Zombie Strippers: A surprisingly fine zombie comedy

Zombie Strippers directed by Jay LeeZombie Strippers directed by Jay Lee

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsIndulge me for a moment, please, as I quote myself from a recent review: “It can be a tricky balancing act, coming up with the perfect film in the genre known as the horror comedy; a picture that is hilariously funny while at the same time being truly scary. And while there is no shortage of films with a decidedly uneven ratio of horror::comedy — such as 1960’s The Little Shop of Horrors, 1974’s Young Frankenstein and 1975’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show — such films usually come off as pure comedies, only with a horror setting. But when the balance is just right, such as in The Ghost Breakers (1940), Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948, and still probably the finest exemplar of the horror comedy ever made) and Spider Baby (1964), the result can be a timeless and wonderful entertainment.” I wrote those words in my review of the 2002 cult item Bubba Ho-Tep, which succeeded wildly as both horror and comedy, I felt. Well, now I must report that, to my great surprise, I have discovered yet another picture that manages that tricky balancing act: Jay Lee’s Zombie Strippers (2008), which is not only laugh-out-loud funny, as might have been expected, but also features more gross-out, gut-munching, head-bursting zombie carnage than the last three George A. Romero movies combined!

In the film’s hilarious opening, a ridiculously gung-ho Marine team, the Z Squad (clearly patterned after the tough-as-nails crew in the sci-fi epic Aliens), is called in to quell a zombie revolt at a government lab, where the living dead were being developed to act as the supersoldiers of the future. The zombies are effectively slaughtered in a gonzo bloodbath, but one of the Marines, Byrdflough (!), gets bitten and infected during the battle. Fearful of being preemptively shot by one of his team members, Byrdflough escapes the scene and hides out in the local Rhino Club, which is run by a character named Ian Essko, and played by none other than Freddy Krueger portrayer himself, Robert Englund. (Literate viewers may recall that French playwright Eugene Ionesco came out with a play in 1959 called Rhinoceros; just one of the many literate in-jokes scattered throughout the film.) Before long, Byrdflough turns into a zombie himself, and attacks and kills the club’s head stripper, Kat (played with zest by “The Queen of Porn,” Jenna Jameson). But Kat doesn’t stay dead for long, and her abilities as a pole dancer are only enhanced by her zombified state, resulting in her enormous popularity with the male buffoons in the audience! And soon, all the other jealous ecdysiasts are desirous of becoming zombies, too. Ian’s new zombie strippers are raking in major bucks for the club, before long, but there IS a problem: All the male customers who the gals infect have, in turn, become zombies themselves, and have been locked away in the Rhino’s basement. And that basement is reaching the point of maximum capacity…

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Jenna Jameson talks about the film.

All the gore hounds out there who may be thinking that this silly-sounding movie won’t deliver the requisite zombie mayhem might be in for a big surprise as Zombie Strippers proceeds. The FX in the film are terrifically impressive, the makeup work all that could be desired, the blood and guts worthy of approbation by Tom Savini. Just watch as Lilith, the Goth stripper, splits a guy’s head open to eat his tongue, or how Madame Blavatski (the hilarious Russian in charge of the strippers, and named, of course, for whatever reason, after the notorious Russian occultist of the 19th century, Madame Helena Blavatsky), after being zombified, has her body blown apart, bit by bit, by machine gun fire. And you won’t believe what a zombie can do in regard to a pole dance… simply eye boggling!

The film, as mentioned, is also wildly funny, with many hilarious lines; the references to this viewer’s all-time favorite movie, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, as well as to the cult fave The Warriors, almost made me fall off the couch with laughter. Other hilarious bits: the newscast that opens the film, detailing George W.’s fourth term as president (yikes!), and the scene in which Ian’s assistant, the Mexican Paco, looks at a photo of his wife and two daughters, before going off to fight the undead, and tearfully says, “Adios, Maria, Maria, Maria…” And just get a load of what zombie Kat is able to do with a bunch of pool balls (decency prevents me from saying)! As for Englund, he gives a fine comedic performance here, and his obnoxious, germaphobic character (he is constantly spraying disinfectant on the girls, and saying things like “You walking herpe”) is a genuine inducer of big laffs. Of course, the film features fairly copious amounts of nudity, and many breasts are on display… some of them even natural. (Certainly not Jenna’s, though; no two breasts could ever be that perfectly matched and symmetrical!)

