RIGOR MORTIS REVIEW EXTRA: ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST (1980)
By Dread Sockett
While researching and going through endless VOODOO ZOMBIE films for an upcoming article in Rigor Mortis #4, I came upon a delicious little gem, Zombie Holocaust. It was originally going to be included in the VZ piece except, well, there's no Voodoo in it. I was so smitten with Voodoo overload, I went so far as to write this damn thing as an entry and then realized I'd been so distracted by boobs, latex guts, and general crackassery that it didn’t even belong in the damned article.
So because we're all generous and stuff here at RM, and because there's oooh, only about a zillion other reviews of this half-baked film and ok, fine, because it was already written, I thought I'd toss this in for tits...erm...SHITS & giggles.
Look at it as a freebie-preview of the upcoming article…even though it won't be in it…and, uhm, has nothing to do with the subject of said article. Hell, it's the thought that counts right? Just shut up and think of this as a bloody valentine from all of us at Rigor Mortis.
There’s a lot to love in this hot…messy…piece of work. Just don't hate me for recommending it because I'm telling you from the start, it's so bad it's good. Director Marino Girolami can’t be bothered with such trivial nonsense as narrative coherence and other technicalities in his film, but this is what makes ZH an entertaining romp. Not only that, but viewers will have déjà vu when locations and sets, as well as some of the actors, "reappear" straight from from Fulci's Zombi 2. It’s the Italian version of Hammer Films’ THE REPTILE/PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES film shoot that did the same thing by way of recycling not only the same sets, but actors as well, though with much classier and coherent narrative results.
We have something of a genre mix here. Not content with merely aping the Romero zombie model, the filmmakers pillage themselves and drop in a dose of the cannibal jungle exploitation scene, topped off nicely with lots of over-the-top gore. ZH’s strongest point is that it is clearly exploitation, nothing more or less. Hell, it doesn't even worry about aping the cannibal jungle genre that well. It just starts flinging familiar things at viewers and all they hafta do is open up and say ,"Aaah!". I sat recalling films like JUNGLE HOLOCAUST thinking damn, that was actually a good movie now that I've been exposed to (one of) the bowels of the cannibal film scene.
THE SORTA STORY: Body parts show up missing at a hospital. Not only that, patients are in their bed and fine one minute and the next suddenly missing internal organs, to the horror of the nurses. This little inconvenience gets the staff in a tizzy, naturally. This reaches its apex when one of the help gets caught ravenously chewing away at some poor sap's heart like he's trying to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop. In an eyeball rolling scene that thankfully occurs at the beginning of the movie, said cannibal hospital staff gets caught but manages to escape out a window. The only problem is the window is, oooh, several stories up and as he hits bottom, his stand-in dummy's arm clearly pops off only to miraculously reappear in the real actor's next scene. This dear reader, tells you the madness that awaits you. And if you can get your groove on with that interesting editorial inclusion (or oversight) then ZH has yer name written all over it.
Diva-doctor Lori and Peter set off for the remote island Kito to follow the clue left behind from each body part theft: a mysterious symbol. They arrive with their expedition team and are immediately set upon by the cannibalistic natives who are so hungry for flesh that when they catch victims they don’t even bother to make sure they're dead, but immediately start ripping them apart and consuming them. The director bathes in the gloriousness of his native exploitation by not only featuring them running about spitting out a bunch of native "language" (read: gibberish), but he makes sure you know they're cannibals by giving us lots of lingering shots of them chewing away at various internal organs ripped from the kindasorta deceased. The film certainly delivers the gore in this respect and fans of excess will love it for this. The ridiculousness of the native portrayals not so much. But hey, if this was a PC film, there'd be no point in watching, right?
The natives continue to pick off the expedition team to the horror of the Asiatic "help," who thanks to the usual wonderful Italian post-dub rant on in a combo Pidgin English and Asian-something, I think. Nice. It's one of those scenes where you just know if filmmakers had Black natives, the dub would consist of variants of "ooga-booga". But not to worry, those of you who insist on subtext. One of the expedition party, the lead in fact, who happens to be Black, is named... get ready for it... Mulatto. No, really. I had to replay that just to make sure I heard right and now, you won't hafta bother. We're helpful like that here at RM.
The zombies show up and this eventually leads the remaining crew to a mad scientist conducting experiments with brain transplanting out in the jungle…. in a shack. Our diva doc gets captured but I’ll let you discover for yourself the what-the-Hell wrap up to that segment. Though I will say, the meaning(ish) of that mysterious symbol is revealed and the filmmakers, not ones to miss an opportunity, show us in very revealing angles how the symbol relates to the now nude Diva doc. Think of the questionable POV swimming scenes in ZOMBIE LAKE and you'll get the idea.
The zombies are pretty interesting. I wouldn't say they're as awesome as the creator's seem to suggest. Nor do I think the Italians really revolutionized the Zed scene the way that angle gets pushed. But still, for a gore and zombie combo, it works. Even when the Zeds are seen running around trying to stab people. The high point though has to be when a zombie gets his head ground through with the blades of a motor boat engine, followed closely by the brain transplant-scalp scene earlier.
Even compared to contemporary standards, ZH holds up well with the gore thrown at viewers. Camera angles lovingly frame every bloody consumption for full impact. And when that silly thing called a “story” threatens to get boring, the film throws in not only boobies of our lounging, barely clad diva, but also works that native thing so viewers can argue about the PC-ness of their handling. The natives would almost be hilarious if their depiction didn’t give viewers an “Oh no they didn’t” response. I couldn’t help but think back to those Mondo Cane type exploitation films. If you want what amounts to a hot mess of a film, here’s your answer. Just don't ever say you weren't warned.