August 31, 2011

Zombie Strippers (Review)

Zombie Strippers (2008)

Director: Jay Lee 

3 / 5 zedheads

Today we wrap up HOT ZOMBIE NIGHTS on The Zed Word: Zombie Blog with a look at one of the hottest zombie horror/comedies of them all: ZOMBIE STRIPPERS. Wax your bikini zone, grease up the pole, and get your singles ready because here we go!

From the beginning title screen, it's clear that Zombie Strippers aims to be a campy and tongue-in-cheek movie. The low-rent title logo is followed by equally garish footage of a news cast that establishes the satirical world of Zombie Strippers. In this alternate universe, President George W. Bush has been elected for a fourth term, he has disbanded congress, and the USA is embroiled in war with almost all of the Middle East and Canada. On the home front, public nudity has been outlawed, and there's a vital shortage of troops. What's the USA to do?

Well, they turn to the solution for and cause of all life's problems: ZOMBIES! Government scientists have created a chemo-virus that reanimates dead soldiers, preserving their soldier instincts, so that they can continue to be all they can be, even when that's only a slow, shambling, flesh-hungry ghoul. The virus stays more pure in women, or so we're told, so female zombies retain more of their identities and ability to speak, except for the ones we first see, which are as mindless as the rest. Consistency, thy name is not Zombie Strippers. Anyways, when the virus manages to escape and infect the research scientists, a goofy team of military stereotypes -- the Z Squad -- is sent in to quell the zombie insurgency the only way they know how.
Unfortunately, one of the soldiers -- last name Byrdflough (pronounced "Birdflu", har har) -- is infected by a zombie bite. He runs away from his team to avoid getting a cap busted in his brain pan. While escaping, he accidentally falls through the roof of Rhino, an illegal strip club run by the slimy germophobe Ian Essko (Robert Englund). Here, Kat (Jenna Jameson) the star stripper is taking it all off under the neon lights.
Now taking the stage to the grinding rhythms of Bob Seger, gentlemen, give it up for the juicy Jenna Jameson.
"She’ll bruise some
She’ll hurt some too
But oh they love to watch her strut
Oh they do respect her but
They love to watch her strut"
"In spite of all her talking
Once she starts in walking
The lady will be all they ever dreamed
Oh they’ll love to watch her strut
Oh they’ll kill to make the cut
They love to watch her strut"
Yikes, Jenna's looking pretty skeletal and duck-lipped in Zombie Strippers. What happened to that porn-star beautiful blonde of movies like Priceless and Virtual Sex with Jenna? The state of her body aside, people like to rag on Jenna Jameson for her acting in this movie. Yes, her line delivery is pretty awful, especially when the script calls for her to quote the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, but I have to come to her defense (even if she is looking depressingly anorexic by this point.) Jenna Jameson's job in Zombie Strippers is to give a physical performance, and her years of porn experience serve her well. She effortlessly communicates sensuality with her body as a stripper, but she also does a mime-worthy job of contorting her body to convey the rigidity and creepy, stilted nature of the zombie. Her face is just as expressive as her body; her only limitation is that she can't deliver dialogue unless it's over-the-top and comedic. Thankfully, once she becomes a zombie, there's not much time for serious dialogue. She's too busy stripping and eating flesh.

Necking taken to the extreme
But we're getting ahead of ourselves. How does Kat, the Nietzsche-loving stripper, turn zombie? Well, that infected soldier I told you about is still in the audience. He dies, turns zombie, and then tackles Kat off the stage. He proceeds to tear out her throat in one of the first accomplished practical gore effects of Zombie Strippers. Ian, the owner of the strip club, tries to cover up the death, but soon Kat rises from the dead with an irrepressible urge..... to strip!

When did she have the time to change into a spiked corset?
Her zombie dance is a perfect fusion of rigor mortis and pole dancing. Despite the gaping wound in her neck and being caked in blood, the men in the audience go wild for her. Its the most amazing thing they've ever seen. They empty out their pockets for the Zombie Queen of Strip. Of course, Ian is now seeing dollar signs. This zombie thing is going to pay off. The only downside is that Kat will pull men out of the audience, take them back stage, and devour them. There's no sex in the champagne room, only cannibalism. But that's manageable, right?

Making it rain
Not so much. Soon the other girls want what Kat's got. Kat begins to turn the girls into zombie strippers like herself. Word spreads, and more men start coming to the club, but that means more men never make it home. When the strippers are done feeding, the leftovers reanimate and need to be locked up in the basement. Everything comes to a head when the mindless zombie leftovers in the basement escape, the zombie-killing marines from the start of the film return to finish what they started, and Kat's chief rival Jeanni (Shamron Moore) turns herself into a zombie stripper to confront Kat in a bloody stripper showdown full of dismemberment and flying ping pong balls.

