Imagine if we lived in a world of complete transparency. A place where high-fructose corn syrup was called junk-that-makes-you-fat, where the latest Danielle Steel novel was titled Unobtainable Dreams for Lonely Women, where Reality TV was referred to as Vanity TV. Maybe I’m the only one who would want to live in this realm of truth, but you have to admit it would be a refreshing change of pace. That’s why, despite any criticism that I’m about to unleash, I have to give a lot of credit to ‘Zombie Strippers,’ a you-get-what-you-asked-for satirical horror-comedy about strippers… wait for it… who turn into zombies.
As ‘Zombie Strippers’ opens, George W. Bush has been elected to a fourth presidential term, Congress has been disbanded, and wars are raging across the globe. In an effort to retain military superiority, a government scientist named Dr. Crushfield (Brad Milne) develops a virus capable of reanimating dead soldiers so they can be sent back into battle. As is the case in any horror film, things go terribly wrong and an infected soldier (Zak Kilberg) escapes Crushfield’s lab. Dying near a local strip club owned by Ian Essko (Robert Englund of Freddy fame), the former-soldier now-zombie attacks and infects the club’s star dancer, Kat (Jenna Jameson). However, much to Essko’s delight, Kat earns even more attention as a zombie than as a human. As other strippers are gradually infected by Kat (and while others choose to become zombies just to make more cash), the situation gets out of control and chaos ensues.
Loosely based on a 1959 Theatre of the Absurd production written by French playwright Eugene Ionesco (seriously), ‘Zombie Strippers’ tosses the Bush Administration, existentialism, an independent Alaska (how timely), increasingly strict decency standards, and exotic dancers into a blender and attempts to create a healthy mix of political satire, splatterhouse horror, genre spoof, and brazen comedy. Along the way, the film takes plenty of unexpected and clever stabs at prominent figures like Dick Cheney, controversies like the treatment of returning soldiers, and moral issues like society’s obsession with beauty and fascination with genetic manipulation. Better still, the performances are surprisingly solid (considering the fact that the film doesn’t exactly have an A-list cast) and the dialogue provides quite a few laughs along the way.
Unfortunately, the film as a whole is packed with conflicting messages and underdeveloped ideas. ‘Zombie Strippers’ relies on a pile of lofty concepts to separate itself from its genre brethren, but writer/director Jay Lee (‘The Slaughter,’ ‘Affairs of God’) pulls punches and focuses the majority of his efforts on slapstick comedy and sloppy gore. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good horror-comedy as much as the next guy. I’m easy to please, even when a film operates within the constraints of its genre -- even an over-the-top schlock-fest like ‘Feast’ earned my affection -- but Lee’s screenplay introduces more intellectual labyrinths and political talking points than he seems willing to explore on screen.
Ultimately, ‘Zombie Strippers’ exists in a bizarre cinematic limbo -- it works in some regards, but not in others; it nails some targets, but wastes many more; it passionately fights to surpass its genre one moment, but desperately adheres to it the next. Sadly, the end result is never as satisfying, funny, or scary as its disjointed parts would have you believe. With some polish and tightening, it could have been a horror-comedy standout. As it is, it’s merely a passable source of gore and giggles.
Shot in HD, ‘Zombie Strippers’ features an accurate 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer that, all things considered, offers fans a decent high-def experience. The film’s palette stands out the most, offering bold colors, vibrant primaries, and vivid reds. Contrast is strong, whites are comfortable, and several scenes have a convincing three-dimensional appearance. Unfortunately, blacks aren’t realistic, lush, or well resolved, and the darkest scenes in the film suffer from bouts of noise. Likewise, fine object and texture details look noticeably better on BD than DVD, but the overall image looks softer than most new releases The picture also has an over-processed, artificial appearance that doesn’t do its HD source justice. I’m tempted to identify the culprit as DNR but, since Sony isn’t a DNR-friendly studio, I’ll blame the problem on the filmmakers’ post-production meddling. Thankfully, the otherwise clean image isn’t hindered by any artifacting, banding, or edge enhancement.
’Zombie Strippers’ doesn’t offer the best high-def transfer on the market (particularly for a new release), but I believe its technical presentation is a faithful representation of the film’s original source.
’Zombie Strippers’ may be packing a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 lossless surround track, but even the film’s most violent scenes fall shockingly limp. Dialogue is shrill, prioritization is a joke, and the effects sound unnatural and thin. Gunfire, splintering furniture, and overall LFE output are just as disappointing. Whether the track’s low-end mediocrity should be attributed to the original sound design or the technical mix is unclear, but it doesn’t change the fact that this is one of the weakest horror soundscapes I’ve encountered in high definition. The rear speakers are just as unreliable. While there are a trio of standout sequences in which the soundfield opens up and invites the listener into the film, the remaining scenes lack convincing acoustics, immersive surrounds, and smooth pans. To top it all off, imprecise directionality places quite a few chaotic elements in the front channels that belong in the rear speakers (and vice versa).
Perhaps Lee wanted ‘Zombie Strippers’ to sound as if it belonged at a drive-in theater… or maybe the flat sonics are a nod to the film’s cult classic predecessors. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really matter. This is one of the most underwhelming lossless audio tracks I’ve reviewed.
’Zombie Strippers’ arrives on Blu-ray with all of the supplemental features from its standard DVD counterpart and even tacks on a few minor exclusives for good measure. The only downside is that the video content is still presented in standard definition.
No one can fault ‘Zombie Strippers’ for being exactly what it claims to be – a flick about zombies and strippers. My biggest problem isn't that it tries to be so much more, but that it fails. As a Blu-ray release, it doesn’t fare much better. A faithful but problematic video transfer and a terrible lossless audio track combine to condemn this one to the bargain bin. Genre fans may find something to enjoy, but I would definitely recommend renting this one first.