Horror, Zombies

Doctor Butcher M.D. (aka Zombi Holocaust) (1980)

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Production Studio: Flora Film, Fulvia Film, Gico Cinematografica S.R.L.

American Theatrical Distribution: Aquarius Releasing

Blu-Ray Distributed By: Severin Films

Original Theatrical Release: May 7, 1980

American Theatrical Release: 1982

Blu-ray Release: July 26, 2016

Director: Marino Girolami

Rating: Not Rated

Reviewed By James M. Dubs

I’ll watch anything…including Doctor Butcher M.D.

In the late 70s and early 80s, Italian cinema found a comfortable niche in the Zombie/Cannibal splatter fests that American’s could regularly find in New York’s infamous 42nd street Grindhouse theaters. Movies like Zombi 2, Cannibal Apocalypse, Cannibal Holocaust, Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals offered varying degrees of the same thing; flesh-eating people (sometimes living, sometimes dead) preying on a small group of adventurers most times on a nondescript, remote tropical island. Producer Fabrizio De Angelis hoped to continue on the success of these pictures and merged both genres into a single project, Zombi Apocalypse, which would combine the gruesome effects of both cannibal and zombie carnage. However, the Italian production of Zombi Apocalypse is only half the story. Severin Films has released a very comprehensive 2-disc blu-ray chronicling Zombi Apocalypse through production and into its American distribution where it would be re-cut, re-scored, and re-titled Doctor Butcher M.D.

Film Rating: ★★½☆☆

Dr Butcher_1There are two versions of the movie with Severin Films new “Definitive 2-Disc Edition”. Disc 1 includes the American Doctor Butcher M.D. and Disc 2 includes the original Zombi Holocaust. The plot for both versions is nearly identical.

In a New York City hospital, someone is desecrating corpses and stealing human remains from the morgue. Dr. Lori Ridgeway (Alexandra Delli Colli) is one of the first to observe these thefts and she soon discovers that the thefts are being perpetrated by a hospital attendant with ties to an ancient people believed to practice cannibalism near a remote Southeast Asian island. An expedition team is quickly assembled by Dr. Peter Chandler (Ian McCulloch, Zombie 2) to learn more about these rituals and the team includes Dr. Lori, Dr. Chandler’s Assistant, George (Peter O’Neill), and George’s reporter girlfriend, Susan (Sherry Buchanan). Once the team reaches their destination, they meet Dr. Obrero (Donald O’Brien) who further assists the team with island guides to get them around the various locations. Once out in the wilderness, it doesn’t take long for the expedition team to encounter the dangers of both blood thirsty cannibals and mindless zombies. And as the party gets picked apart (literally), they will uncover new, shocking horrors that will determine their fate.

Dr Butcher_6Regardless of whether you watch Doctor Butcher M.D., Zombi Apocalypse, or any number of Italian films with “Zombi” or “Cannibal” in the title, you will find that the plots are mostly interchangeable. A group of people go to an island and get eaten alive by either cannibals or zombies. Some will live, some will die. Roll credits. The end. Point being if you’ve seen one and you like this kind of film, then these movies are going to give the viewer exactly what they want: shock and gore in ever more creative ways.

But you may still be wondering, if the films are so similar why would Severin Films go to the effort to release each movie on separate blu-rays in a “definitive” set? Ahhh…  This is where the release gets really interesting…

Zombi Apocalypse represents the original, unaltered Italian version of the film which runs roughly 88 minutes from start to finish. In 1981, Terry Levene, owner and operator of Aquarius Releasing, bought the distribution rights to Zombi Apocalypse. At the time, he owned a large number of cinemas in New York state and his office was located in the heart of 42nd street. Even though Terry saw revenue potential in Zombi Apocalypse, he was a shrewd business man who knew how to seize an opportunity to make even more money on his investment. He recognized that with a little extra publicity and a few changes, he may even get more people in his theaters.

Dr Butcher_7Levene started by adding about 3 minutes of footage, to the beginning of Zombi Apocalypse, from an unfinished anthology film titled Tales That Will Tear Your Heart Out by filmmaker Roy Frumkes. Despite adding 3 minutes to the front, he trimmed the film down to a total run time of about 82 minutes. Levene also hired Walter Sear to re-score the film, adding musical queues to over accentuate key moments of the film and amplify the cheesiness factor. However, the biggest change came in the form of the title, when he decided to market the film as Doctor Butcher M.D. (Medical Deviate). Before the premiere, Levene even went so far as to rent a large semi-trailer which they called “The Butcher Mobile,” decorated it with print ads for the film, loaded it with actors dressed as doctors, nurses, and victims, and drove it all through New York City. This stunt nearly got him into trouble, but to Levene it was worth it. People came flocking to see Doctor Butcher M.D. and the movie brought him lots of revenue. When asked about the title change, to quote Terry Levene from his interview in the blu-ray supplements, “You know exactly what you’re getting with a title like Doctor Butcher M.D.

