In case you weren't sure, Zombie Strippers is exactly what it sounds like: a horror comedy about zombified strippers. And like most zombie movies, it has political subtext, though you don't have to worry about it being headier than something titled Zombie Strippers should be. Sure, it claims to be based loosely on Eugène Ionesco's classic absurdist play Rhinoceros and, sure, it features allusions to a number of philosophers, including Camus and Sartre, but really it's dumb and silly and a heck of a good time. Particularly if you're anything but sober. And if you're just looking for a grindhouse sort of guilty pleasure to pass the time.
Zombie Strippers opens with a montage that sets the scene: it's sometime in the near future, and Bush has just been reelected to his fourth term. Already, we know this movie will be a complete farce, but the ludicrous exposition continues, explaining that government scientists have developed a virus that allows soldiers in Iraq to continue fighting after they're killed. Yes, these super soldiers are zombies, a minor twist on Joe Dante's anti-Bush short Homecoming, which was one of the more critically celebrated episodes of the cable series Masters of Horror, and which featured Iraq War casualties rising from the dead in order to cast their vote against Bush's reelection.
Well, that plan obviously didn't work, so here the zombies are doing what they're made to do: eat flesh and pole dance. Following a quick but tedious video game-like battle in the government lab, between a team of "best of the best" marines (clear parodies of a Michael Bay ensemble, they once defeated Satan and averted Armageddon) and the zombified test subjects and scientists, a bitten marine escapes into an alley and then into the underground strip club Rhinos. There, he dies, converts to a zombie and then disobeys the cardinal rule of strip joints. However, more than simply touching a dancer, he lunges at her and bites through her neck.
The victim is Kat (Jenna Jameson, in a rare non-pornographic performance), the star of the illegal club. Rather than lose his best dancer, Rhinos owner Ian Essko (Robert Englund, in a not rare horror creep role) decides to let her continue performing, as, yes, a zombie stripper. And what do you know? She's an even bigger hit than before. Soon other strippers are zombies, too, most of them intentionally, because the clientele is no longer excited by live nude dancers, yet one girl (played by rock singer Roxy Saint) welcomes the transformation in order to be more goth.
Of course, as expected, some of the clientele ends up zombies, as well, making Rhinos even more criminal when Essko hides the victims away in a cage. Here, writer-director-cinematographer Jay Lee (The Slaughter) is probably lampooning the idea of strip clubs that also function illegally as brothels, and the joke fits alongside his poking fun at the idea that strippers and porn stars are typically more intelligent than people assume them to be. When Kat is introduced, for instance, she is reading and quoting from the "Complete Works of Frederick Nietzche." And after becoming a zombie, she states that it now makes more sense, which is obviously a jab at Nietzche yet can also be taken as an extension of her heightened status as a super stripper.
On a third level, the joke may also be a reflexive wink at the script, which is sort of smarter than it seems. Or, it at least implies that its writer is smarter than he seems, for the references and allusions are little more than that: clever nods meant to point out Lee's familiarity with philosophy and Theatre of the Absurd. That isn't to say the allusions aren't appropriate or pointed. Certainly they add a slight touch of underlying insight to and arouse contemplation of the very concept of zombies and the conventions of their subgenre, but so all the best zombie flicks, from George Romero's series to the more subversive reexaminations 28 Days Later and Shaun of the Dead. Zombie Strippers may be creative, and hilarious, but it's by no means on the level of anything its remotely comparable to.
However, the movie is a blast if you are in the right state of mind. Too bad distributor Triumph Films (a division of Sony) failed to book the thing in cinemas serving alcohol, as it would be a perfect selection for midnight screenings at an Alamo Drafthouse, Speakeasy or Cinebarre. The dry list of theaters showing Zombie Strippers is even more disappointing considering there was alcohol appropriately served at the press screening I attended (as I previously wrote about), and the studio clearly recognizes the benefits of booze in relation to the appreciation and enjoyment of the film.
Fortunately, there's nothing wrong with drinking ahead of time. And, in fact, I recommend the movie only with the suggestion that you get tipsy beforehand -- as long as you are legally of age to do so, of course (I must note, however, that I do not condone or encourage sneaking liquor into any of the cinemas showing Zombie Strippers). The buzzed brain is much more apt to enjoy the cheesiness of the political satire, as well the rest of the humor, and it's likely to even forgive Lee's directorial and cinematographic shortcomings. A word of caution, though: this is also a quite gory movie, and too much of the good stuff may cause, as it did for me, some queasiness.
For those New Yorkers who want to see Zombie Strippers asap, there will be a midnight screening Thursday night at the AMC Empire 25, on 42nd Street, for which Jenna Jameson will be in person to give an introduction. And there's a Dallas BBQ right next door that has excellent "Texas-size" frozen drinks, just in case you feel like following my recommendation completely. Remember, though, to drink responsibly.