Seven people. That’s how many I asked to accompany me to Zombie Strippers, and coincidentally it’s also the number of people that declined. I can’t say I blame them – the screening was at the Sony lot, which is not convenient for anyone in LA, and thus not a very enticing drive (it’s the equivalent of being at 34th and Broadway in New York and asking someone to drive to the Moon). Also, it’s a movie called Zombie Strippers.
With that title I was expecting Troma levels of absurdity, nudity, and gore..ity. What I most certainly was NOT expecting was to be treated to Nietzsche quotes, lots of female empowerment metaphors, and some fairly obvious but still pretty funny topical humor (a news graphic pointing out that its currently 97 degrees in Alaska, for example). I should have known better; as I entered the screening room I was handed an “Existential Philosophy Primer” along with the press notes, and a Magic 8 Ball that didn’t work very well (every question I asked was answered with “Corner of the pyramid shaped answer box”).
I’ll get back to that later.
Honestly, the idea of melding a completely cheesy concept with some “deep” spiritual and philosophical ideas is pretty interesting, and on the page it more or less works. The best gag in the film comes when Jenna Jameson (surprisingly decent as a character who is never once required to take a cock up her ass), by then a zombie, reads from Nietzsche (as she did when she was alive) and says “Wow, this makes so much more sense now.” It’s a great line. There are a few others as well, and the humor surprisingly comes more from the dialogue than from zombie gags or whatever.
And here’s the weird thing. As I was watching the movie, I wrote down “Slaughter” in my notes, to remind me to bring up the fact that it reminded me of the movie The Slaughter, which also had bizarrely implemented sociological dialogue in the middle of what was a standard Evil Dead type movie. And guess what? SAME GUY! Jay Lee be his name, something that I had somehow forgotten, what with the 200 or so horror movies I have seen in between the two. The blend works much better here, and thankfully he didn’t have the characters turn meta in the film’s final 20 minutes like he did in his previous film. It’s definitely an improvement.
However, it just doesn’t come together as well as it should. Maybe Lee was spread too thin by directing, writing, editing, and shooting the film himself. The script is good (with some minor issues – the military plotline that takes up the beginning and the end of the film is almost completely ignored for the hour in between), but his editing and shooting are mediocre at best. In particular, it seems very disconnected – shots don’t cut together very well, and it always seems like things were shot weeks apart (which they are, on almost all movies, but we’re not supposed to notice it). Also, and this may be better on DVD, but the digital look of the film was lousy. The lighting in particular made every character look like they were composited into the background. And hell, maybe they WERE in some cases, but I don’t know one would need to shoot two actors in front of a greenscreen so they could add in a bookshelf later. This is apparently a Lee staple, as Slaughter also had terrible compositing.
It’s also very difficult to understand how much time has gone by. In another nice surprise, the film wasn’t a “a bar full of zombies fights off the survivors all in one night” type movie, a la Feast, Devil’s Den, Dusk Till Dawn, etc. But I can’t tell how long it DOES take place over, either. It seems like a few days, but everyone wears the same clothes. Do they just not leave? Again, this is the result of poor editing and such.
And someone needs to keep Robert Englund the fuck away from characters that run nightclubs. He fares far better here than in the Masters of Horror Dance of the Dead (still the absolute worst thing I’ve ever seen in my life), but he just doesn’t work as well as a caricature, and the environment does him no favors either. He doesn’t have to play Freddy all his life (he is brilliant as the Sam Loomis type in Behind the Mask, for example), but some roles are just not a good fit for him. And it’s more of a shame when you consider the film’s technical limitations – a lesser known actor without a (relatively) big salary would probably allocated more cash for an editor or better CG (which is at least consistently unimpressive; it’s better than when a VFX team blows their wad on the first couple of shots and then the rest of the movie is atrocious). However, there are a few good kills with practical effects work, especially a nice head ripping around the halfway mark.
As for the 8 ball? There’s a scene where Jameson’s zombie places a few billiard balls up her vagina and then shoots them out at the zombie she’s fighting with (this is where the female empowerment comes in – they are basically fighting for supremacy). So even the marketing for the film is strangely conflicted – they give us Nietzsche Cliff’s Notes and an 8 ball meant to simulate the one that gets shot out of a porn star’s key asset at the end of the film. I’ll give it this much: this is the least clichéd horror movie of the year, if nothing else.