Ultra High Deviancy: Zombie Holocaust

The rewards of 88 Films' indiegogo campaign have come in... the Zombie Holocaust 2k restoration is here! [Update: 3/6/16: Burial Ground has just arrived, too.] Everyone who supported should have their blus by now, and they're available commercially for the rest of the world. Now it's time to crack these suckers open and see what we've got!

Update 8/2/15 - 7/19/16:
There's a new Butcher in town! Severin has just released their 2-disc blu-ray set of Zombi Holocaust, including both versions of the film: the Italian original and the US Dr. Butcher M.D. version. They've also got a bunch of new special features. But how does this new blu compare to 88 Films' HD restoration from last year? Is it better, worse, or are they totally indistinguishable? Let's find out.

Update 11/29/23: Well, it's the Ultra HD age now, so it's time for a new Zombie Holocaust.  And Severin has released a new, whopping 4-disc BD/ UHD combo-pack.
Zombie Holocaust, of course, is the over-the-top 1980 Italian horror flick that had the crowd-pleasing idea to combine the infamous cannibal and zombie subgenres into one nutty film. It also features Donald O'Brien as a mad scientist, hence the American title Dr. Butcher, M.D. Like Umberto Lenzi's Eaten Alive, this one starts out with a little bloody mayhem in a New York City hospital compelling our investigative leads, including star Ian McCulloch, to venture off into the jungles of the East Indies. Only this time they don't just fall into the path of a lethal cannibal tribe, but zombies as well! It all comes to an exciting climax on the set of Lucio Fulci's Zombie, because this film has three tent poles: thrills, exploitation and saving money. I mean, you saw the movie's title, right? So it's pretty much exactly what you'd expect, and whether that's terrible or glorious is all up to you.
a scene only featured in the Dr. Butcher M.D. version
Now, amongst other things, Severin's sets introduces the alternate, US version of the film Dr. Butcher M.D. to the table, which I don't think had been released on home video since the original VHS tape (which I used to own, back in the days). But are these two cuts significantly unique that it's worth getting both versions - what's the difference between them? Well, primarily, Dr. Butcher features some new, introductory footage shot in the US by Roy Frumkes (director of Document of the Dead), originally intended for an unfinished anthology horror film called Tales That Will Tear Your Heart Out. He intercuts that with footage from much later in the movie, to try to establish the whole "mad doctor is making zombies" story-line right from the very beginning. But even with all this extra footage, Dr. Butcher is almost ten minutes shorter, trimming a lot out. Dr. Butcher also has an entirely different all-synth score, although famously, you can still sometimes hear the original soundtrack playing underneath it. Finally, Dr. Butcher includes the scene where Alexandra Delli Colli falls into a pit, and Ian helps her out, which has long been included on discs of Zombi Holocaust as a deleted scene. Interestingly, Severin has also reinstated that scene into the original Zombi Holocaust version of the film.
the deleted pit scene
Shriek Show first released this on DVD in 2002, and they also released the first blu in 2011.  Then we got two competing restorations on blu-ray: 88 Films' 2015 release in the UK, followed quickly by Severin's 2016 release in the USA.  I wound up getting both.  So now in 2023, the film's been restored in 4k ("from original vault elements discovered in Manhattan and Rome," as Severin describes it on the back of their case) and again it was released first by 88 Films.  But this time I knew to be just a little patient and wait for the Severin release that quickly followed, which turned out to be a 2 UHD/ 2 BD combo-pack.  And one thing that distinguishes Severin's releases from the rest is that they include both the Dr. Butcher and Zombie Holocaust cuts, so get ready for a lot of comparison screenshots.
1) 2002 Shriek Show DVD; 2) 2015 88 Film BD; 3) 2016 Severin Dr. Butcher BD;
4) 2016 Severin ZH BD; 5) 2023 Severin
ZH BD; 6) 2023 Severin Dr. Butcher BD;
7) 2023 Severin
ZH UHD; 8) 2023 Severin Dr. Butcher UHD.

So I've included shots of the Dr. Butcher transfers, too, just to be thorough.  But they consistently match Severin's Zombie Holocaust counterpart.  Every transfer here is 1.85:1, except Shriek Show's DVD, which comes close at 1.84:1, and Severin's 2016 BD, which they opened up to 1.78:1 (they matted it back to 1.85 for their 2023 release).  They also adjust the framing slightly lower on their latest release.  The differences that stand out the most are Shriek Show's interlacing - and just generally being a softer SD presentation - and the fact that 88 Film's is a few shades brighter.  There's never exactly a wealth more detail, at least once we jump to HD.  But there's a solid jump in clarity and film grain rendering going from DVD to 88's blu.  And it's much more thorough, still, on the 4k scans, even when just comparing the 2016 BD to the 2023 BD.  On both the earlier blus, grain is there but inconsistent, while it's all captured perfectly on the 2023 release.

The biggest difference between the 2015 and 2016 blus is the color timing. Severin re-timed the levels completely in 2016, and I have to say, their version does look the most attractive and natural. Skies look blue instead of green, etc. You can also see Severin's copy has flecks and damage in spots that 88's doesn't, but it's all quite minor.  Those have all been cleaned up in 2023, anyway.  Comparing the two Severins, the colors come across a bit more faded on the BD, more authentic with slightly lower contrast.  But on the UHD with Dolby Vision enabled, everything's more robust, and the increased resolution keeps finer detail more lifelike.  Each stage from 88's BD to Severin's UHD is like another step forward.  Maybe not major leaps, but visible improvements each time.
Now, 88 did have one nice advantage over Shriek Show's DVD and blu-ray, in that both Shriek Show editions only feature the US dub and no subtitle options. 88 has both the English and Italian audio tracks (in DTS-HD 2.0) and English subtitles, so you can watch it either way.  Severin's 2016 blu, meanwhile, has the English DTS-HD 2.0 and Italian in LPCM 2.0 on the Zombie Holocaust cut, and DTS-HD and LPCM options for the English on the Dr. Butcher cut. But here's the thing: no subtitles on either version! That's right, Severin has no English subtitles when you play the Italian version of Zombie Holocaust, a baffling decision.

