He is a depraved, sadistic rapist; a bloodthirsty homicidal killer…and he makes house calls!
Part cannibal film, part zombie film, part mad scientist film and all splatter movie, the 1980 Italian production Doctor Butcher M.D., feels like the culmination of the exploitation movement to that time. As a movie, it’s nonsensical and badly paced and makes very little sense. As an experience, though, it’s a sleazy and insanely gory nightmare that deserves the attention of any diehard exploitation fan with a strong constitution. Severin Films, the studio responsible for putting the movie out on a new two-disc special edition Blu-ray, have outdone themselves in digging this one up.
A re-edited cut of the Italian film Zombie Holocaust, Doctor Butcher finds Dr. Peter Chandler (Ian McCulloch of Lucio Fulci’s Zombie) and anthropologist Lori Ridgeway (Alexandra Delli) investigating a series of grisly incidents in which bodies around New York hospitals are discovered partially eaten. The pair trace these nasty happenings to hospital employees who hail from an island in Indonesia. Before you can say “This probably isn’t a good idea,” they board a plane and head to the Maluku Islands, where they find cannibals, zombies and Dr. Obrero (Donald O’Brien, Ghosthouse), the “Doctor Butcher” of the title, who is attempting to find the secret to everlasting life by engaging in cruel and bloody experiments.
There is almost nothing in Doctor Butcher that hasn’t already been seen in other horror movies of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, save maybe for the level of violence. That’s by design. Director Marino Girolami is clearly just cashing in on the popularity of cannibal and zombie films that were coming out of Italy at the time. It’s a fairly thin clothesline on which to hang graphic disembowlings, scalping and extended nudity — all the real reasons the movie was made in the first place. Though hardly artful, this stuff plays better in Zombie Holocaust, the original Italian film found on the second disc of Severin’s impressive set. There, it is derivative but fairly straightforward — one of several Italian splatter films that’s inseparable from others. Even the title, Zombie Holocaust, is just a mashing together of Fulci’s classic Zombie and Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust. No one is trying to bury the lede. But because American producers wanted to re-edit the movie for U.S. audiences and theoretically make it more “commercial,” they added footage from an unfinished anthology film called Tales to Rip Your Heart Out and recut other scenes. The results are even more nonsensical than Zombie Holocaust — and, in a way, even more entertaining. Since we don’t watch movies like this for their stories, might as well watch the version that leans into its schlocky incoherence even harder.
Despite the days of physical media clearly being numbered, we are living through a golden age of horror and cult cinema on Blu-ray. Boutique labels are languishing all kinds of attention on titles I might never have dreamed would get this type of special edition treatment. Severin’s two-disc Blu-ray of Doctor Butcher M.D. is one such title. Featuring Doctor Butcher on the first disc and the original Zombie Holocaust on the second, both films get a 1080p restoration created from their original elements and look as good as they’re ever going to look. Sure, there’s visible damage at times (which is almost a desirable part of the aesthetic for something like this), but overall colors are well balanced and the image is bright and lively. The lossless audio track delivers the dubbed dialogue clearly and handles the music (which, on the American cut, is bad and tonally out of step) well for the most part.
Besides restoring both versions of the movie for high def, Severin has included hours of bonus material. There’s some footage (in pretty rough shape) from Tales to Rip Your Heart Out produced by Roy Frumkes (director of Street Trash), who appears in the short and narrates the footage, explaining both what is happening in the sequence and providing production detail. Frumkes also appears alongside Chris Pogialli for “Down on the Deuce,” a fun look at some famous 42nd street locations. Editor Rick Sullivan talks about recutting Zombie Holocaust into Doctor Butcher, while distributor Terry Levene discusses his career in exploitation movies. Rick Sullivan, editor of Gore Gazette, is interviewed to talk about his publication and the history of exploitation movies. Author Gary Hertz contributes an illustrated essay on the heyday of exploitation movies. On the second disc, star Ian McCulloch talks about his career in a brief interview; a separate featurette shows the star demonstrating his singing ability. Star Sherryl Buchanan is also interviewed. There are two separate featurettes about the movie’s special effects, plus an interview with filmmaker Enzo Castellari that plays over a gallery of still images. Rounding out the incredible offering of bonus features are trailers for both Doctor Butcher (which is amazing and actually more enjoyable than the movie itself, even if it’s selling something very different) and Zombie Holocaust in the original Italian.
The first 5,000 copies of Doctor Butcher are even packaged with a replica of the barf bag that was handed out to audiences when the film was originally released. Now that’s attention to detail.