Monday, 14 January 2008

Zombie Holocaust (1980)

Zombies and cannibals? It's like they're reading my mind!

The cannibal genre was reaching it's peak in the late 70s, just as the zombie film was taking off, so it's no surprise that somebody would attempt to combine the two. Out of this idea, and very little else, comes Marino Girolami's Zombie Holocaust.

Something is afoot (or should that be a-hand?) in a New York hospital. It seems one of the orderlies is treating the morgue like an all-you-can-eat buffet. He is caught red-handed, but dives out of the nearest window (upon impact, an arm visibly pops off the dummy). He manages to utter the word "Keto" before expiring. Coincidentally, one of the doctors on hand, Lori Ridgeway (Alexandra Delli Colli), is also an anthropologist, and recognises the word as having religious significance in "all ancient dialects throughout South-East Asia". Well that narrows it down to about 4 million square kilometers. Thanks a lot, Lori!

She is subsequently interviewed by a New York Health Inspector, Dr. Peter Chandler (Ian McCollough, fresh from his appearance in Zombi 2). It seems there has been a rash of cannibalistic acts. They manage to pin "Keto" down to a single island, populated by bloodthirstly cannibals. Actually, according to Dr. Lori "all primitive peoples practiced [cannibalism], without exception". How about Italian filmmakers? In another astonishing coincidence, Lori grew up in the area, even possessing a Ketoan sacrificial dagger. Or rather, she did up until when her groovy pad was ransacked and the dagger stolen. Like the cannibalism at the hospital, they decide to conceal the robbery from the authorities for no good reason.

Anyway, Peter has somehow managed to wangle an all-expenses-paid, fact-finding trip to Keto and wants Lori to join him. Also coming along for the ride are expendable nobody George (Peter O'Neal), and obligatory annoying reporter Susan Kelly (Sherry Buchanan).

Upon arriving they meet Dr. Obrero (Donald O'Brien), who provides them with equipment, three native porters and a guide, Molotto (Dakkar, also from Zombi 2). He tries to dissuade them from going to Keto, dismissing the natives as primitive savages, "unwilling to accept any form of civilisation" (except those who emigrate to the US, I guess) but our team is undeterred. Lori slo-o-owly disrobes (one of several such scenes) and heads out for a swim, but upon her return she finds a maggotty severed head in her bed, which I guess is a Ketoan practical joke. The next day they head out to Keto, but engine trouble forces them to land at a different island, which turns out to be Keto anyway (don't ask).

Over the next few hours, two of the porters are killed by the natives, and it is treated with all the concern you'd expect in a film like this ("Bury your friend, and be quick about it!"). They also contact Obrero via radio, who instructs them to meet him at a nearby abandoned mission.

The next day, the third and final porter falls victim to a bamboo trap and is then consumed by hungry cannibals. For some reason, the cannibals go straight for the gooey intestines, which they consume raw. That can't be good for you. George suffers a similar fate and Susan is captured and carried away. Things are looking grim for Peter and Lori, but suddenly the cannibals are scared away by a few crusty zombies.

Peter and Lori make it to the abandoned mission (the same set used in Zombi 2... are you sensing a pattern here?) and meet up with Dr. Obrero, who instructs them to take his motorboat back to the mainland. Peter insists that he and Lori go alone, but when they get to the beach Peter senses something is amiss. You see, Obrero gave them directions to the wrong island on purpose, so he could conceal his illegal experiments. Peter manages to unravel Obrero's web of deceit, just in time to be attacked by a knife-wielding zombie. He lobotomises it with an outboard motor and, dismissing the idea of contacting the authorities yet again, they return to the mission.

Now we learn the fate of the annoying reporter. Dr. Obrero is using her in one of his ghastly experiments to turn people into zombie slaves! Unfortunately, before they can stop Obrero they run afoul of some of his zombies and Peter is captured while Lori is carried off by the natives.

Like many cannibal films, there is a inherent vein of racial superiority. And like those other films, they try to offset it here with a hilariously forced exchange at the beginning of the film ("But Dr. Drake, do you really think we're that much different from savages?"). Of course, that's betrayed by Dr. Obrero's implication that Peter's juicy caucasian brain is more complex and valuable than those of the locals (I wouldn't be so sure about that, Doc). This leads to one of the best lines in the film: "I could easily kill you now, but I'm determined to have your brain!". In fact, the film is at it's best during these scenes, O'Brien's scenery-chewing doc spouts some fantastic mad-scientist dialogue.

Back at the native's village, the stark nekkers Dr. Lori is painted with a remarkably tasteful floral pattern and placed on a form-fitted sacrificial altar. As one of the natives approaches her with the sacrificial knife from her apartment (I guess they shipped it back express), the altar starts to tilt back and the natives get riled up and start worshipping her, for some reason. Repeated viewings of this scene didn't help reveal the cause of the native's excitement.

The natives revolt and swarm on Dr. Obero's lab. Lori and Peter manage to escape before the building is consumed by flames, in an ending that seems very familiar. I think it was from another film... started with a "Z".

With their abundance of jungle locations, pig intestines and bearded Italians, the cannibal film and the zombie film seem like a natural fit. It's a shame, then, that Zombie Holocaust combines them in the most sloppy and unimaginative way possible. Almost every scene is poached from better films of either genre. Even the title is a lazy combination of Zombi 2 and Cannibal Holocaust, both better films released the previous year (don't expect an actual "zombie holocaust", or you will walk away disappointed).

At least it doesn't resort to the unforgivable animal cruelty found in other cannibal films, but that's like praising Ted Bundy for not being Hitler. This film doesn't just insult your intelligence, it gives it a Shin Shoryuken to the balls, but if you are a gorehound you will find a lot to enjoy.

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