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Doctor Butcher, M.D. (aka Zombie Holocaust) (1979)

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  Doctor Butcher's an interesting Italian entry in both the cannibal and zombie genres, but there's nothing really special to recommend it over the better entries in either field. 

However. Flexing the atrophied muscles of my English Lit degree, I'm proud to say that there's an intriguing subtext of Western imperialism here. While I'm sure that director "Frank Martin" wasn't intending to make a statement of this kind, that in no way invalidates the subtext; the most honest "deep" meanings in all texts are those which the author wouldn't help but put there because of both his own psychological makeup and the cultural zeitgeist. 

Let's explore it, shall we? We begin in the fancy hospital, where body parts have been stolen. (Odd that it's different body parts every time -- a hand, a heart... I'm just thinking of the cannibals at home: "I dunno, what do you feel like having?") Once it's discovered that the parts are indeed being cannibalized by recently-transplanted Asians from the South Seas, anthropologist/nurse Lori opines, "All primitive people practiced [cannibalism], without exception." (She probably ought to have appended, "in all Italian films.") 

The expedition journeys to the island where Dr. Obrero has set up shop, bringing western medicine to the natives. When they ask about the island of Kito (from the dying lips of one of the big-city cannibals), the doctor fumes about how the natives of that island are the "most primitive" in that they reject his western medicine and "the least bit of civilization." (Apparently, these people once had the technological expertise to craft a beautiful steel-bladed knife, but we'll let that go by.) 

The expedition sets out to Kito with three porters from the local islands, whom they treat like especially thick children; every time the porters point out that they're in danger, do they so-smart Euros listen to them? No, even after one of the porters is killed and half-eaten by cannibals. No apologies, just an order to "bury him quick." It's not good for the white man to dirty his hands digging a grave for a primitive. 

In the end, the secret comes out: Dr. Obrero has been experimenting on these people, turning them into zombies in an effort to find the secret of immortality. Not only that, but it is he who revived the ancient practice of cannibalism to "keep them in line." (How this would help, I'm not sure.) So it turns out that the natives' most "primitive" traits are actually cause by the westerners; not only that, but without commerce with the westerners, those isolated natives who moved to civilization never would have come, bringing the western-caused poison of cannibalism back with them. 

I'd like to say more about the actual conclusion -- Lori's acceptance into the tribe -- but unfortunately, it's such a fragmentary scene in the movie (you can buy movie review, research papers, and essay online on our "do my homework" service)  that I'm not sure what exactly is going on. (I'd like to believe that the original Zombi Holocaust has a more comprehensible scene, and that the re-editors for Doctor Butcher simply botched it.) 

However, even if the surface events are unclear, the subtext still leaps out at us: Lori, who had been raised in the area, was reluctant to come back and see the islands with adult (i.e., western) eyes; in the end, however, she submits to being unclothed, painted with native symbols, and placed on the sacrificial table, to be stabbed with her own knife. (Never did quite figure out how the knife got from her apartment to the island...) Somewhere in there is a message about the synthesis of the imperialist and the native. While I still don't understand why they didn't go through with the sacrifice ("Look! It's She Who Tips The Table Back!"), the natives then rise up against Dr. Obrero, the source of all their "primitive" ways. 

Hey, it's not great art, but there's something to be seen if you look closely enough. 

However, I have a problem with the entire genre of "jungle zombies" as a whole. For me, the true horror of the living dead is that they are jes' plain folks, come back without souls. The most frightening zombie portrayals show a suburbia overrun with the living dead, your friends and neighbors turned into shuffling, soulless monsters. Taking the western observers to a foreign, "primitive" environment lessens this effect for me because the entire environment is alien rather than familiar. But that's just me. 

One other note: The IMDb notes that the original score was replaced in the re-edit with the cheesy synthesizer score. I think they actually left bits of the original in -- there are passages with a discordant string ensemble that are lightyears away from the rest of the soundtrack, which sounds like it was composed on an Atari 2600. 

Best quote: "I could easily kill you now -- but I'm determined to have your brain!"


- Dr. Obrero     

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