yendi: (Jason)
Zombie Strippers. 2008. Written and Directed by Jay Lee. Distributed by Stage 6 Films and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

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 rhinoceroses zombies. Even fewer of the men (only the staff, in fact) question their need to conform.

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.
yendi: (Jason)
When you see a zombie carpenter, what warning do you shout to your companions?

Dead Man Caulking.
yendi: (Jason)
That is, cheap and in bulk quantities.

Three of the lamest in the genre have been released in a cheap-ass box set. At under $7 a film, it's almost worth it to get the Zombie Pack: Vols 3-5.

In theory, these are a part of the same series as Zombi 2 (which is a sequel to nothing at all, just an excuse for Fulci to capitalize on Romero's Dawn of the Dead success, and which was released in the US as just plain old Zombie, just to keep us on our toes). In practice, only Zombi 3 qualifies, as it was directed by Fulci. It's not a bad film (even bad Fulci is better than, say, "good" Michael Bay), but it's not exactly full of that whacky concept known as "plot," and don't even mention "continuity." That said, if you want random zombie attacks in a hotel, along with terrorists, bad dubbing, and a zombie DJ, this is the movie for you. It's actually a lot of fun to watch, as long as you don't compare it to Romero's movies, or even better Italian horror flicks. It also clearly inspired at least a few things that Peter Jackson used in Dead Alive (chopping off hands, zombie babies, etc).

Zombie 4: After Death (now with bonus letter "e") has nothing to do with Fulci or the previous movies at all. In fact, it's actually a little bit of a throwback to pre-Romero zombie flicks, with vaguely voodoo-esque zombies being the motivating force. By "vaguely," I mean, of course, "nothing at all like voodoo, but there's a ritual performed by native black people on a remote island that, for lack of a better word, we'll call Haiti (although it's in the Pacific here)," and isn't that the same thing? Anyway, after a prologue in which the natives read from the Book of the Dead (Psuedo-Haitian Voodoo Edition) and summon demon zombies to kill all the Europeans but a little girl who survives and escapes because the creatures took their cue from Aliens, and can't kill a little girl to save their (un)life, we flash forward twenty years, to the now-adult girl and her mercenary friends and mall-trash girlfriends coming to the island to accidentally re-awaken the zombies. Seriously, that, as far as I can tell, was the goal. They soon start to get slaughtered by zombies who talk, shoot guns, and otherwise act human, other than wearing bad makeup. There's a decent amount of gore, at least.

And then we get the creme de la creme, Zombie 5: The Killing Birds, starring The Man from U.N.C.L.E. himself, Robert Vaughn. Or, as I like to call it, Ornithologists Gone Wild. The "plot," if you'll pardon the term, involves a Vietnam vet who comes home one day to find his wife cheating on him, murders her, her lover, and his in-laws, and gets his eyes pecked out by his wife's vengeful pet hawks. Even blind, he apparently manages to not spend life in jail for committing four murders, and puts his infant son up for adoption (or maybe just leaves him on a random doorstep). Flash forward, and the son has grown up to be an ornithologist named Steve, and he and a bunch of his bird-loving buddies head into the middle of nowhere in search of The Obscure Woodpecker, where they meet the now-blind Vaughn, who, amazingly enough, is also an ornithologist. He gives them directions to the nearest zombie-infested swamp (hey -- ornithology's a dangerous hobby!), where they end up in the house from the opening sequence and get killed off one-by-one (by zombies, ghosts, and, I think, random special effects brought on by the roll of a die), until, at the last possible minute, Vaughn reappears to explain that he's responsible for the curse, and he's Luke's Steve's father! He sacrifices himself, and the long existential nightmare is over.