But thankfully, they've fixed that in 2023.  They've got the English mono in DTS-HD for Dr. Butcher, and both English and Italian mono tracks in DTS-HD on their Zombie Holocaust disc.  And critically, there are now also optional English subtitles for the English tracks on both cuts, and a second set of translated subs for the Italian audio (in other words, both sub and dubtitles) of Zombie Holocaust, making the Italian track a perfectly viable option for non-Italian viewers.
Now let's talk extras! 88 Film's only has a couple, but they're pretty major. First up is a feature length documentary on Italian cannibal films (also included on Grindhouse's recent Cannibal Ferox blu). And this isn't one of those things where they let one or two "cult film extras" pontificate for the entire time; this interviews the biggest cannibal directors: Ruggero Deodato, Umberto Lenzi and Sergio Martino. There are cannibal film stars like Robert Kerman, Antonio Climati, and the delightfully controversial Giovanni Radice. There's Zombie Holocaust's distributor Terry Levine, and there are modern filmmakers like Joe Dante, Frank Henenlotter, Luigi Cozzi and of course Eli Roth. And yeah, the experts are on hand, too; most notably including Kim Newman. This is definitely not the kind of "extra" one skips; they break down each major cannibal movie film by film (though personally I would've included Deodato's Cut & Run, too, even if technically none of the natives quite managed to take a bite out of anybody) and discuss all the signature elements of the genre.

Their other main extra is a Q&A with Ian McCulloch. That's kind of light for being the only Zombie Holocaust-specific feature on here, but it does run about 50 minutes, so it's pretty substantial. The other extras are the deleted scene that's been on past Zombie Holocaust editions, and the trailer. The booklet's pretty cool... even if you're the type to usually forgo reading the books, this one has an interview with McCulloch, so you might want to check that out - that is if there's anything left to be said after the 50 minute Q&A. Oh, and as you can see up top, 88 has also included some cool, reversible cover art.
Unfortunately 88 didn't or couldn't get Shriek Show's extras. Shriek Show (on both their DVD and blu) had some interesting coverage of the whole Doctor Butcher M.D. thing. They included that footage as an extra, as well as interviewing its director, Roy Frumkes. Plus, they had a Doctor Butcher trailer and Frumkes' personal photo gallery. Still, if you didn't grow up with the old Doctor Butcher VHS tapes like I did, that Frumkes stuff may be of less interest to you anyway. And apart from that stuff, the regular trailer and that deleted scene, Shriek Show just had the one notable extra: an interview with special effects expert Maurizio Trani. That was pretty good, though.  Oh, and they also had a neat fold-out insert with some fairly extensive notes.
Thankfully, Severin did get Shriek Show's extras, so you can finally let go of your copies of those. All of that's been ported over, and they've also added a whole ton more stuff. There is a lengthy, 31+ minute interview with Terry Levine, a featurette with Frumkes talking about 42nd St, an interview with the guy who drove a "Butcher Mobile" van around the city to promote the movie back in the day (this one's pretty fun!), an interview with Jim Markovic, the editor who recut the Dr. Butcher version, a gallery, plus several trailers. And that's just the first disc! Onto disc two, there's a new interview with Ian McCulloch. I think we might've finished mining the depths with him considering the mass amount of interviews we've seen of him on Italian horror DVDs, but it would be disappointing if he wasn't on here. There are also interviews with effects artist Rosario Pretopino, Enzo Castellari (son of director Mario Girolami), and actress Sherry Buchanan. There's also a short but fun featurette looking at the film's shooting locations (I'm a sucker for these), more trailers, and a clip of McCulloch singing a song for us. And in lieu of a typical insert or booklet, Severin includes a charming Dr. Butcher M.D. barf bag [right].
In 2023, Severin has kept almost all of the extras from their 2016 release.  We just technically lost the German trailer for Zombie Holocaust and the second video trailer for Dr. Butcher.  But we've gotten some substantial additions.  First there's a new set of interviews with two of the student filmmakers who were going to have segments in Tales That Will Tear Your Heart Out.  Finally, we learn who "Snuff Maximus" was!  Then Michael Gingold gives us a tour of Italian horror NY locations.  You might be thinking: didn't they already have a brief featurette touring Zombie Holocaust's NY locations that you described one paragraph up?  Yes, but this is a substantial, over 45 minute trip through the NY locations of a whole bunch of Italian horror films, like The Gates of Hell and New York Ripper.  It's pretty great, though I suppose it might test your patience at points if you're not a fan of some of the Italian horror flicks he's covering.  Anyway, we also get an additional Dr. Butcher TV spot.  It comes in reversible artwork and an embossed slipcover and yes, the barf bag is back. 
I naively suggested that the 2015/ 2016 BD restorations would be "the best looking editions we're going to get." But home video releases of entered a whole new generation, and so yes, we've stepped even further forward this year with a higher resolution presentation and even more special features.  And before, Severin had one distinct weakness: no subtitles for their Italian audio, which put them behind 88 Films' release in at least one substantial department.  But they've fixed that, making their new set a clear winner.  If you're a super fan, you might still want to pick up 88's release for their exclusive extras, in order to have everything.  But Severin's new set covers all the bases pretty damn well.

No comments:

Post a Comment