Zombie Strippers Director Interview

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We had a chance to talk to the writer, director Jay Lee of Zombie Strippers about his upcoming flick and Moviemaven had lots of burning questions to ask him! The synopsis of the movie is like this; In the not too distant future a secret government re-animation chemo-virus gets released into conservative Sartre, Nebraska and lands in an underground strip club. As the virus begins to spread, turning the strippers into "Super Zombie Strippers" the girls struggle with whether or not to conform to the new "fad" even if it means there's no turning back. 

It probably seems obvious from the title, but give us an idea about the plot of Zombie Strippers.

A corporation is developing a chemo-virus to re-animate soldiers killed in combat so they can keep on fighting. The tests prove dying and re-animating can make these soldiers fearless, and thus they become super-zombie soldiers. The virus gets loose in the lab, an elite squad comes in to clean it up, one gets bitten, runs and hides in a dark building that happens to be an illegal strip club. The soldier dies, re-animates and attacks the star stripper (Jenna). She dies, re-reanimates and finds she is suddenly fearless, and thus becomes a super-zombie stripper. Her performances are greater than ever. The other strippers then must join this "fad" or suffer being outcast. The owner (Robert) starts making tons of cash. Only the zombie strippers are killing the patrons and a surplus of client-zombies are piling up. The death and destruction is all but ignored in the name of profit and status. Then all hell breaks loose.

I read that your film is based on the Ionesco play, Rhinoceros, which I really admire. Do you think people will get what you are saying when put forth so comedically?

I feel a message can be heard so much more if it is entertaining. A spoonful of sugar and all that. Sometimes a speech or lecture can fall on deaf ears, but a joke can often be very easily embraced. Even if the humor overpowers what we're saying I still think there's a better chance of it making sense later or making an impact subconsciously than beating someone over the head with a baseball bat of self-righteousness. In a nutshell - it's more fun, and thus sneakier.

I have to say I applaud you. At first I thought you just wanted to do something gory and hot but now that I know your message, I am even more into seeing it. I still have to ask, why zombie strippers? What was the inspiration for this particular plot?

Well, thank you for appreciating a work that takes the effort to try and make a difference. It's good to know people out there do care. Once upon a time we were making socially relevant indie films that no one seemed keen on buying. So we made "The Slaughter." Though it had our own personal message, it was a shamelessly marketable horror movie (or more so a parody of one which was part of the message). I started joking that at least the film wasn't something like zombie strippers. This got a laugh every time I said it. So it make me think, why not do zombie strippers, the title writes itself, it gets a reaction, and something as ridiculous as zombie strippers was about as ridiculous as French people turning into rhinos - and it just clicked. I could bring our socially relevant films together with shameless marketing and hopefully produce a successful, moneymaking, entertaining film with a message.

Conformity is one thing, but zombies are dead. Do the girls know what they are getting into?

Ah, correction - zombies are the WALKING dead, a term equally applicable to many who just shuffle along in their lives. Yes the girls know the immediate impact of their choices. The long-term effects seem to be lost on them though. Sound familiar?

I am also very excited about the cast. You have Robert Englund, a horror icon who is very funny too. Jenna Jameson, like I have to say anything about her, and Tito Ortiz (MMA) as a bouncer. Was this a fun film to direct?

The shooting was fast and furious, we only had 18 days, so it was never a dull moment. I also shot the film so I was rarely off set. It was a monumental task and some of the hardest work I've ever encountered on set. But worth every second. The make-up was amazing, the girls were stunningly beautiful and I got to work with Freddy Kruger and Jenna (who by the way is a great comedian) - "fun" isn't really the right word.

How did you manage to get these guys on board? I had no idea Tito, for instance, was interested in acting.

Jenna was the first of them that we got on board back when we were an indie. She agreed to do it based on the script and the underlying themes of social and political hypocrisies. In fact it was Jenna that got the attention of Sony. When Sony greenlit the film then our co-producer/stunt coordinator Bobby King was working with Robert on another project and got him the script. Tito came with Jenna to our first meeting with the Sony execs and made such an impression they talked him into a cameo appearance. He's acted before, like in the last Crow film. He basically parodies himself in Zombie Strippers and is very funny.

Do you have any anecdotes from filming you would like to share?

One funny story was Cannon, our costume designer, also played a zombie in one scene, and the make-up had his ear dripping from his skull. Well, Cannon went back to New York with Jenna's custom-made costumes (only after shooting they were covered in blood) and his make-up ear as a souvenir. But when he got to airport security he had to do some fast talking when they found the bloody bustier and severed ear in his carry-on.

What about gore? Can we zombie fans hope to see tons of it?

