Doctor Butcher MD or: How I learned to quit worrying about the convoluted release history of Italian horror films

Zombies, cannibals, and mad doctors, oh my! Zombi Holocaust might just be one of the weirdest Italian cannibal films ever, however it's odd US distribution history might just rival the film's strangeness.  Directed by Marino Girolami (Violent City), the film was heavily "inspired" by the success of Lucio Fulci's Zombi 2 and Joe D'Amato's Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals.



Like most Italian horror films of that period, the film was released in a number of countries and had dozens of titles throughout the 80's; La Terreur Des Zombies (France), Zombi Holocausto (Portugal), and in 1982 the film was unleashed unto US audiences as Doctor Butcher MD.



This is where things begin to get a bit convoluted. While the posters and video artwork of this era were always a bit misleading (they had to get your ass in the seat somehow, right?)  The US promotion of Zombi Holocaust took things to a new level. As you can see from the US release poster below, a heavy emphasis was put on the "mad doctor" aspect of the film.


While certainly one of the best horror posters of the 80's, the images didn't relay much information on the film's actual story. A maniacal doctor wearing a head mirror, a young lady in revealing clothing, and the New York skyline in the background, one would assume a mad doctor is stalking the streets of New York.  His prey?  Young, nubile females. Where are the cannibals? The jungle? The zombies!?  Think the poster is misleading?  Wait until you see the US theatrical trailer.


Aquarius Releasing picked up the US distribution rights for the film and while the company was kind enough to grace us with an amazing mad doctor campaign they simply didn't stop at just a poster and trailer. The film was re-edited and also featured a number of new music ques along with new opening and ending sequences. The newly included footage was from an incomplete film titled Tales That'll Tear Your Heart Out.  The creation of Roy Frumkes (Document of the Dead,Tales' was to be an anthology film featuring seven different directors (one of them being genre vet Wes Craven).  Terry Levine (of Aquarius) happened to contact Frumkes explaining that a new credit sequence was needed.  Frumkes was essentially sitting on footage from the incomplete film and a deal was made.  Before you could say "spaghetti" Doctor Butcher MD hit the theaters of 42nd Street, eventually making it's way into video stores and into our horror-filled homes (and cold, dead hearts.)

Fans of Zombi Holocaust will certainly want to seek out the alternative Doctor Butcher cut of the film. While Shriek Show's 2001 DVD release does feature the some of the footage as a supplement, the only way to truly experience this cut is by locating the an older VHS release. In the US two companies released this cut on the home video market, Thriller Video and Paragon. The latter release is relatively inexpensive and should be pretty easy to track down.

While they may not be as visually striking as the US theatrical poster, Zombi Holocaust was responsible for some of the coolest theatrical posters of the 80's as proven by some of the examples below.





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