Dr Butcher_8And that, perhaps, perfectly sums up this review. If you are among the consumers who would watch something titled Doctor Butcher M.D. or Zombi Apocalypse, you already have a sense of whether this movie is for you or not. In the annals of Zombie/Cannibal lore, this pair of films lands squarely in the middle. It’s not the worst, nor is it the best, but it is a fun and entertaining picture for gore hounds and those with a strong stomach.

Video & Audio Rating: ★★★★☆

Dr Butcher_2In their press release, Severin Films describes restoring both films “from original vault elements discovered in Manhattan and Rome” and the results are outstanding. Gone are many scratches or splice tears synonymous with grindhouse films. I only noticed a small handful of sections with light scratching or color fading and emulsion deterioration on the edges of the frame. Otherwise colors are vivid and striking, especially during the bloodier scenes. There’s also a natural grain throughout the film. Film quality varies from shot to shot, and scene to scene, especially in the altered Doctor Butcher M.D. version, but the end result appears to remain true to the source material which is the best news any film preservationist should hear. Of course, film snobs may argue that it is too good looking for a grindhouse flick. Admittedly, it would be fun to have the damaged “grindhouse version” but you won’t find it here.

Audio is a basic, but very clean digital stereo 2.0 English track. The key here is the audio mix, naturally blending dialogue, sound effects, and music. Of the two films, Zombi Apocalypse has a much better, and natural audio mix. Due to Terry Levene’s edits some of the sound effects are accentuated a little too much. As a for instance, in the island jungle there is a whooping monkey sound effect that sounds more like a stock sound effect on a loop. The same sound is used in Zombi Apocalypse but to much greater effect. The last item worth note is the music. As previously mentioned, Levene hired Walter Sear to create new music for Doctor Butcher M.D., and it’s bad. Bad in a good way or a bad way? I’ll let each viewer decide for themselves.

Extras Rating: ★★★★½

Dr Butcher_9The supplemental materials is where Severin Films really sets itself apart from the competition. Spread over two discs is a complete historical breakdown of this weird little movie. Nothing here is filler and every bonus feature, interview, essay, etc adds new depth, and information in an engaging and entertaining way. There’s no wasted time and the complete collection of stories elevates this release from mere schlock to something more dynamic and accessible. My wife wouldn’t care for the film so much, but I know she would find the supplemental documentaries fascinating. Aside from the disc features, which I list below, the cover art is reversible so you can display either the Doctor Butcher M.D. cover or Zombi Apocalypse. And as an added bonus, the first 5000 copies of this release come with a gimmicky barf bag (also good for the wife) for those lacking intestinal fortitude.

Disc 1: Doctor Butcher M.D.

  1. Butchery & Ballyhoo – Interview with Terry Levene (Aquarius Releasing)
  2. Down On The Deuce – Nostalgic Tour of 42nd Street with Chris Poggiali (Temple of Schlock blog) and filmmaker Roy Frumkes
  3. Tales That Will Tear Your Heart Out – Roy Frumkes’ segment of an unfinished anthology film
  4. The Butcher Mobile – Interview with Gore Gazette Editor and Butcher Mobile Barker Rick Sullivan
  5. Cutting Doctor Butcher – Interview with Edtor Jim Markovic
  6. Illustrated Essay “Experiments With A Male Caucasian Brain (…and other memories of 42nd Street)” by Gary Hertz
  7. Theatrical and Video Trailers

Disc 2: Zombi Holocaust

  1. Voodoo Man – Interview with Ian McCulloch
  2. Blood of the Zombies – Interview with FX Master Rosario Prestopino
  3. Neurosurgery Italian Style – Interview with FX Artist Maurizio Trani
  4. Filmmaker Enzo G. Castellari Remembers his Father/Director Marino Girolami
  5. Interview with Actress Sherryl Buchanan
  6. New York Locations Then and Now – A look at the Big Apple locales as they are today
  7. Ian McCulloch sings “Down By The River”
  8. Theatrical Trailers

Overall Rating: ★★★★★

Dr Butcher_4It may seem counter intuitive to give this collection my highest rating despite finding the film average. The film itself is a middle of the road Zombie/Cannibal splatter film with gore, eye-gouging, torso-splitting, and nudity with limited appeal. However, the supplemental material and visual presentation is outstanding. Severin Films has successfully created a complete collection that fleshes out the entire sordid history of this little cult gem and has strangely made it feel more accessible to a larger audience. I give this release my highest recommendation, and a must own for fans of the genre. The rest of you on the fence or curious will find something to like here, even if you don’t particularly enjoy the film.


- who has written 70 posts on UnRated Film Review Magazine | Movie Reviews, Interviews.

James Dubs is a father and husband who loves his family first and movies a close second. He believes every movie is worth watching once and, as a film fan and critic, believes that even the worst movies offer something in return. His mission is to watch anything and report without pretension. Follow James Dubs on Twitter and send him suggestions on movies you would like reviewed - popular, obscure, independent, etc. He'll watch anything for you.

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