Mark my words: In ten years, Jay Lee will successfully bring Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy to the big screen.
Don’t believe me?
The last person to create a zombie movie this brilliant was Peter Jackson, with Dead Alive. And ten years later, he was bringing the “unfilmable” classic trilogy to life. So with a movie like Zombie Strippers under his belt, Lee is clearly on a course to bring the other major genre trilogy to the big screen.
But let’s not talk about where he’s going. Let’s talk about where he is now. And he’s directing a movie starring Jenna Jameson, who used to be a porn star and whose last horror effort (Evil Breed: The Legend of Samhain) was appalling, and Robert Englund, who used to act until he realized he could just shout and giggle. And that’s the talented part of the cast.
Any thoughts that this movie might be subtle* go out the window in the opening scene. In classic zombie movie fashion, we get news reports detailing George Bush’s fourth term in office, while the standard newscrawl informs us that “Brangelina” has adopted Ethiopia. Naturally, we soon hear a story about a strange toxin that the government is working on to allow dead soldiers to fight in the assorted wars we’re involved in**.
Okay, so it’s another zombie comedy. Ho hum.
Did I mention the existentialism and French literature? How about the fact that the plot is essentially lifted from Ionesco (Robert Englund, in fact, plays a character named Ian Essko)? Oh, hell, there are characters named Camus, Genet, and Lt. Ryker (although I’m not sure the last one really has the same literary roots as the others), and the action takes place in the town of Sartre, Nebraska.
All that, and strippers. It’s possibly the least subtle movie of all time.
We do not, in spite of what you may think, pick up the action in a strip-club. This is art, folks, and we need exposition. We start in a Secret Government Lab, where scientists realize that their Experiment Has Run Amok. They seal up the lab and call in the World’s Lamest Space Marines.
Okay, they’re not space marines. But the Aliens (and Predator) influence can’t be understated here. We’ve got the female hard-ass, the psychopath, the communications officer, the scared newb, and the tough-as-nails black sergeant. Only the inexplicably hot and slutty marine isn’t swiped from an earlier movie.
But I digress. The scientists fill us in on the Important Plot Details:
Zombies can be killed by destroying the brain. They can also be put down with a strong electromagnetic pulse. Oh, and when the highly-trained military units meant to get the virus pass it on to a woman, she generally retains most of her knowledge, personality, and skills, but in men, the virus degenerates quickly into standard “bite and kill everyone” zombiedom.
Back to the action. The marines go in armed with the knowledge that the zombies can be killed by destroying the brain (of course) or put down by an EMP. They go in, shoot a bunch of zombies, and then use EMP guns to take down the final batch. However, it turns out that the EMPs barely stun the zombies, and our “heroes” are almost overrun.
Fortunately, they have classic Action Movie Guns that never run out of bullets, so they massacre the hordes of undead. But wait! The scared newb — named Byrdflough — has gotten bitten, and instead of telling his buds so that he can be put to death, he runs away and hides in a strip club, where he’ll die and spread a disease, as his name implies.
And the strip club, of course, is where the real action happens. Our strippers are led by Kat, the Nietzsche-reading star of the club, and the cast includes a Goth, a New Girl, a Jealous #2 Stripper, and other fun stereotypes. And after no fewer than three dance numbers***, Byrdflough finally croaks****, zombifies, and shreds Kat’s throat in front of the whole crowd.
As the club owners and staff — the avaricious Essco, an aging Russian stripper named Madame Blavatski, snarky DJ Cole, and the ludicrously stereotyped Mexican janitor named Paco***** — ponder what to do, seeing as the strip club is illegal, Kat sits up, walks straight onto the dance floor, and does an amazing dance, wowing the entire crowd even as blood continues to leak from her neck. She then drags some “lucky” soul off for a lapdance in the back; needless to say, her hunger overwhelms her, and he becomes lunch.
Now we finally get to the absurdism. As the strippers (starting with goth chick Lillith, of course), start to get Kat to turn them, and the male audience members willingly let themselves be taken to the back, only a few of the girls still question whether they should remain human, or let themselves become
Since this is a current theatrical release, I’ll stop with the overt spoilers, but stuff to look forward to includes:
- Two cheap jokes from Paco based on the most famous line from Treasure of the Sierra Madre.
- Undead pole dancing.
- Ripped throats, spurting blood, and skin shredded from bones.
- Gratuitous burro.
- Guns. Lots of guns.
- Many, many people questioning the meaning of life, the need to conform, and the desire to be different.
- Eighty pounds of scenery, all chewed by Robert Englund.
- References to any number of sex acts, including the Frothy Chewbacca. Which I don’t think is a real sex act (at least, not per Google), but who knows what kids these days get up to?
- A most unusual twist on the "ping-pong balls shooting from the vagina" trick.
- Much, much more.
Like Dead Alive, this is far from a perfect movie. In fact, both movies have a lot in common: an amateurish cast, a miniscule budget, gag scenes, zombies attacking crotches, and other fun stuff. Both not-so-subtly examine the works of famous thinkers (Dead Alive being perhaps the most Oedipal movie ever made, of course, and Zombie Strippers swiping much of its structure from Rhinoceros). Both films also occasionally get silly or too clever for their own good, but that’s forgivable in light of the sense of fun the movies bring.
The big surprise, for me, is how good Jenna Jameson is here. Mind you, she won’t be winning any awards, but she actually gets some good bits of physical comedy in, and dives into the zombie role with relish. Englund chews scenery, but his role here is meant to be over the top, so it’s okay. The rest of the cast is generally one or two notches above what you’d expect in a typical porn or horror movie, which is more than enough for this flick.
Director/writer Jay Lee, previously best known for the uninspired Slaughter, really does a solid job here, showing some deft touches mixed in with the over-the-top political and social satire. Gore fans might be a litter underwhelmed, as nothing here compares to what Jackson or Romero has put on the big screen, but this movie (like Fido before it) isn’t about the gore; it’s about what it means to be human, with the zombies being used as a tool to examine ourselves.
I’ll need to watch this movie another time or two before I can tell if it holds up to repeat viewings, but if it does, it’s a modern camp horror classic.
Note: Yeah, Lee's not likely to really bring Foundation to the big screen, but I wanted something analogous to Peter Jackson, and suggesting that Lee will produce an overlong and overwrought remake of a monster movie didn’t seem to cut it.
*Um, really, if you actually had those thoughts, go look at the title again.
**Which include Iraq, Iran, Mexico, Syria, Canada, and Alaska.
***To make sure that anyone in the audience who only saw the second half of the title comes away entertained.
****What? How could I not say it?
*****Played by comedian Joey Medina, probably the third biggest name in the movie.