Over the years I've seen Jenna Jameson do lot of things in a lot of movies, but I'm pretty sure Zombie Strippers is the first time I've ever seen her reading Nietzsche.
Puckish, much smarter than expected and enthusiastically determined to live down to the promise of that magnificent title, writer/director Jay Lee's Zombie Strippers is a fascinating whatzit, and presumably the first cheeseball boobie-filled gore-fest ever to be based on a Eugene Ionesco play.
It seems that in the not too distant future, during George W. Bush's fourth consecutive term (which we're informed was ratified by Supreme Court Justice Jenna Bush after the dissolution of Congress) the United States military has been stretched thin by all the wars currently raging in Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Pakistan, France and Alaska. But the W Corporation has a solution in the form of a chemo virus meant to reanimate fallen soldiers. When our story begins, a scientist helpfully explains that they're testing it out on all those poor displaced indigent folks who had no choice but to sell their bodies to medical science: "you know--the homeless, illegal immigrants and the American middle class."
Uh-oh--we accidentally turned them all into zombies! A quick, dismally staged military strike ensues, followed by the declaration of mission accomplished. "Now where have I heard that before?" wonders the auspiciously named Maj. Camus.
Sure enough, one of these undead buggers has escaped into a secret underground strip club in Sartre, Neb., that's run by Robert Englund's Ian Essko. (Get it?) Before long the flesh-eater is gnawing on the neck of star dancer and aspiring existentialist Kat--played here by adult film legend Jameson with precisely the sort of brilliant line readings and keen understanding of character one might expect from her significant body ... of work.
Obviously, Zombie Strippers is on many levels quite terrible, often studiously so. The movie is horribly cheap and garishly overlit, and the acting vacillates between what you'd see in either bad community theater or a fairly decent porno. Anybody who sets foot in the theater is going to be looking for big tits and bloody entrails, and Lee doesn't skimp on either count. But there are a lot of interesting ideas rattling around underneath those bottle-blond hair extensions, updating Ionesco's 1959 conformity allegory Rhinoceros with a healthy dose of Herschell Gordon Lewis.
The kicker here is that zombie Kat proves a far more popular dancer than her living counterparts, even if she occasionally has to use a staple gun on her neck wound to keep her half-severed head from falling off. Lee's sniffing around some serious questions about the deadening aspects of female objectification, and as the rest of the club's gals line up to get themselves zombie-fied so that they might appeal more to the boys, we're just seeing a logical absurdist extension of boob jobs, collagen implants, botox and the long sad tradition of women mutilating themselves to be "pretty." (Jameson's pre-zombie close-ups alone underline this subtext, as she's had enough awful plastic surgery lately to render herself nearly unrecognizable.)
It's funny that this flick should appear almost exactly a year after the failure of Grindhouse, as Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino's $100 million monument to garbage culture was sorely lacking the subversive inquiry that makes this sort of schlock stand out. Tarantino and Rodriguez offered a megabudget wax museum, whereas Zombie Strippers is the real deal. The ad campaign might suggest shades of Grindhouse, but Lee's film is far more closely aligned with the little-seen 1996 oddity Killer Condom, in which director Martin Walz used a hungry, toothy prophylactic attacking bathhouses as a barely disguised allegory for political and public indifference to the initial outbreak of AIDS. Seriously.
Your personal mileage will obviously vary, as for all the feminist theory and philosophy references, this is still the kind of picture in which Jameson wards off an attacker by launching first ping-pong, then billiard balls from her private area.
But then again, how often do you get to see a Jenna Jameson movie in a theater?
"Twice Born" is one too many