Let’s get one thing straight before we go any further: Zombie Strippers is not a good movie. The acting is so bad I that you’ll think they’re just winging it in some parts, and it lacks anything resembling cohesive direction. Despite having its tongue planted firmly in its cheek, it’s not quite as clever as it wants to be. The special effects are wildly inconsistent in quality, it blatantly disregards much of the zombie mythos, and the music will be an affront to the average ear.
It’s also a fucking blast.
Taking place in the not-too-distant future, the opening of Zombie Strippers is fairly standard as far as tales of undead uprisings go. In the sleepy little town of Sartre, Nebraska (we’ll get to this bit of silliness later), a corporation has been developing a virus ingeniously called the “chemo-virus.” An outbreak occurs. Soldiers are sent in. One of the soldiers gets infected, breaks out, and takes up hiding in an underground strip club. Up until this point, the movie seems to be on pace for another semi-clever, mostly derivative zombie gore fest — a genre which, I confess, I still enjoy the ass off of. However, once the setting shifts to the strip club, the wheels come off with spectacular gusto, and the car goes flying off a cliff and explodes into an orgy of blood, boobs, and riotous laughter.
The infected soldier, who has been hiding in the basement, staggers into the club and mauls the one of the star dancers, Kat (Jenna Jameson — Private Parts, Up and Cummers 20). The conniving club owner, Essko (played with mustache-twirling glee by Robert Englund of A Nightmare on Elm Street and 2001 Maniacs), fearing that the puritanical government of the films new world order will shut his club down if discovered, wrestles the zombie into a cell (why does a strip club have a prison cell in it’s basement, you ask? That’s none of your goddamn business. Shush.), and hides Kat’s body. Within minutes, however, Kat rises from the dead, with only two primal urges remaining: to dance naked and to feed on human flesh. Kat rapidly becomes all the rage in the club (despite her blood-soaked body and the gaping neck wound that she closes with a stapler, not to mention her predilection for eating the patrons ), and soon the rest of the girls become envious of her notoriety. In an effort to compete with her popularity, other girls convince Kat to feed on them, leading to more gore-caked striptease routines, as well as more customers being devoured. The customers, of course, also turn into zombies, and Essko and his partner Madame Blavatasky (Carmit Levité) continue to stuff them into the club’s zombie cage. Meanwhile, the zombie strippers continue to woo the customers, despite becoming more and more gruesome with each passing hour, while the remaining normal girls struggle with the dilemma of whether or not to succumb to zombification in order to contend with their popularity. Eventually, the military returns, the caged zombies break out, the club turns into a bloodbath, and there’s an all-out brawl between the two most popular zombie strippers. There’s also a wholly unnecessary yet amusing subplot about a virginal young farm girl who turns to stripping to pay for her poor Nana’s colostomy. It’s sort of like Mean Girls, if Mean Girls had been made with constant, gratuitous nudity, stomach-turning scenes of male genitalia being torn off, disembowelments, and gunfights with the undead.
Rarely does one encounter a movie that lives up to its title as thoroughly as Zombie Strippers does. I mean, there are strippers … and they become zombies … and they continue to strip. It’s about as straightforward as you can get. There is something to be said for that. However, what surprised me is that Zombie Strippers actually has loftier aspirations than to simply be a movie about naked dancing reanimated corpses (as if that weren’t enough of an accomplishment). In addition to that, it’s also a decent socio-political satire, and most surprisingly, homage to existentialist Theatre of the Absurd. Yes, you read that correctly. The satire in the movie is not terribly subtle — from the opening faux newscast that mentions Dubya (with Ahnuld as his VP, no less … shudder) being elected to a fourth term after a change in electoral laws, to the strip club being an “underground” club since nudity, foul language and basically fun in general have all been outlawed in this dystopian future — Zombie Strippers wants you to believe that it has a message. A message, people. In a movie called Zombie Strippers. It’s either the most clever, subversive concept ever or so mind-numbingly stupid I that I want to pour boiling water into my brain — quite possibly both. Of course, this isn’t the first movie about the the walking dead to tread this ground — but it may well be the most ridiculous one to do so, which makes the satirical content all the more unusual. The rampant Theatre of the Absurd references throughout the movie are even more bizarre. Everything from the names of the characters — Englund’s “Ian Essko,” a soldier named Major Camus, and a stripper named Berengé — to the crises of self that the strippers suffer from, all lead back to the same Existentialist roots. Not to mention the more blatant references — people hopelessly dancing as zombies over and over until they start to fall apart, ultimately leading to their own destruction. Of course, this all takes place in a town called Sartre, where strippers read Nietzsche and randomly speak lines directly lifted from Ionesco’s Rhinoceros.
