At Home, BluRay/DVD Reviews

DOCTOR BUTCHER M.D. (Severin)

By • Aug 7th, 2016 •

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BluRay Review by Roy Frumkes

You will probably notice my name several times in the back cover credits block and in the FIR header ID to the right of this review? Do I therefore really have to bother disclosing that I was intimately involved in the creation of DOCTOR BUTCHER M.D., the slightly-revised and retitled American version of ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST?

The back-story of my involvement is carefully detailed in the supplemental spread, which, by the way, is one of the best things about this exhaustive, enjoyable release (and not because I’m in it). Producer David Gregory (LOST SOUL) is a fine mini-doc-weaver, and what he’s done by packing this release with oodles of vintage footage of, and insights into, the now several-decades-deceased, sleazy and seductive Times Square, is to give us an important gaze into exploitation film distribution history, particularly as it affected ‘The Deuce.’ The enclosed docs and interviews are not only fun to watch as snatches of NYC history, they are actually of major historic importance, and this release ought to to be in every library in the country.

DOCTOR BUTCHER M.D. is a nasty little exercise in Euro-gore that constantly switches sub-genres on the viewer. At first we feel it’s a voodoo or devil-worship narrative, as cadaver parts are disappearing in a New York City hospital. A small group of medical staff members and a news photographer follow a lead to a distant island, where it suddenly seems like we’re actually in a cannibal film in the CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST mold – disembowelments and all. But no, it switches sub-genres yet again, as the cannibals flee in terror from what appear to be decomposing zombies, gazing out at them from the edge of the jungle. And just when we’re trying to wrap our heads around this latest plot-twist, we find ourselves in an ISLAND OF DOCTOR MOREAU/MOST DANGEROUS GAME situation. None of these twists are adequately supported by inner logic, but the fact that the script was structured to transition from one kind of horror threat to another is conceptually unique.

The acting is okay. The leading lady is sensuous and shows it all, which is one of the film’s highlights. The mad doctor sounds and looks like Harvey Keitel. The zombie make-up is disgusting and excellent. The music is not up to other sub-genre scores but is effective nonetheless. The cinematography is uninspired, though a restoration comparison indicates that it is the best it will ever look, and it is certainly how I remember it looking during its 42nd Street run.

If you enjoy the types of films I’ve been referencing, you’ll enjoy this one as well. It has the flaws and virtues of those quickly made, dialogue-weak items. My favorite line is uttered by a NY doctor, when a corpse is revealed to be missing some of its organs: “We must have a psychopathic deviate in the hospital!” It’s like Lugosi in DEVIL BAT, listening disdainfully to a self-important authority figure on the radio and finally uttering, in his heavy accent: “Bombastic ignoramus!” Big laugh there; big laugh here. Also amusing is a shot where an orderly leaps through a window (a la Tourneur’s NIGHT OF THE DEMON), falling to his death many floors below. We watch the body descend, and when it hits the ground, one of its arms breaks off and flies out of frame. When we cut to a ground level shot, the arm has miraculously been re-attached.

Concerning the above-mentioned supplementals, the gem of the batch is a half-hour filmed interview with an 86-year-old, remarkably articulate Terry Levene, who tells amusing stories about the olden days of exploitation film distribution, and gives us a rewarding historical perspective. Rick Sullivan, publisher of the long-defunct cult rag The Gore Gazette, comes out of reclusion long enough to talk about the infamous “Butcher Mobile” that toured Manhattan promoting the film until the authorities caught up with it. Gary Hertz’s written recollections are colorfully appropriate to the subject matter.

There is a reverse box cover which features the poster art for the original Italian release, as well as a handsomely embossed vomit bag which, you never know, might come in handy.

As for the sections I appear in (including footage from an uncompleted anthology feature I produced called TALES THAT’LL TEAR YOUR HEART OUT), I’m satisfied with how I come off, save for the odd fact that during the 42nd Street walk-and-talk I’m wearing a full-length Australian duster while everyone around me seems to be decked out for a day at the beach. What in the world was I thinking?!

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