I still haven’t made up my mind as to whether Jay Lee’s bizarre, hilarious, and mind-numbingly mind-numbing film, Zombie Strippers is beautifully subversive and John Waters-esque, or just simply bad (in which case, it’s realllllllly bad). A regular B-movie auteur, Lee wrote, directed, shot, and edited Zombie Strippers, a Jenna Jameson/Robert Englund vehicle that, true to its cast, blends gore, schlock, slapstick, porn and – existential/political commentary?(!) The film is (supposedly) an adaptation of Eugene Ionesco’s Absurdist play Rhinoceros (1959). Seriously, I challenge anyone to make up something more ridiculous: canonical existentialist drama = stripping zombie pornstars.
The back story of Zombie Strippers is about as ludicrous as it is unimportant: a pissy scientist crafts a zombie virus and spreads it around at a military facility in Sartre (Jean-Paul!), Nebraska (more on the existentialism connections later), eventually infecting a soldier who escapes before he becomes completely zombified and accidentally ends up in an illegal strip club owned by Ian Essko (Robert Englund) and featuring the breast-baring talents of Kat (Jenna Jameson), Lillith (Roxy Saint), Jeannie (Shamron Moore), and hometown girl, Jessy (Jennifer Holland), among others. What ensues is a necro-erotic parade of absurdity that culminates in a predictable film-ending anti-zombie raid by the Z-Squad, an elite group of undead-killing military folk – many of whom are inexplicably scantly clad.
Although the film contains some of the most intensely quotable and irresistibly laughable lines I have ever heard, including the greatest simile ever uttered, “That chick’s as cold as the dead flesh of a stripping zombie” and “They’re strippers! They’re zombies! They’re zombie strippers!” a great deal of (intentionally?) awkward references to philosophical issues and (get ready for it . . .) the Iraq War are scattered throughout Zombie Strippers – leaving me to wonder if Jay Lee is a master of sarcasm or if he has earnestly made a zombiedy with such a pretentious and maligned “intellectual” edge.
Regardless of the distinction between intent and accident when it comes to its straight-up hilarity (which may be useless to make), Zombie Strippers abounds with allusions to existentialist figures, beginning with the source material (Ionesco!), the name of the town (Sartre!), the name of the Z-Squad leader (Major Camus!), and the choice of reading material for Jenna Jameson’s character: you guessed it, some freakin’ Friedrich Nietzsche! While preparing to go onstage and wax her asscrack with a metal pole, Jameson’s Kat buries her nose in a tome of Nietzsche’s greatest hits and spouts silly drivel about “the void” and the harshness of existence. Fittingly, once she becomes a decaying corpse, Kat claims that Nietzsche’s “stuff makes a lot more sense.” If for no other reason, Zombie Strippers is worth watching for its jarring attempts to inject high-falutin’ philosophical principles into the trashiest of trash cinema.
Even more head-scratchingly entertaining than its philosophical dabbling is the way Zombie Strippers toys with turning the strip club into a political allegory for the Iraq War, repeatedly having the buxom exotic dancers utter the phrase, “It’s a war out there,” in reference to the spotlight-drenched stage. At one point, Jessy (the hometown girl) declares “There’s a war happening out there and I can no longer close my eyes to it!” as the Z-Squad squelches the zombie attack (which is conveniently contained within the walls of the strip club). If Jay Lee and crew really are attempting to make some sort of anti-war statement, they go about it in one of the most nonsensical and half-hearted ways imaginable. Once again, either Lee is an absolute “r”-tard or a he is a backhanded genius who knows how to turn the concept of an ambitious boobs ‘n’ gore film against itself by lambasting the omnipresent insertion of Iraq-related political commentary into damn near every 1 out of 3 films that gets released (note: hyperbole).
Zombie Strippers’s absolute strangeness makes it nearly beyond good and evil; it’s a film in which taste becomes submissive to “Oh my God, they did not just do that!” One of the more (maybe) offensive aspects of the film is its outright racism against Mexicans/Mexican-Americans. The shat-upon strip club janitor, Paco (Joey Medina), is on the receiving end of quite a few racially-motivated tirades from Englund’s Ian. Undermining Ian Essko’s racist rhetoric and turning the bigotry on its ear is Paco’s WAY over the top stereotype-laden kamikaze death scene, which (seemingly) explodes many of the Mexican-American racial conventions: sombreros, mules, Pancho Villa, etc. It wouldn’t be unusual if a viewer found him/herself frowning and chuckling at the same time – which is true for most scenes in the film.
Complimenting the innumerable idiosyncrasies of Zombie Strippers is one of the most memorable and remarkably disgusting (yet hilarious) scenes ever filmed. I won’t reveal too much about the sequence but this should be enough to pique the reader’s interest: projectile ping-pong balls, projectile pool balls, Jenna Jameson’s zombified vagina, a stripping pole-cum-baseball bat, and rotting chesticles. Honestly, if this scene doesn’t accrue legendary status within the coming months, I will be shocked. I couldn’t even breathe in the theatre. I almost fell over... dead from laughter! (That’s my B-criticism version of a snappy concluding line.)
by Brandon Colvin