When a movie comes out called Zombie Strippers, it's a given that I'm gonna see it. And I sort of resent that.
It's not that I don't think there should be a movie called Zombie Strippers. (Frankly, I'm stunned it took this long.) It's just that I dislike feeling pandered to. To me, the title seems a little forced, a little too on the nose. The people who made this movie think they can just slap the word "zombie" together with the word "strippers" and I'll come running. And they're 100% right, but fuck them for being so presumptuous. We both knew it was a done deal as soon as Zombie Strippers and I laid eyes on each other, but it doesn't need to act so cocky about it. Sure, I'm easy, but does that mean I don't deserve to be romanced a little bit? C'mon, Zombie Strippers. At least buy a girl a drink first.
Anyway, when a movie has an awesome title like Zombie Strippers, you can be reasonably certain that the title is going to be the most awesome thing about it. So I knew going into this thing that it was going to be a wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am type situation. I knew that Zombie Strippers was going to seduce me with the promise of sexy, splattery hijinks, then leave me vaguely unfulfilled and somewhat embarrassed afterward. It was always going to be a one-night stand, just a rough and sloppy 90 minutes of forgettable fun. No promises, no strings, no future. But dammit, I guess I'm just a romantic at heart, because I dared to hope for more. I see no reason why a movie called Zombie Strippers has to be a one-off timewaster, a movie you see just so you can say you saw it. I mean, if I thought that way back in 1990, would Frankenhooker and I still be together after all these years? You gotta dream, man, or what's the point?
Well, it turns out my first instinct was the correct one. Zombie Strippers is a better title than a movie, but it does have its moments.
We start out with a phony baloney news report that fills us in on the backstory of the Zombiestripperverse. In the near future, George W. Bush has just been elected to his fourth term (And the award for Most Instantly Dated Plot Device goes to…), and as his first order of business, has banned all forms of public nudity. We also learn that the U.S. is low on troops because of all the wars we're fighting in France, Venezuela, Alaska, etc., so the government is experimenting with zombie soldiers.
Then we cut to the hallways of that same old abandoned mental institution where 90% of every direct-to-DVD horror movie gets shot. The zombies are already on the rampage, and a dude in a lab coat watches them through shatter-proof glass and says, "Behold a pale horse." Which would be a pretty solid line if I thought the screenwriter was actually referencing the Bible verse it came from (Revelation 6:8) and not the Johnny Cash song that they use in the opening credits of the Dawn of the Dead remake. So already this flick is ripping off a ripoff, which lets you know that it's one of those self-conscious winky-winky flicks that want you to know that it's all just a big joke so there's no need to hold the movie up to any kind of standard of quality.
I'm sorry, fellas, but that dog won't hunt. Go ahead and make your movie funny if you want, but admitting right off the bat that it's all just a big laugh and that we shouldn't take it seriously is a huge cop-out. It means you don't have the balls to treat your absurd but workable premise with the respect it deserves, so you attempt to circumvent criticism by letting us know that you're "in on the joke." If you really wanted your movie to be funny, you'd have the courage to play it with a straight face and trust us to get the joke on our own. The way it is now, Zombie Strippers is like some awkward fat dude who makes self-effacing jokes at parties, not realizing that if he didn't point out his flaws, people might just overlook them.
Anyway, so the government calls in cinema's eight gazillionth knockoff of the space marines from Aliens. They spout a bunch of self-consciously satirical dialogue that wouldn't sound out of place on South Park but sounds pretty stupid coming out of the mouths of crappy straight-to-video actors. Then there's some reasonably spooky Ridley Scott-inspired backlit photography and some CGI-enhanced head explosions before one of the soldiers gets bitten and hides out in a nearby underground strip club run by Robert Englund. His star attraction is Jenna Jameson, whose boobs are so fake they look like special effects. Even before she turned into a zombie, I kept expecting them to burst open and have a bunch of tentacles come out.
So then the soldier bites Jenna, but the twist is, being a zombie makes her a better stripper. So then all the other girls have to follow suit if they want to keep up. I think this might be some kind of metaphor about all the plastic surgery that models and sex workers have to get to stay competitive. Speaking of metaphors, you can tell that the filmmakers thought they had a real rich stew of allegory going here, what with all the political jokes (the zombie serum is created by a company called W Industries) and the references to sociosexual peer pressure, but none of it really comes together into anything semi-coherent. I think it's all about choosing not to become a zombie, even when everyone else is doing it, which is a clear reference to America's apathy in the face of our ongoing War on Terror. All the strippers are also big into quoting from philosophy books, but that seems more like the screenwriter showing off the stuff he learned in college than any kind of legitimate thematic concern. All this stuff is pretty ham-handed, proving that movies are never dumber than when they're trying to be smart.
Anyway, Zombie Strippers is one of the new breed of exploitation movies that try to be naughty and transgressive but never succeed in being legitimately sleazy. They throw in all this industrial metal/Suicide Girl shtick, and it just ends up seeming like reheated Rob Zombie. This is what happens when nerds try to get kinky. Back in the day, you had real perverts like Jess Franco making this shit. Nowadays, it's just geeks with laptops who think nudity is funny. That's why none of the sex and gore is actually sexy or shocking. It lacks the courage of its convictions.
Like I said, there are some good moments, like when a stripper rips a dude's jaw off and bites his tongue out, or when Jenna (who looks surprisingly creepy as a zombie) battles her archnemesis by shooting billiard balls at her from her coochie. And there are lots and lots of ugly prosthetic boobs on display, if you like that sort of thing. Personally, I like boobs that flop around a little bit when you shake 'em, but maybe I'm just old fashioned.
I didn't have a bad time watching Zombie Strippers, but its problem is that it's simultaneously trying too hard and not trying hard enough. Clearly, the world needed a movie called Zombie Strippers. I'm just not sure it needed this one.