Mean Girls
I honestly wasn't expecting to enjoy Zombie Strippers as much as I did. Objectively, it's a one-note joke stretched over 90 minutes of shameless nudity, gore, and dead-in-the-water attempts at political satire. It's a low budget affair, so most of the digital effects are poorly composited, and the sets lack variety. Yet, there's something charismatic about the over the top performances and the film's commitment to being a true gore-comedy.

How can one man be this dirty yet also so germaphobic?
 The performances are hit or miss all over the map, but the shining star in Zombie Strippers's crown is horror icon Robert Englund, best known as the original Freddy Krueger. What people don't realize, however, is that Englund is more than just a guy in makeup, a striped sweater, and a glove with claws. He's an accomplished actor. For his turn as the delightfully eccentric Ian Essko alone, Zombie Strippers is worth recommending. Englund hits every mark - bang - bang - bang - with perfect comedic timing. Englund is simply a joy to watch, and it's been a long time since we've seen him play this type of character. Englund almost single-handily lifts this movie above its poor production values and uneven script.

We Moan, Therefore We Are
Most of the performances and the script fail, however, when writer/director Jay Lee's attempts a ham-fisted fusion of zombie exploitation with classical philosophy. For example, the town where the action takes place is named Sartre, after the French existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. Ian Essko of the Rhino club is named after Eugène Ionesco, the author of the absurdist philosophical play Rhinoceros. Finally, characters have ill-timed and badly delivered discussion about the meaning of life, existentialism, and the nature of self. I'm not sure what Jay Lee is going for, but these flashes of philosophy aren't very meaningful, they're not particularly cohesive, and I imagine they're going to fly over the heads of most viewers. The rest of the comedy and satire (especially against the Bush administration) isn't great, but at least it's farcical and broad enough to illicit some laughs. Whenever the movie detours into philosophy, however, the plot and the laughs grind to a halt.

Some of the gore effects are simply jaw-dropping
Rarely disappointing, however, are the gore and makeup. I'm not talking about Zombie Strippers's digital blood and gore; that stuff is undeniably shitty. Thankfully, there's plenty of physical gore, practical blood, and puppet zombie props on display too. I was really impressed by Jay Lee's decision to highlight practical effects where feasible. It almost makes up for the dog's breakfast of philosophy in the script. The zombie makeup is as impressive as the gore. All the zombie strippers and close-up zombies look amazing. Much like Robert Englund holds up the film in the acting department, the makeup department and special effects people raise Zombie Strippers above its material to make it something actually worth recommending to zombie fans.

Actress Penny Drake has looked better, but I wouldn't kick her out of the crypt.
And, of course, being a movie titled Zombie Strippers, there's plenty of ribald, lowbrow humour to sink your teeth into. In one of the movie's most famous scenes, Kat (Jenna Jameson) displays an uncanny control over her vaginal muscles when -- from off screen -- she fires ping pong balls and then billiard bolls at her rival. Now THAT's a party trick.

Zombie Strippers = Penis Trauma
Here's a fun-fact. Including Zombie Strippers, all the movies I've reviewed this month for HOT ZOMBIE NIGHTS have included scenes of zombie women biting off a man's dick. Revenge of the Living Dead Girls -- dick biting. Dawna the Dead -- explicit sex and then full cock castration. Zombie Strippers -- oh yes, there's some manhood munching. Is there a message here? Are these films subverting the male gaze? Are these films allowing women, who have become objectified sexual playthings and objects of violence by horror films for decades, the chance to turn the table and submit men to the same sexual violence and objectification? Perhaps there's a proto-feminist thread running through these movies about zombie women? I doubt it. That's giving these exploitation films too much credit, but there is something thematic going on in Zombie Strippers when the men who have come to objectify and consume the women with their eyes become themselves objectified, dehumanized, and consumed.
Jenna Jameson hams it up by breaking the fourth wall
Zombie Strippers is just entertaining enough to recommend. It's not a dumb movie, but it's ideas and satire are half-baked and poorly executed. It's not an erotic movie, but it's shamelessly titillating. It's not a scary movie, but it offers just enough outlandish gore scenes to be shocking as well as funny. It's not a great movie; it's not a bad movie. It is what it is. Now how's that for some philosophy?