It’s surprising that only one production in the late seventies and early eighties combined the cannibal film and the zombie film into one exploitation bloodbath. Though Cannibal Apocalypse
contained elements of each genre and Raw Force
had zombies and cannibal monks, Zombie Holocaust
was the lone film to contain the walking dead along side primitive headhunters who consume human flesh. And as can be expected with two of the most popular exploitation genres, the film wastes no time to absolutely rollick in gory mayhem in ways so ridiculous that it’s impossible not to find it entertaining.
Perhaps the reason why no other production used cannibals and zombies is because there is very little leeway in providing a believable plot, which is ironic, as we’re dealing with two very unbelievable subgenres to begin with. Apparently, this drawback didn’t faze director Marino Girolami, who creates a film so ludicrous in its own premise that it chases the heart of exploitation better than any other film this side of Massacre in Dinosaur Valley
The story itself starts out in New York City, where a hospital attendant is caught eating the heart of a medical cadaver. He ends up flying out of a window ten stories up, and a tattoo on his body leads the two heroes, Dr. Peter Chandler and anthropologist Lori Ridgeway, to Keto, an island inhabited by the world’s last cannibals. Along with Chandler’s assistant, George, and a reporter, Susan, they hire an expedition with the help of a Dr. Obrero. Naturally, the expedition is hunted down and devoured by the cannibals. The survivors manage to meet up with Dr. Obrero again at his hospital on the island.
Now for a kicker so huge that it deserves its own paragraph: as it turns out, Dr. Obrero never meant for them to find Keto. He’s using the natives of the island for experimental brain-transplants to turn them into his own personal army of zombie slaves, and he’s just been anxious to experiment on a male Caucasian brain!
Of course, this is ridiculous beyond the point of hilarity, and the execution of such a scheme is no less sloppy. Arms snap off of dummies when they hit they ground. Latex wounds and rubber spikes are obvious. Fight sequences are atrociously choreographed. The clincher, however, is the terrible sound editing. The dubbing isn’t half bad for a low budget exploitation film, but sound effects and screams are off the mark, don’t synch with the visuals, and sound just plain bad.
The easiest way to make an audience not give a damn is to make the film entertaining as hell. In a cannibal and zombie film, the way to do this is to offer generous doses of female nudity and even greater amounts of pure gore. Aside from the usual cannibal victims torn in half, eyes are ripped out, scalps are removed, brains are swapped, heads are split, and motor boats are made into effective zombie killing machines. All the mass quantities of blood and viscera that are to be expected in a film called Zombie-Fucking-Holocaust
Surprisingly, these gore effects are rather well done, aside from the aforementioned latex wounds applied during a victim’s execution. Naturally, the gratuitous quantities provide for a cheesy atmosphere, nothing hyper-realistic and distressing as, say, Cannibal Holocaust
, but certainly in amounts enough to make any uninitiated queasy.
If there is any true flaw from an exploitation standpoint, it would be Girolami’s refusal to stray away from his all-to-obvious Lucio Fulci influence. Though the basic premise of exploitation is to rip-off successful film trends, too many aspects of the film mirror Fulci’s Zombie
, from identical settings, cast (Ian McCollough and Dakkar both star in the film), and plot devices (a malfunctioning boat, for instance). However similar the overarching storylines may be, the cannibal aspect of the film makes it too damn fun to make a casual viewer care.