Zombie Strippers

Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 04/18/08 00:00:00

"They'll Take Your Tips And Your Fingertips"
2 stars (Pretty Crappy)

Whatever cinematic sins are committed by “Zombie Strippers”—and there are plenty of them, both mortal and venial—you have to at least give it some kind of credit for being true to itself. This isn’t one of those “Prom Night” deals where you walk into the theater expecting to see a gory slasher movie and wind up getting a painfully denuded PG-13 bit of pointlessness in which the very reason for its existence—the sight of dopey high-school kids being carved up in grotesque fashion—has been left on the cutting-room floor in a cynical dual effort to get younger viewers into the multiplexes during its presumably brief theatrical window and to inspire an “Unrated” DVD that will presumably reincorporate all the stuff that should have been there in the first place. No, “Zombie Strippers” is a film that promises that it will supply viewers with three simple things—zombies, strippers and zombified strippers—and then spends the next 90 minutes delivering just that.

Like so many zombie-related films, “Zombie Strippers” opens up at a secret military facility where secret experiments have had the minor side effect of turning the recently deceased into gooey monsters with a taste for the sweet tang of human flesh and the ability to transform their victims into similar creatures with a single bite. Inevitably, a top-notch military squad arrives to clean up the mess but despite their credentials (“We stopped one thing last month—what was that thing called again?” “Armageddon, sir!”), one of them, the unfortunately named Byrdflough (try pronouncing it out loud) is bitten and, when he gets a load of the zero-strike policy regarding bitees, he slips away in the confusion and looks for a place to hide. Perhaps not so inevitably, he winds up in a run-down and decidedly illegal strip joint run by the sleazy Ian Essko (Robert Englund, whose presence is all but preordained—after all, in a film like this, there’ll always be an Englund) and mad Russian Madame Blavatski (Carmit Levite with a Muscovite accent that even Boris Badenov would find questionable) When Byrdflough (did you get it yet?) finally goes into full-zombie mode, he attacks top dancer Kat (Jenna Jameson, the former porn star making what could most kindly be described as a lateral career move) and tears out her throat.

Oddly enough, this proves to have a salutary effect on her performing abilities and she is such a success that Essko and Blavatski are willing to overlook the fact that when she takes someone in back for a lap dance, the seemingly lucky guy has a tendency to never be seen again in one non-leaking piece. (This only makes sense when you stop to consider that even in the advanced state of decay that she eventually reaches, Jenna Jameson has looked worse than she does at any point in the proceedings here.) Seeing the amount of money that Kat is pulling in (and never pausing to think that killing and eating your audience might not be the best way to get ahead in a business governed largely by tips and repeat business), most of the other girls in the club decide to join the undead as well but things eventually go bad and soon the few remaining humans—devout Christian stripper Jessy (Jennifer Holland), boyfriend Davis (John Hawkes), comedy relief janitor Paco (John Medina), Essko and Blavatski—find themselves caught between a swarm of garden-variety zombies in the audience and catfighting zombie strippers on the stage.

The best part of “Zombie Strippers” comes right at the beginning when the title jumps out at you in all its glory—actually the best part of “Zombie Strippers” may be the moment in line when you confidently stroll up to the ticket counter and proudly announce that yes, you will be purchasing one ticket for “Zombie Strippers.” (Just in case you were curious, I do plan to invoke the words “Zombie Strippers” as often as possible.) Alas, once the movie proper kicks in, it begins to feel as though so much of the energy belonging to writer/director/cinematographer Jay Lee (and the comparisons to Steven Soderbergh pretty much begin and end there) went into creating that title that there was precious little left with which to make the rest of the film. Obviously, the film is a self-conscious campfest but it shares the same basic problem as so many other films in this particular subgenre—trying to be deliberately bad is never quite as effective or amusing as a film that really tries to be good and nevertheless fails despite (or because) of its ambitions. For example, take a film like the immortal 1965 Ed Wood-scripted classic “Orgy of the Dead.” Like “Zombie Strippers,” it too tries to create a narrative that somehow combines a number of striptease numbers with a tenuous horror plot—as I recall, it had something to do with a couple of dopes who find themselves stranded in limbo and are forced to watch a dozen strippers plying their undead wares on a graveyard set so flimsy that it made the one in “Plan 9 from Outer Space” look like Forest Lawn by comparison. Like “Zombie Strippers,” that film is patently ridiculous—the horror elements aren’t scary, the erotic elements aren’t sexy, and the performances are uniformly terrible—but since it is genuinely trying to be good, its multitude of artistic failures evoke a certain charm. Here, the film is so busy trying to underline its own cruddiness, from the cheap special effects to the even-cheaper jokes (including an out-of-nowhere goof on the “We don’t need no stinking badges” line from “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” that is actually lifted whole from the infinitely funnier Weird Al Yankovic vehicle “UHF”) to the largely awful performances (aside from Englund, who cheerfully goes for broke in a role that even Sid Haig might have counseled against accepting), that it never gets around to doing much of anything else. Furthermore, I must note that as someone who has seen more than a few films in which innocent corn-fed lasses are turned into hard-bitten cynics after a few days in the world of sleazy strip clubs, this particular film may well be the first time in which such a transformation has occurred without the damsel in question taking off her clothes even once.

And yet, while there is no possible way that I can recommend that you go and pay full fare to see “Zombie Strippers”—I’m not sure I can even suggest it as a rental when it hits DVD (which will presumably in a week or two) unless you have made sure that your remote control has fresh batteries to help get you through the approximately 63,957 dull spots—the sleazo film fanatic within me, the guy who woke up this morning with the cheerful realization that no matter what else the day might have held, I was going to be seeing a film entitled “Zombie Strippers,” must admit to enjoy a few stray bits of wit and weirdness amidst the low-rent carnage and lower-rent cleavage. As I said earlier, I liked Robert Englund’s cheerfully manic performance—he enters the movie making a goofball reference to his immortal Freddy Krueger character and exits it with a moment that will no doubt go down in the annals of zombie stripper movie history. I liked the cute Goth stripper played by the wonderfully named Roxy Saint. I liked the bizarre literary and philosophical references that are thrown in at random, presumably in an effort by Jay Lee to convince his parents that he did do something with his college education after all. (Besides Ian Essko, we are also treated to characters named Camus and Genet, a town called Satre City and the indelible sight of Jenna Jameson quoting Nietzsche.) I like the moment when a newly zombified stripper claims to feel alive for the very first time, inspiring the deathless line “Oh sweet irony!” I liked the one catfight that begins with the taunt “This is all your fault, existentialist bitch!” and the other one that kicks off with a direct quote from, of all things, “The Warriors.” Finally, if nothing else, I suppose that it is hard to completely dismiss the first film set in a strip club that I can recall where a discussion about clams turns out to actually be about clams after all.

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