Zombies: I’m sick of them, you’re sick of them. The only thing that could possibly make me cringe harder than a zombie is a pirate — and if you make a zombie pirate joke, I will stand up and walk away. But it’s not just a mere case of overexposure. They’ve become too safe; they’ve become Sunday night TV with the fam. And zombie movies should be like porn: you watch them alone or with a group of like-minded companions, but never with your family.
Frankly, they belong in the gutter. I like the gutter, you like the gutter. The Italians, they LOVE the gutter. Pick any disreputable film genre, and the Italians have not only dragged it down into the gutter, but tossed a bucket of maggots on top and bathed it in an overturned port-a-potty. They’re a beautiful people.
They’re also — bless them — irredeemably shameless, so when Dario Argento brought George Romero’s seminal Dawn of the Dead to Italy in 1978 under the title Zombi, please believe the Italians were ready to roll with a little something they called…
“Does it have anything to do with Zombi?”
“Surely they got permission, though?”
That’d be a negative.
“So you’re telling me someone just up and made a random zombie movie, and called it Zombi 2?”
You bet your ass they did.
Copyright laws being what they are in Italy (read: nonexistent), you can pretty much make an unofficial sequel to any movie you want. I know, it’s great. And that’s exactly what director Lucio Fulci and producer Fabrizio De Angelis did with this 1979 chunkblower, known stateside as simply Zombie. It’s probably best known to you as “that YouTube video of a zombie fighting a shark.” But what you need to know is that Zombie is more than a meme.
It’s also less of a Zombi/Dawn of the Dead clone than it is a throwback to Val Lewton’s atmospheric, B&W island-set tales of zombie voodoo. Unlike Lewton, though, Fulci relishes in dragging every putrid terror out of the shadows, and into full view under the unflinching tropical sun — creating a sort of humid decay. A gifted journeyman for much of his career — helming sex comedies, westerns, and the occasional thriller — with Zombie Fulci emerged as master, or maestro, of horror. It was when dealing with the dead that Fulci truly seemed to come alive. Perhaps it’s because he understood that we’re all destined to rot. And through the series of surrealist splatter-masterpieces that followed, he forced horror fans to face this same realization. The maestro indeed.
The Italians were really into tacking the word “holocaust” onto a title: Cannibal Holocaust, Jungle Holocaust, etc. I mean, what better way to make something gross sound even grosser. Just try saying Porno Holocaust out loud without feeling like garbage. See, you can’t. So as expected, there’s a Zombie Holocaust, and of course it also features cannibals. Two types of flesh-eating fanatic for the price of one, and double the opportunity for grossness.
Someone is swiping body parts from a New York hospital, and not just stealing them, but eating them. This leads doctor, anthropology enthusiast, and amateur nudist Lori to seek help from The Department of Health’s Dr. Peter Chandler (Zombie star Ian McCullough). He’s been investigating cannibals immigrating to the U.S. from the cannibal island of Kito. Lori — when she’s not busy walking around naked — is an expert on the cannibal island of Kito. Together they decide to head to Kito, where in a shocking turn of events, they’re attacked by cannibals.
The good news is the cannibals are scared off before they can eat Lori and Peter. The bad news is they’re scared off by zombies. Knife-wielding zombies. So then that becomes a whole thing. Also, there’s a mad scientist named Dr. Obrero on the island performing brain transplants.
But wait, there’s more! Because VRV loves its subscribers, you’re not just getting any old Zombie Holocaust. No, you’re getting Doctor Butcher, M.D. (Medical Deviate). Who is this Doctor Butcher? What is a medical deviate? Is he in my network?
When exploitation distributor/huckster supreme Terry Levene got his hands on this Italian import, he knew your basic Zombie Holocaust wasn’t going to be enough for American audiences. So he removed unnecessary elements like character development, overlaid it with a bowel-disrupting synth score, and tacked on an opening credit sequence that involved someone named Snuff Maximus rising from the grave.
But Levene’s real genius lied in the marketing. With his anything-to-get-you-in-the-door style, Levene rented a flatbed truck he dubbed “The Butcher Mobile,” on which actors performed scenes (not) from the movie, as the truck prowled the streets of New York. Meanwhile, newspaper and radio ads threatened that this Doctor Butcher made house calls. It worked. Audiences showed up in droves, and were handed complimentary barf bags upon entering. Upon entering to see a movie that doesn’t even mention a Doctor Butcher, M.D. or otherwise.
While it’ll never be mistaken for one of the Italian zombie greats, in its Doctor Butcher, M.D. form it at least represents the long lost art of grindhouse ballyhoo excess at its most unabashed.
Just when you thought you’d reached the bottom of the barrel, in comes Burial Ground to upturn you by the ankles, dunk you inside, and seal the lid — leaving you whimpering in the dark.
What I’m trying to say is, I love it.
Meet the traditional family unit: George, his wife Evelyn, and their young son Michael, who’s played by a gaunt, sickly 26 year-old man. They’re joined at an expansive villa by two other incredibly unattractive couples, who like them, bone with a compulsion usually associated with a chimp jerking off at the zoo. Thankfully, zombies awaken from a crypt beneath the villa, forcing everyone to put their damn clothes back on, and saving us from flashbacks of walking in on our parents.
Also, the young boy who’s actually played by an adult man desperately wants to have sex with his mother.
Zombie heads crumble like a misshapen high school pottery class assignment, the FX are seemingly provided by the dumpster outside an Italian meat packing facility, and everyone onscreen is an idiot who deserves to die. But beneath it all it’s the story of a mother’s love for her son, and a son’s horny incestuous lust for his mother. This, dear readers, is the place we’ve been searching for all along.
Welcome to the gutter.