I think we can all agree now that the Video Nasties panic of the early eighties was a big old fuss about nothing. Well, okay so it was also about freedom of artistic expression, government control of new technologies and not letting me see any of the films I was reading about in Fangoria as a 12 year old Catholic school boy. If Zombie Holocaust is anything to go by though then Thatcher’s Tory government and the Daily Mail really needed to lighten up if they thought these films were a threat to the fabric of society, or would even give a young Jim Parsons nightmares.
Zombie Holocaust, to give it its dues, is pretty nasty. But that probably more from its mind-boggingly simplistic racial stereotypes than any of the gore on display. There IS a lot of gore on on the screen, and some of it is pretty good, although I think that there’s a certain amount of cheating going on. There are at least half a dozen stomach’s torn open and the contents dragged out and munched on with long, lingering looks as if they were the money shots in a porn film. However, those internal organs look so realistic compared to the rest of the gore (which is mostly a bright garish red like a London bus) that I’m pretty sure they are animal intestines hidden under rubber body moulds. That must have been fun for the actors playing the flesh eaters under the hot film lamps.
The gore isn’t the only thing that is like a porn film. The music will sometimes be an intense heart beat building slowly up to some horrible death, but a lot of the time it gets all wacka-wacka-bass-slap like its from a 1970s porn film. This is because its from a 1970s porn film. The film in question was Emmanuelle and the Last Cannibals, producer by Gianfranco Couyoumdjian, who also did this. You could say I’’m getting ahead of myself as I’ve not told you what the plot is, however, the plot is essentially Zombie Flesh Eaters, also produced by Couypoumdjian. That film’s star Ian McCulloch and some attractive people go to some remote island where a mad doctor is making zombies for the advancement of mankind (I have no idea how this will advance mankind except to advance him from the top of the food chain to lunch). Its the same story, they even use the same sets.
Zombie Holocaust does have a few twists in it though. Firstly, there are cannibals! When McCulloch and Co arrive on the mysterious Island of Moluccas they are attacked and several of them are eaten by “South East Asian locals” who all have a bowl haircut, loincloths and a spear. The reason for going to this incredibly cliched island in the first place is because the overly glamorous Lori Ridgeway (played by Alezandra Delli Colli but dubbed over by who knows) is a trainee surgeon and Anthropology expert who has had bits of corpses from her hospital stolen and munched on. She works out that the people eaters are from Moluccas where “everyone is a cannibal there” so off they pop on a trip to investigate further. I have to ask at this point – why? There can be no anthropological curiosity that important where you will be trapped on a remote island with no contact to the outside world surrounded by cannibals.
Anyway, the other twist is that the zombies are TERRIBLE. I mean, really shite, look at this guy:
It just looks like someone’s has slapped some mud on his face and given him a pair of dentures. Also the zombies are deeply inconsistent. When ordered to kill our heroes two of them put their arms out forward old-school monster style and stumble towards their victims, giving them enough time to set one of them on fire. Then, when the non burning zombie is told to stop pissing about watching his mate go up in flames and kill McCulloch, he turns into a champion sprinter and charges our intrepid English explorer like a leopard on cheap speed.
Whilst I’m talking about the zombies, the supposed holocaust that they are the cause of: Holocaust means “destruction or slaughter on a mass scale”. Now far be it for me to criticise the makers of low budget zombie movies from thirty five years ago but there is a distinct lack of mass slaughter on a mass scale. Okay the adventurers and their poor one dimensional luggage carriers are butchered beyond belief but most of this is done by the cannibals or the mad doctor who lives there (i’ll get to him in a minute). Also there are only maybe five zombies in total and judging by their slow (mostly) walking habits and terrible make up I don’t think they are capable of anything on a mass scale, not even walk outs for better working conditions.
Anyway, as I said earlier, like Zombie Flesh Eaters before it, and really countless other horror movies, there is a mad scientist. However this one is so mad that in America they renamed the film Doctor Butcher M.D. (the M.D. stands for Medical Deviate! Genius). This guy has some serious ethical failings as a medical practitioner. Firstly the cannibals are only cannibals because he had encouraged them to embrace their old cultural ways which had died out centuries before. That’s some pretty persuasive skills you’ve got there if you can persuade a bunch of strangers to eat each other. Then, of course, he’s got the zombies which he has made from… okay I’ve no idea how he got these guys up and shuffling, but he did a bad job of it and that there’s no denying. As its set on a tropical island I imagine its a cross between extreme science and some voodoo bullshit, which seems a step backwards in the post Romero zombie times. But if it works for Doctor Butcher M.D. then fair play to him. I couldn’t reanimate a corpse, no matter how much mud and false teeth I had at my disposal.
Finally, the not-so-good doctor’s piece-de-resistance is the old swap your brain into someone else’s skull operation. I have no idea why this has always been such a fascination for mad scientists but this time round it seems particularly unambitious: he wants to put the perfectly healthy McCulloch’s brain into a perfectly healthy local’s body. What is the purpose of this? Other than experiencing what its like to live in another country I can see no reason for this, you can do that without having your noggin split open like a coconut. At least in The Man With Two Brains David Warner was trying to put a human’s brain into a gorilla. Or was it the other way round? Either way, a good idea if you’re a scientist. Well a good mad idea anyway.
Zombie Holocaust isn’t all fun though… oh all the above is me trying to tell you the film is hugely entertaining by the way. Its incredibly dated in its look and world view but that almost makes it charming. Its terribly exploitative (no idea what the naked woman strapped to a stone at the end is all about) and yet so silly at the same time. Ian McCulloch seems to take the whole affair much more seriously than it deserves but helps the audience enjoy it more, because if it was left to the other actors we’d be in trouble, as they stumble about being out acted by the sets and locations. And the whole thing plods along at a better pace than say, a lot of the Lucio Fulci films, which as much as I love them can sometimes drag on and on.
However, there are still elements of the films where you can still see why a bunch of stiff old British farts had the film banned. There’s one scene in particular where a character, who is set up as a bit of a hero type and you think will be around for the duration, is leapt upon by cannibals and has his guts torn out in front of his dying eyes. Well I did not know that eyes were such a delicacy but at this point the nearest cannibal leans over and gouges both his eyes out and has a good old much on them. Now I’m not saying these are the best effects I’ve ever scene, far from it, but there’s something so grizzly and lingering about this scene, not helped by the camera constantly going back to the poor guy’s open mouthed death look that I found it genuinely unsettling. Not Cannibal Holocaust upsetting mind. No turtles or monkeys are butchered for our entertainment. Just kind of shocking and intrusive.
Still wouldn’t ban it though. I can tell the difference between real life and fiction. Idiots.