Unfortunately, these things are ultimately what makes Zombie Strippers start to teeter under the weight of its own ridiculousness. Director Jay Lee, best known for … well, this, actually, sometimes tries a little too hard to be coy. The film’s constant winking at the audience, its relentless efforts to be dumb-yet-smart, all eventually start to become a little too precious and a little too deliberate. God knows I enjoy satire as much as the next person, but Zombie Strippers lays it on a bit thick, to the extent that it almost feels like it’s mocking the viewers who don’t get the joke. Of course, this is made worse by the fact that to be frank, the joke isn’t always very good to begin with.
But once you strip away (hey-o!) all of the unnecessary pretense, the goofy subtext, and the oh-so-goddamn-cleverness, you’re left with… well, you’re left with zombie strippers. And that part is absolutely worth seeing. If you’re a fan of the zombie genre (and if you’re not, I’m shaking my head sadly right now), it’s a must-see. If you’re a fan of strippers… um… never mind. Moving on! What makes the movie so gratifying is that it’s obvious that everyone involved is enjoying themselves. Despite most of the cast being average-to-poor actors, they’re clearly having a ball with the material, and that goofiness is infectious. The violence is completely over-the-top, so you won’t have to worry about squirming or seeing deliberately shocking violence like you’ll find in Hostel or its awful ilk. In fact, the special effects are actually pretty fascinating; the zombie makeup is actually pretty damn good. It’s no Tom Savini, but given the obvious shoestring budget, it’s pretty impressive. The other effects, however (explosions, guns, etc.) are flat-out terrible.
Perhaps it’s a waste of time, but the acting deserves to be mentioned. Overall, it’s not good, if not downright cringe-worthy in some parts. Englund is his usual hammy self, which you will actually enjoy. Jameson is surprisingly decent, considering that her dialogue consists of something more than awful entendres towards an oiled-up plumber(and that she delivers most of her lines while naked and covered in zombie ichor). While the remaining cast isn’t going to win any awards, or probably ever even break out of this level of movie, they seemed content with their roles and were honestly enjoying themselves.
On the stripper side of it, I suppose it bears mentioning that the nakedness in Zombie Strippers is constant and almost desensitizing. You will see breasts of all shapes and sizes. You will see real breasts and fake breasts and breasts with pierced nipples. Most importantly, you will see all of those breasts rot and corrode and look altogether gross. It will give you an entirely new opinion of strip clubs. I used to think that Beansnappers in Appleton, WI was the worst strip club scene I’d ever see — I mean, one of those women had a fresh tattoo of a bleeding rose. On her face. Zombie Strippers is here to show me that I was wrong. Gleefully, gorily, gloriously wrong. For a solid 20 minutes after the soldier breaks into the night club, the movie cycles through the following rotation of scenes: Girl dances, takes off clothes. Girl gets bitten by zombies, dies horribly. Girl rises from dead, has irresistible undead urge to dance, take off clothes. Girl takes customer in back for lap-dance. Girl eats customer in gruesome, flesh-tearing, organ chewing fashion, usually starting with the groinal area. New girl dances, takes off clothes. Repeat. After that it gets even better.
While I’m usually a bit irate when people mess with the canons of the things I love (Zombies shouldn’t be able to speak, let alone form thoughts and ideas… or dance), I’m willing to forgive Zombie Strippers simply because of its admirable dedication to pushing the comedy/horror envelope. In fact, there’s a scene where the two main strippers Kat (Jameson) and Jeannie (Shamron Moore) face off in a topless undead battle to the death that truly has to be seen to be believed. I don’t want to spoil it, but let’s just say billiard balls and severed limbs are involved. It’s vile and crude and I was nearly in tears from laughing so hard. The sheer inventiveness of the movie deserves a substantial amount of credit. After the dozens upon dozens of zombie movies that have come out, ranging in quality from the literally brilliant (Night of the Living Dead, Shaun of the Dead) to the absolutely, not even ironically awful (House of the Dead, Zombie vs. Ninja), to see one that actually has some freshness to it is damn impressive. Believe me: when you get to the climactic final battle between zombie patrons, club employees, random military forces and the zombie strippers, I guarantee it’ll feel like the first time (by that I mean it’s loud, painful, hysterically funny and a gruesome marvel to behold. OK, maybe that was just my first time. Never mind.)
As I said in the beginning, this is not a good movie. If you don’t already have an attachment to the zombie genre, you’ll probably hate it. If you’ve never giggled uncontrollably at the accidental comedy in Sci-Fi Channel movies, then this ain’t for you. If you’re offended by the concept of strip clubs, well, this damn well isn’t going to help things. But if you’re a little bit bent like me, and you think that seeing a topless woman with a gaping stomach wound tear a man’s arms off and beat him to death with them is high comedy, then I’ve got some outstanding news for you. It’s far from a classic, but it’s got just enough of the right ingredients to make it worthwhile.
TK can be found wandering aimlessly through suburban Massachusetts, wondering how the hell he got there while yelling at the kids on his lawn. You can find him raising the dead in preparation for world domination at Uncooked Meat.
Zombie Strippers / TK
Film | April 30, 2008 | Comments ()