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Dr. Butcher, Medical Deviate

Dr. Butcher, Medical Deviate

A.K.A. Zombie Holocaust, Queen of the Cannibals, etc.

1979, Dir. Mario Girolani

Ian McCulloch, Peter O'Neal


What a nasty little flick this is.

In the Italian horror subgenre of "Fucked up things happen in New York that have their origin on some strange tropical island so white people go there and get slaughtered by cannibals and / or zombies", Dr. Butcher is, well, one of them. There isn't much about this genre that differentiates and makes one flick better than another besides gore effects and zombie makeup. The characters are usually of the same type, the locales are interchangable, and the outcome is pretty standard. A few people are killed outright, a woman is captured and menaced but to no harm, and she escapes with Ian McCulloch. Not the Echo and the Bunnymen Ian McCulloch, but the thrift store version of Roger Moore Ian McCulloch. The pacing is slower than watching grass grow, the acting is mediocre at best, and the music is always ridiculouly innapropriate. Dr. Butcher is no exception, particularly in the music department. The sight of someone being disemboweled and devoured by cannibals should be an unsettling sight, but it loses some of its oomph when it sounds like it's being done next door to a video arcade. The version of this that I stumbled across in the $5.99 bin at the local video store carried an R rating, but still featured plenty of explicit gore and even some gratutitous nudity. I guess things were a lot more lenient back then.

Dr. Butcher opens with a graveyard scene that had been tacked onto the American release, notable for only one reason: the name Snuff Maximus on a tombstone. Now I'm not sure what they were going for with that, but to me Snuff Maximus can only be one of three things:

1. The absolute greatest porn star name ever, bar none.

2. What some people wanted to do while watching Gladiator last summer.

3. The name of my first bulldog.

Anyway, good ol' Snuff rises from the dead and shuffles out of the movie. Cut to a man in a morgue at night. He chops the hand off of a fat corpse, the act of which sounds just like a knife through a head of lettuce. The sound effects throughout are similarly ludicrous and amplified, whoever was responsible must have had a blast. When the missing hand is discovered during anatomy class the next day (prompting a joke that will make you grab the video box and exclaim, "Just when was this made, anyway?"), we learn that this hospital has been plagued by disappearing limbs for a while now. We meet Dr. Laurie Ridgeway, an anthropologist, who is soon harassed at home by Susan Kelly, a reporter. In this scene we learn that Laurie posesses a knife that is used in human sacrifice. Plot point? That night at the hospital they catch the corpse defiler who throws himself out a window upon being caught. The resulting dummy fall provides a laugh out loud, rewind several times moment, as the dummy's arm breaks off upon landing. A symbol tatooed on the man's chest (that corresponds with the symbol on Laurie's knife) and his last words shed suspicion on Quito, who apparently "ordered it". Enter Dr. Chandler (McCulloch). We learn that in addition to its part time job as the capital of Ecuador, Quito is a word in one of the dialects of the Malotta Islands of Southeast Asia that means "divine island". Laurie returns home to find her apartment ransacked and the knife gone. So guess where we're going!

Dr. Chandler, Laurie, Dr. Chandler's assistant George (who is utterly useless except for this shocking coincidence), and his girlfriend Susan who just happens to be the reporter from earlier set off for the Malotta Islands where they meet their host Dr. Obrero and his crew. Some of you may recognize his guide Moloto as the actor Dakkar, who played Lucas in Zombie. The rest of you have better things to do. Laurie goes to her room to provide us with more gratuitous nudity as a native spies on her. After her shower she is about to get into bed and finds a magotty head in her bed. Dr. Obrero delivers the most reassuring line he could think of; "If the natives had wanted to do you any harm, they could easily have done so". Well, I'll sleep easy now. The next day, our group along with Moloto and three Asian bearers set off for Quito by boat. When the motor overheats, they need to stop at a nearby island. They camp for the night, and the shit begins to hit the fan. After the natives disembowel one bearer and chase another into a booby trap and devour his entrails, the group makes radio contact with Dr. Obrero who directs them to a white building in a clearing where he will meet them the next morning. Along the way Susan is captured and George is disemboweled. The natives give him two Fulci-esque eye gouges just for good measure. Chandler and Laurie seem done for when zombies show up and scare away the natives. They finally reach the building and Obrero orders them to leave immediately, shooting knowing looks back and forth with Moloto. Chandler and Laurie make it to the beach and a dinghy that Obrero left for them to get back to their boat with. Here we have the moment of clarity scene where Chandler gets suspicious. How did Obrero know where to find them if they were on an island other than Quito? Unless ... if they're on Quito?! But Moloto said the engine ... Obrero doesn't want us on Quito ... why? Zombie attack! Chandler wins the award for most creative use of an outboard motor and it's back into the jungle to figure out just what exactly is going on here.

Along the way back to Obrero's, Chandler and Laurie find Susan. Or at least a zombie wearing Susan's clothes. And scalp. Back at the ranch, Obrero is about to perform an involuntary brain transplant using Susan as a guinea pig. When her screams bother him, he performs the quickest vocal cord removal I've ever seen (but then again, how many have I seen?) and continues. Our heroic pair bust in and are immediately captured, giving Obrero a captive audience to the most ludicrous mad scientist speeches ever. Laurie runs off and is snagged by a native, and the rest of the movie flashes back and forth between her predicament and Chandler's. He is strapped down to the operating table and drugged asleep so her can be fresh and ready to be the next of Obrero's experiments. She is stripped naked, hippie flowers are painted on her and she is led to an altar. He frees himself and slits Moloto's throat. She is subject to a change of heart by the natives who begin chanting, ostensibly worshipping her. Obrero's zombies attack Chandler, but the building is besieged by natives (led there by Laurie, their Queen?). The natives set upon Obrero and his zombies, and Chandler and Susan slip away. The End.

IN CLOSING: If you're into the whole jungle gore thing, this is a fun little romp. If not, you're probably not reading this. Like most Italian gore flicks it's a mean-spirited movie with little of the camp value of the Grandaddy of them all, Dawn of the Dead. It's very similar to Zombie in terms of plot and gore effects, but its zombie makeup is less convincing. The creatures aren't exactly zombies either, but since it's Zombie Holocaust I guess they were intended to be. There are plot holes and random silliness such as the "Queen of the Cannibals" non-subplot and the question of how exactly these natives got machetes (last time I checked, ass-backwards jungle savages weren't exactly steelsmiths). But if you can tolerate all that for the cheap thrill of the gore payoff, then go for Dr. Butcher. Otherwise stick to the Dead Alive end of the spectrum.

Reviews by people who know what they're doing: Teleport City, Badmovies.org.