31 Nights of Horror (#5) | 2017
On this episode of The Nightly Chill:
Cinematico Magnifico continues his search for late-night scares beyond the walls of The Last Video Store on Earth. Tonight, we take a look at giallo zombie flick, Zombie Holocaust!
NOTE: All movies reviewed for “31 Nights of Horror” are currently available to stream in the US via Shudder, a horror-centric streaming service.
After several bodies are desecrated and several patients are killed in their beds, a group of doctors and journalists head for the East Indies to uncover the truth behind this recent string of cannibalistic behavior in Zombie Holocaust.
ANCIENT ZOMBIE SECRET
Zombie Holocaust, from director Marino Girolami, is somewhat of a mystery to me. Despite sharing so many traits found in other giallo-styled films, Zombie Holocaust seems to lack whatever “I don’t know what” that allows those other movies to succeed in raw entertainment in spite of their numerous issues.
The acting, the dialog, the story, and the pacing are, at best, subpar. And at worst, they’re abysmal. But this is fairly common in the genre. It’s very much a matter of style over substance. Saturated colors. Odd, comic book-like framing and lighting. Melodramatic, on-the-nose dialog and performances. And a singular, focused hook or gimmick.
And Zombie Holocaust does indeed capture the stylistic flair of the genre. Everything on screen pops in the style’s distinct manner. There’s an inherent pulp feel to everything, with characters looking and talking like they popped out of an old horror magazine or comic book. The film’s color pallet is largely desaturated until something of dramatic importance is on screen, at which point key colors are heavily saturated. The lighting will even go from natural or over-lit to hyperstylized, with swashes of greens and reds and dark, ominous shadows falling across shots.
The movie even features a fairly barebones, predictable hook. Cannibals appear in a major, modern city. A small group of people with a death wish make it their business to venture
into the wildness halfway around the world for answers regarding the cannibals. And, once on some isolated island, everything goes wrong for everyone involved, and they have to survive somehow.
It’s a simple, basic premise and structure. But it’s one that’s worked across dozens and dozens of films.
So what is it exactly that leaves Zombie Holocaust feeling like a pale imitation?
Well, the only thing I didn’t feel with Zombie Holocaust that I feel with many other giallo films is this sense that, in spite of the film’s small budget, the director had the creativity to keep things interesting and popping off the screen often enough.
So much of the movie is waiting for something to happen–blood, violence, a cheap scare, or even some odd, gratuitous sex.
But even the gratuitous sexual content is so lifeless. There is more than one extended sequence where we see Alexandra Delli Colli’s Lori stripping or getting dressed or simply walking around naked. But none of it comes across as particularly titillating. There’s no sense of voyeurism to any of it. There’s nothing outright sexual about what we see, despite that clearly being the only reason it’s there.
And that sort of lacking is there when it comes to the effects and the scares. The titular zombies don’t really look all that interesting. At times, they even look like they’re wearing a cheap mask purchased at a corner drug store. The blood and violence are there, but none of it feels like its meant to entertain us. It’s simply there because it has to be there.
Perhaps it’s Girolami’s framing. Perhaps its the soundtrack, which never really seems to hit quite the right note. But whatever it is, there’s simply something that doesn’t feel authentic about Zombie Holocaust. And when there are so many other better representations of the giallo style–even if only barely–I can only suggest that you avoid this one without a second thought.
Zombie Holocaust, while not an entirely unwatchable film, is a firm NO CHILL.