Jay Lee's low budget romp "Zombie Strippers" finally gets released on DVD October 28th, 2008. Starring Jenna Jameson and Robert Englund, the film chronicles what happens when a Government made virus wreaks havoc on a small town strip joint, turning it's lovely ladies into flesheating undead. Here's what Jay had to say about the film.
I've heard you describe the film as an homage to Grindhouse movies. What are some of the more obscure titles that are your favorites?
I'm a big fan of the raw uncompromising films that were afraid of nothing, like "I Spit On Your Grave", "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and "Last House on the Left", to name a few, though they are not very obscure. A few more obscure films would be "Psychomania", "The Legend of Boggy Creek" and "Madhouse" starring Vincent Price. I think there's been a sort of neo-Grindhouse wave coming out of Europe and Japan lately, some pretty disturbing stuff like "Inside", "Suicide Club" and "The Ordeal." Our film was more of an homage to Grindhouse, using the camp factor, instead of reinventing it like these recent films.
Obviously as a horror fan it must have been a pretty wild experience working with Robert Englund. He's been doing a lot of lower budget horror lately. What do you think drew him into the project, and what was he like on set?
Robert read the script and liked how it toyed with parodies on philosophy and social satire. He has done a lot of theater and the script for Zombie Strippers is derived from the themes of Ionesco's Rhinoceros, a classic absurdist play, and it was that aspect of the film that he really embraced and sunk his teeth into. He also seemed to have a wonderful time with how over-the-top his character was.
What was it like to work with him? Well, Robert Englund is one of the nicest people I have ever met and one of the most professional. He knows his craft backwards and forwards, he has his lines down flawlessly, he is dedicated to the project 110% and is a wonderfully supportive artist, for the film and his fellow actors. He would sit with the extras in the catering room for hours and keep them entertained with his tales. His characterization of Ian was his own development and interpretation, and yet he was always open to working with me and taking my direction, even though he was the legend.
I noticed there's a lot of overlap between the cast of this film and your other project "The Slaughter". Was that just as a result of being comfortable with everyone? Do you think that trend will continue?
The trend will definitely continue. What happened was that the cast of "The Slaughter" worked for free and busted their ass for that film. Even though the shoot was only a week long they showed great support and trust in us, something that is very hard to pay back. So when we had the chance to move up in the film world we had to bring them along. The Z-Squad was written specifically for those actors who were in the Slaughter. We take pride as a production company to work with a lot of good people. And we will work with them again, and again.
So in doing research I found out that Jenna Jameson is a huge horror movie fan, did you have any idea when you started thinking about casting her?
No. In doing the research for the low-budget horror films being put out I saw her on the cover of a DVD in which she was in the film for like ten minutes. So the script was written with her pretty much in mind. I knew some about her politics from her E! biography. It was a long shot, we knew, but when Angela, the producer of the film and my sister, actually got the script to Jenna we were more than pleasantly surprised at her response of agreeing to do the film.
Were you nervous about her trying to branch out and actually be funny? How do you think it worked out?
I never was really very worried about Jenna. Her idol-status had to be there for a reason. She wasn't there for the read-through and there was no rehearsals with her, but when she and I met with the studio execs for the first time she was there with Tito and they were like a comedy routine, with Tito playing the straight man. Jenna's timing was flawless, her jokes funny and she was very witty. The first time we saw Jenna act was with cameras rolling and she was quoting Nietzsche. She nailed the scene, obviously got the humor of the whole thing, and after the first take never had a moment's doubt her again. The opposite in fact, always more and more impressed with the energy and fun of her performance.
The theatrical release was obviously a big deal for you guys, did you get to see it with an audience? What was that like?
Oh did we ever. Here in Los Angeles a lot of the cast and crew came to opening night, three shows, including a midnight show which was loud, rowdy and like a big party. A couple of us went up to San Francisco the next night for the Dead Channels crowd too. It's nice to see live people react the way you were hoping they would to particular moments of the film, like a joke or visual you so hoped would work, and to the film in a whole. It's very, very gratifying. Especially for the parts you fought to keep in the film. Vindication is a wonderful thing.
You've mentioned that working with Sony, there were some compromises to be made. Can you talk about what some of those were? Were any of them things that you would have fought for in hindsight?
The strippers had more character development, Sox especially, that was cut. Blavatski and Cole had a huge character arc that was cut, her ending makes a lot more sense with the whole story. Ian had a lot more "offensive" dialogue, making him not only a bigot but ignorant. Paco's character was more political, when he was facing off the zombies he used to have a big speech. Jessy and Davis had and untimely end too, very political, that made the Z-Squad's final dialogue make a lot more sense. They were all things I fought very hard to keep, but the studios only put up with us lowly filmmakers for so long. All those scenes did make it into the deleted/extended scenes of the DVD though.
Have you gotten any weird reactions from people who didn't expect there to be a political message in a film called Zombie Strippers?
Yes. A few. There's been some interesting write-ups. One website claims it to be a feminist masterpiece. Some of the larger newspapers were impressed by it, like the LA Times, and some just didn't know what to think of it, like Rolling Stone. I like the fact that the film confuses many people and people are offended yet intrigued. I was hoping to, subversively, make people think.
So, any chance there will be a sequel?
I'd say there is a chance. Sony Pictures owns everything so ultimately it's up to them. I think the numbers will convince them it's a good idea, but who makes it is pretty much their call.
Hypothetically, if there was, do you have any ideas as to where the story would go?
Yes. I have a great idea.
Finally, any advice for low budget filmmakers?
Yes. Do it yourself. Just get whatever you can together and make the damn movie yourself. But then remember the days of being discovered overnight are on hiatus right now. So individual films are stepping stones towards a career. It may take a few. You may not make a whole lot of money, if any, for a while. But don’t give up, just keep making them, and punch your way through this wall of marketing and catalogs and accounting that is the film industry today. Someone will notice you and your work.