The film is a delicate (or not so delicate) blend of humor, gore and strippers. That being said there isn't wall-to-wall gore, but there's a good dose, and when it hits it hits hard and bloody. Patrick Magee who did our make-up effects I think is one of the best in the business and this is some of his best work. The gore is enough for the film to sit on the far side of an R rating.

After viewing the trailer, I couldn't help but think it reminded me of a Troma film. What do you think of that comparison?

I think the film is more dead-pan than a Troma film, more old-school. I find Troma film's style more on the bizarre side, while Zombie Strippers is more parody and homage to the grindhouse B-movies.

This film is expected to have a limited theatrical release. Were you expecting it to go straight to video?

The theatrical release was a very exciting surprise. It has a 13-15 market theatrical release starting April 18. The cities it will play in first are all listed on www.sonypictures.com/zombiestrippers.

How does this movie compare to your former titles, like The Slaughter from 2006?

It's bigger, gorier, sexier and Hi-Def. What's the same is the entire cast of The Slaughter is in Zombie Strippers. The biggest difference is that as hard is the indie world is there's an undeniable artistic freedom to be had. You make the movie with your own blood, sweat, tears and credit cards, and then sell it (hopefully). What is released, for better or worse, is your own vision. Working for the studios is, for better or for worse, a more collaborative effort, meaning you have a studio that you have to answer to and execs who will at some point basically tell you what to do. No one is ever entirely on the same page so changes will be made that one may not agree with. This is why the term "director's cut" is now a house-hold word. So, that being said, Zombie Strippers is a more collaborative effort than The Slaughter was.

What did you learn from that production that helped you with Zombie Strippers?

What I learned most was from the fans. The Slaughter went to a good number of horror film festivals (and won some awards I might brag) and I went to as many as I could. Watching your film with a genre audience is an education in itself. The reactions, the Q&A, the comments, the criticisms. It was an invaluable lesson on what to include in the next film and give the audience what they wanted. What I learned was to push the envelope, don't hold back, be daring, disgusting, funny and scare the shit out of them.

Tell us something about you. What is your background, Mr. Lee?

I grew up wanting to do nothing more than make movies. I'm a fan of most genres, as long as they're done well. I was born in L.A. so I didn't have to make the proverbial move. I started working in the industry at 19 and for years worked in most areas of production so I'd have a complete working knowledge of filmmaking for my own tiny projects. But it wasn't until I started working with the support of my sister Angela that I was able to start making my own films. Our first film was Noon Blue Apples, a psychological thriller that premiered at Sundance, soon to be released on DVD as New World Order.

If you weren't making movies, what would you be doing?

Sitting around wishing I could be making movies.

What are some of your favorite horror movies and why?

Evil Dead II for the intoxicating energy and unique style. Return of the Living Dead and American Werewolf in London for the skill of mixing humor with horror. Philip Kaufman's Invasion of the Body Snatchers for the mastery of paranoia and unease. Night of the Living Dead for the brilliant execution of allegory. I was awed by the technical execution of 28 days later, 28 Weeks later and the remake of The Hills Have Eyes. And one of my favorite performances of all time is Robert Englund in Freddy vs Jason.

Do feel that the horror genre is underrated by society?

I feel the horror genre is looked down upon and yet some of western society's most prominent icons come from the world of horror - Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolfman, Poe's Raven, MacBeth, and so on, and now Jason, Michael and Freddy are know by everyone as modern day boogymen whether they've seen the films or not. Night of the Living Dead is starting to be included in university courses on essential American filmmaking. The obvious answer to me is that horror scares most people and they need to scoff at it as a way to deal with their fear. The not-so obvious answer is that horror is a minefield of metaphor and allegory, there is often so much more that meets the eye in horror films, such as the deep exploration of the fragility of the human psyche, the evils inherit in our society and in ourselves, and so on. This is some deeply profound and tragically human ground to tread. It is this aspect of the genre I think is not given the respect it deserves.

Zombies. Fast or slow?

Both, in Zombie Strippers. I personally have a soft spot for the slow lumbering dead. We have this debate in The Slaughter. The fast ones do make for better high-speed camera work and pole dancing through, that's for sure.

So now is the time you get to tell us what you have coming up, you know plug away. What's next for you?

Let's just say some high-concept films. Some comedy/horror to follow in the footsteps of Zombie Strippers, and some serious journeys into human terror. I'll keep you posted.

Are you a reader of Horror-movies.ca?

Yes. Two of our actresses from The Slaughter were Fresh Meat, Jessica Custodio and Laura Bach, who are also both in Zombie Strippers. Since then I've made frequent visits to your site for both up-to-date news on the genre and, okay I admit it, new Fresh Meat.

And finally, this I have to know. What the Hell do you tip a zombie for a tabledance?

Your flesh.

Watch the Zombie Strippers Trailer

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