I can't recommend these films enough. Bad acting by jaded Italian genre actors, bad dubbing by god-knows-who, multiple directors on at least two of the movies, random gore, gratuitous sex, and plots that could only have been conceived while the screenwriter was smoking a big-ass bowl of crack. Thanks to the recent Zombie Resurgence on the big screen, every crappy undead vehicle is getting a DVD release. For this price, the movies are almost fun enough to be worth it.
yendi: (Jason)
My brain's basically telling me go get some coffee, or else it'll shut down on me. Stupid brain. Stupid exhaustion.

Speaking of brains, for those who aren't familiar with the series, the Romero zombies aren't really brain eaters. Sure, they'll eat them if they have to, just like I might eat a McDonald's burger if there's no other choice, but these guys are all about the intestines, liver, stomach, and other juicy bits.

The whole zombies/brains thing really got its start in Return of the Living Dead 1 and 2 (#3 was all about Mindy Clarke and her piercing fetish, and was pretty much brain-free). Dan O'Bannon wrote and directed the first one, and it's a blast. The zombies there are actually already as advanced as the zombies we get in the later Romero flicks, but the movie is much more of a comedy.

Actually, I'm not sure the "brains" concept has ever not been played for laughs. Aside from the RotLD movies, you've got the one Tick episode, as well as the zombies in various comic strips (almost always played out with the zombies ignoring Stupid Butt of Jokes because he doesn't have brains), and the unique zombies in Diablo 2.

But the Romero Zombies? Aside from being slow, steady, and strong? Definitely organ meat creatures.
yendi: (Jason)
Just got back from a screening of Land of the Dead.

Damn, that was fun.

Best movie in which a bunch of homicidal creatures led by a screaming guy named Big Daddy attack civilized people ever*.

You know the basic story: Marshall, Will, and Holly, routine expedition, waterfall, dinosaurs, Sleestacks, etc.

Erm. Well, Land of the Dead. Not Lost.

Overall (and keeping this spoiler-free, at least for anything beyond the first five minutes), it was damned good, and damned short. This clocked in at barely over an hour and a half. Compare that to seventeen hours for Day of the Dead, and you'll see that Romero's tightened up his pacing a little bit. Action-packed, but with traditional Romero zombies, who rely on stealth and persistence, not being able to run a 100-meter dash. And, of course, they're starting to get a little smarter, making them all the more scary. Less character development than in the last two, both a good and a bad thing. Part of the point of the world (explicitly addressed by Simon Baker's character) is that your life before the world went to hell doesn't matter anymore. Overall, no real script complaints, and considering how utterly un-fucking-readable Romero's last zombie project (the waste of paper known as Toe Tags), it's nice to see that he still has some interesting ideas.

Other notes:

Romero hasn't dropped the use of zombies as a class metaphor, this time extending the concepts only touched on in Day to their logical extremes. Some good stuff.

The casting hurt the movie a little bit. Not because anyone was bad - Leguizamo and Hopper, in particular, were a blast -- but given a group of people going on an expedition into zombie territory, it's hard to imagine that the top-billed folks are going to bite it first. This is particularly annoying with Asia Argento, who is first introduced in a scene in which she's supposed to be in mortal danger, but will clearly live because she's Asia Argento, the top-billed female. This is the first film in the series to use "name" actors, which is why it was a surprise.

The big revelation in this cast was Robert Joy, whose mentally-addled Charlie gets most of the best lines (the other ones going to Hopper's Kaufman and Pedro Miguel Arce's Pillsbury).

This was as funny as it was horrific. But it was a horror movie first. The comedy was gallows humor at its most extreme.

And yes, even with the R rating, lots of gore. I do, however, fully expect to see an unrated version on DVD with all the extra stuff that had to be cut.

Romero loses points for having a rat scare. That was beneath him.

And yes, Tom Savini's cameo is all but impossible to miss.

Overall, definitely worth seeing. I've got nothing against the hyperfast zombies of recent years, but it's nice to see the evolution of Romero's classic creatures.

*Granted, that's because Ghosts of Mars blew, and the zombie scenes in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof were cut by the studio, but the movie was still good.


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