable dialogue ineptly dubbed and continuity errors (the graphic heart removal helps matters nicely, too). When it's discovered that the organ thefts are connected to an obscure tribe in New Guinea, McCullough and Delli Colli (who conveniently dabbles in anthropology as well as medicine) travel to the jungle for some answers. This leads to the discovery of not only the aforementioned cannibals, but mad scientist Donald O'Brien, whose experiments on human longevity have spawned the aforementioned zombie army.
From the above synopsis, ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST sounds like a sure-fire grindhouse hit, and with its generous gore and frequent glimpses of skin by the lovely Delli Colli, it's often quite enjoyable. However, the overall feature lacks a certain energy due to Girolami's generally apathetic direction (to be fair, just about everyone here seems to not give a shit--check out the native guide who maintains his whatever-dude expression as his throat is slashed). The gore effects, while plentiful, aren't too convincing--though fans of the red stuff will still enjoy the spilled entrails and gouged eyeballs the film has to offer--and the story tends to flag after reaching the mid-point when it should be rolling along on its own demented steam, leaving the second half of the film mostly inert with a few isolated pockets of excitement scattered throughout. The arrival of the zombies, when they interrupt a splattery cannibal attack, is the highlight of the film and rather scary (or as scary as something this ludicrous can be, though damned if I didn't get the shivers the first time I saw it).
Despite a lagging pace and utter lack of brain cells, fans of both zombie and cannibal films were probably still want to check ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST out, if they haven't already. Far from the heights of either ZOMBIE or CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, it's still a soothing balm for the addled mind of a gorehound.