The picture is also a lot smarter than it needs to be, with numerous philosophical references (Kat, hilariously, is shown reading a book by Nietzsche, which she cannot understand until after she becomes a zombie; the film transpires in Sartre, Nebraska; and several of the strippers indulge in fairly deep existential discussions), a re-complicated plot finale, and timely and clever put-downs of the Bush administration (granted, a fairly broad target for satire). The film is surely not in the same great league as Bubba Ho-Tep or the other wonderful classics mentioned up top, but it still manages to succeed as both horror and comedy, for which the picture has my grudging respect. Who would have ever thought that a film featuring zombie face dancing could be so good?

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SANDY FERBER, on our staff since April 2014 (but hanging around here since November 2012), is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough's finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a "misspent youth" of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship -- although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century -- and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror... but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle "ferbs54." Film Forum in Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club....

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  1. Hmmm… strippers and zombies, two things I’m tired of. So I won’t go get the movie, but I did enjoy the review.

    • sandy ferber /

      I’m not gonna ask, Marion, how it is that you happen to be tired of strippers! LOL! Anyway, thanks for the kind words. Sometimes I feel that I am single-handedly eroding the IQ quotient and credibility of FanLit with these reviews of wacky films, so I’m glad to know that you enjoyed reading this one….

  2. Sandy, what exactly makes a smart and well-read guy like you devote so much time to “Zombie Strippers”? Surely something more high-brow like “Surf Nazis Must Die” would be more worthwhile?
    Actually I can’t watch gory movies at all. I’m still traumatized from when someone tricked me into watching Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive…

    • Someone else who has heard of “Surf Nazis Must Die?” It’s getting scary now.

    • sandy ferber /

      Well, Stuart in my own defense, I only devoted 94 minutes to “Zombie Strippers,” and fortunately, found it time well spent. And I have yet to see “Surf Nazis Must Die,” which, informed sources tell me, is a BAD Troma picture, as opposed to a good Troma picture, such as “The Toxic Avenger.” Your friend did indeed pull a dirty trick on you by making you watch “Brain Dead,” which is assuredly one of the goriest movies ever made. As I once wrote of that film:

      Many cinematic sons have had problems with their mother–just ask poor Norman Bates!–but perhaps none more so than Lionel Cosgrove, in Peter Jackson’s third film, “Dead Alive” (1992). His mum, you see, after receiving a nasty bite from the accursed Sumatran rat-monkey at the Wellington Zoo in 1957, died (well, for a brief time, anyway), and soon came back to life as an extremely aggressive zombie gutmuncher. Before long, this contagion is fairly widespread, and Lionel and his girlfriend Paquita (who must surely rank as one of the spunkiest Latinas in horror-film history) are left to deal with a veritable army of the undead. Anyway, there is not a single moment in this film that doesn’t either amuse, startle, or completely gross one out with hilarious, cartoonlike, completely over-the-top violence. The justly infamous climax, during which Lionel, armed with a handy power mower, tears through the zombie horde amongst gallons of spurting blood and heaps of flying body parts, must surely represent the outside limit of twisted horror comedy. It is just remarkable how much inventive carnage “Dead Alive” dishes out: from the antics of a zombie baby, to a fight between a kung fu priest and some undead punks, from a bout of zombie lovemaking, to the sight of a pureed zombie head in a blender, and on and relentlessly on. Jackson directs with great energy and panache, and generously supplies some pleasing and quite convincing period detail. His film ultimately suggests a sick amalgam of John Waters tastelessness and George A. Romero horror fare, but the zombies on display here, despite the comedic tone, are much faster moving and nastier than the Romero variety. “Dead Alive” works equally well as horror and comedy and, in its own sick and twisted way, is quite an accomplishment; a minor masterpiece.

  3. The Toxic Avenger is a superhero who does not get enough respect.

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