The contemporary Halloween dilemma—clambering for something that’s somehow both sexy and spooky—is a painful reminder of the biggest fumble of our young careers. Last year, amidst the chaos of our mid-twenties, we were handed the creative reins to a real cinematic monster: Zombies Vs. Strippers, a low-budget, straight-to-Redbox release. (Its tagline: They want to strip your flesh!) We thought we had written a horror film. We were pressured to shoot a sexploitation film. What we got in the end was neither sexy nor horrific—kind of like Halloween itself.
At the start, though, we were thrilled. It was a huge break—or so we thought. We were going to make a movie. Up until that point, we were merely aspiring filmmakers who doubled as co-hosts of the successful satirical radio show Zoo Croo—the zany violence and cynicism of which seemed likely to translate into a Z-grade horror movie. But now, we were in pre-production for an actual film. Of course, there were some drawbacks. For instance, three restrictions impaired the writing process: (1) the shoot could only include a single location; (2) the script could only be 75 pages long; and (3) the female characters could only appear clothed some of the time. (The producers were insistent that an excessive number of “titties”—their preferred nomenclature—be exposed.) But the rest was supposedly up to us. Creative freedom: We couldn’t believe our luck. Plus, as lovers of pulp, we were convinced we could make something trashy and good.
As such, we immersed ourselves in the work, spending 12 hours a day dreaming up how punks, zombies, bikers and exotic dancers could convincingly cohabitate a cynical world where the last bastion of humanity is a besieged Tiki-themed strip club called the Tough Titty. The title, which we were convinced Redbox dreamt up because the words “Zombies” and “Strippers” seem likely to be highly searched (case in point—the movies Strippers Vs. Zombies and Zombie Strippers already exist), basically speaks for itself. But we crammed the script with as much character as we could. At the end of seven long days, we had a screenplay for what we believed to be a sharp, genre satire with outrageous, slummy and sympathetic characters.
Casting was the first indication we weren’t going to make the film we had written.
Some of the actors who responded to our cattle call might as well have been zombies themselves. One middle-aged woman spent more time adjusting her “titties” than reading her lines in an attempt to distract us from her abysmal audition. Still, there were a few actresses we liked. The producers, however, generally overruled us. When we found a woman who could play sexy-dumb like a regular Marilyn Monroe, they rejected her on the basis of her bust—a decidedly un-Monroe A-cup. An actress who did land a particularly juicy role gave a dismal read, but the producers didn’t seem to care. Her surgically enhanced chest was enough for them. In response to our pleas for more talented actresses, one of the producers turned to us with a smirk and asked, “What’s the matter with you guys? Are you gay?”
Production was actually worse. Our single location—an abandoned nightclub in downtown Los Angeles—was a drafty superfund site that reeked of rat shit and left us raw-throated at the end of each workday. The effects makeup was so bad that it made our shambling, flesh-devouring undead look like mere flu victims. Our poor actresses could barely swing around the stripper pole, which we weren’t even sure was safely bolted down. In short, there was nothing sexy about it. But sexy was exactly what the producers demanded. Remember, more boobies became the on-set mantra.
The other main stressor was time. We were given just eight days to film all 75 pages of our script. It wasn’t nearly enough. The beleaguered crew did its best, but we barely hit our daily goals, simplifying long dialogue scenes into clunky hunks of exposition and getting the bare minimum of coverage necessary to make the film watchable. Several different conversations became one DePalma-esque long scene with the camera panning from one actor to the next as they delivered their lines.Gone was any hope of extra takes, close-ups or stylistic nuances that would make Zombies Vs. Strippers unique.
That’s about the time one of the film’s “funders,” a regular joe from flyover country whom the producers found on the internet, showed up to claim his guaranteed Real Hollywood Big Shot Experience. In exchange for his investment, he received a cameo with one of our bustiest stripper characters. From behind the camera, we watched him stare with insect-like focus at a pair of bulbous, orange boobs that bounced arrhythmic to a soundtrack of silence in a room full of 30 dirty and tired people.
Production, of course, led to post-production—and naturally, more problems. It turns out the sound recording was awful, which took several days to correct. Imagine having to repeatedly re-watch a scene in your movie that you loathe again and again while recreating the sounds of people’s bodies moving by rubbing your body into a microphone at a stranger’s apartment.
And then, everything just stopped. There was no wrap party. There was no premiere. There were no official reviews to share. (There were plenty of unofficial reviews on the Redbox website—272 and counting, in fact; one such review, courtesy of Moviescavanger: “It was horrible. It was cheesy. Even the camera man was bored because he couldn’t hold the camera straight.”) When Zombies Vs. Strippers was first released at Redbox locations across the country—on the very un-Halloween like date of July 9, 2012—it was fun to have friends over and provide running commentary. Basically, we got stoned and mocked ourselves, which made the movie’s more painful moments a little easier to suffer through. Some of our friends would text us pictures of themselves renting Zombies Vs. Strippers. Two old college friends got together to watch the movie, fell in love that night and have been together ever since. (Take that When Harry Met Sally.)
People still want us to talk about it, but the novelty has worn off. What has remained is an IMDB page that will forever haunt us. Vanity, however, prevents us from completely ignoring it. And so, we can proudly report that Zombies Vs. Strippers rates one-tenth of a percentage point higher in the user ratings (3.4/10 to 3.5/10) than the much-ballyhooed Sharknado.