“I’m gonna kill you so slowly that your driving licence will expire before you do!”
WOW!Two of my personal things in life thrust together into one movie – naked ladies and hairy lycanthropes. How can I possibly go wrong with such a pent-up, primal mix as that?
Okay, okay … let’s see how this pack runs.
So Martin Kemp’s off-duty wolfman, Mickey, prowls his way into a lap-dancing joint, and gets Adele Silva to dance for him in a schoolgirl uniform down in a private booth. So you can’t exactly blame him for getting a little hot under the collar and beginning to drool, can you? However, once he starts to fur-up and sprout fangs, Silva’s eyes go wider than her provocative thighs and when the aroused howler can contain his urges no longer and finally pounces she sticks her conveniently silver-tipped fountain pen right in his feral eye. Stuck with a stiff-with-a-stiffie (that won’t go down), she and club-owner, Jeanette (Sarah Douglas – yes, the Sarah Douglas!) and bouncer Franklyn (Nick Nevern), realise that they will have to get rid of the body before his chums, the rest of his frothy-mouthed pack, come sniffing around.
While she’s used to hairy blokes going all beastly on her when she struts her ample stuff, Silva’s Justice is a bit naïve when it comes to the antics of the full moon squad, but Jeanette knows exactly the sort of danger that they are all in. She’s had previous with the London-based predators and when the pack eventually trace the scent back to the aptly named Vixens Club events shape up into a gruelling grudge-match between the old dog and the new pups on the block. Like a sort of hairier version of West Side Story, Jonathan Glendening’s neon-draped urban panto has a thirst for blood amidst the flesh show but, at the end of the day, its bark is considerably worse than its bite.
Low budget Anglo-lycan fare is a bit scarce. Good examples of it … even scarcer. Glendening, himself, has a penchant for fanged full-mooners, having brought out the godawful 13Hrs a couple of years ago, and it did, indeed, prove unlucky for anyone who actually saw it’s hairless, albino monster. Worse luck, our boy has made a sequel to it called Night Wolf! He just can’t leave well-enough alone, can he?There was the gypsy occult terror of Outcast, but that was a mixed-up movie that seemed too afraid of its own hairy shadow. And we should all still revere the balls-out squaddie last stand of Dog Soldiers which, to this day, remains the most exciting and most fun interpretation of the old shaggy dog story to have been served up on these shores. We await the oft-promised sequel with shivers of excitement. But this playful bite of the Bonio, as stultifyingly dumb as it is, has a few elements that make the almost straight-to-disc release worth watching instead of walking the dog on a cold and rainy night. Well … nearly.
One of the girls, Barbara Nedeljakova’s Raven, has a hankering to go straight but, in a typical sort of Brit-com complication, her wacky boyfriend (played by Simon Phillips) actually turns out to be a Van Helsing type who completely understands that she is stratospherically out of his league, but who just might be able to save the day with his arcane knowledge of how to combat the otherworldly. Just don’t call him when he’s on stakeout! After discovering her new feller torn to shreds on the kitchen floor, another leggy damsel, Ali Bastian’s Dani, gets hunted through the city by the sloppy predators, developing a desire for revenge along the way. Poor Justice learns that the only real justice in the world is that which you earn for yourself. As a result, she finds the ability to “turn” the tables of the wolfmen and realises that a “change” is as good as a rest. Other babes prove good enough to eat. “Ahhh, poor Saffron. She had such great legs. Have you found the other one?” we hear as an epitaph to what has clearly been murder on the dance-floor… to which the reply comes as, “Here it is,” as the delectable limb is held up for mutual admiration.
But things aren’t too cosy with the wolf-boys either.
They’ve lost one of their gang. Another member, Martin Compston’s Scott (who is, aye, actually Scottish) has fallen in love with a mortal girl – who just happens to be one of the strippers – and has a crisis of conscience. The rest of the pack of mindless munters are sex-addicted flesh-manglers who don’t have a fully-formed brain-cell between them. One of them, the largest and dumbest, is a fang-faced riff on Lenny from Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, who was, of course, played by Lon (The Wolf Man) Chaney Jnr in the classic film adaptation. Most of the others are just disposable freaks and geeks who are merely there to be shotgunned or, otherwise, put down. There’s no real sense of why these dogs run together as one unit and, for the most part, they come across as a bunch of scally retards, although I like the fact that you initially think that they may even have a heroic streak. Under the iron paw of Billy Murray’s mad dog, Ferris, there is a semblance of authority, but the blind stupidity of this crowd soon derails any notion of strategy. They are, to put it bluntly, just a bunch of hyper-turned-on, hormonally supercharged guys who are out on the town – the comical extreme of man’s animal nature. This is about the extent of the social comment that screenwriters Philip Barron and Pat Higgins can come up with.
You already know what this film’s USP is, although the 15 certificate means that bowel of Chum is watered-down. Oh, the girls are spectacular – even Silva, who has resembled a right bulldog at times – and there is a lot of flesh on display. The language and the innuendo are suitably fruity, too. But the violence is considerably tepid. This can be put down to the fact that production company Black and Blue’s movie is ostensibly a comedy. But Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright were able to exploit the full nature of the beast in their chosen genre splatstick epics of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. And the two inaugural influences that have woven their gypsy-cursed black-magic into this – The Howling and An American Werewolf in London – were both liberally splashed with claret and bone-crunching transformations. But then Strippers vs Werewolves is a Brit-flick, through and through. It is the offal-kebab to Dog Soldier’s six-pack of lager. In many ways, it is the flipside of Neil Marshall’s grungy tooth ‘n’ claw battle-flick, establishing the ladies as the fight-back platoon who are under siege, and subverting the wolf-pack from a family defending their territory to a dysfunctional street-gang of wannabe gangsters trying to muscle-in on enemy turf.
The special effects aren’t. In the least. This is joke-shop stuff. We don’t see any transformations taking place – merely an old-fashioned cutaway and return to a hairier mush. Now, this is all right. The whole thing is delivered with such low-brow, improvised, make-do chutzpah that it is very difficult indeed not to become at least part-way smitten by this fur-flying battle of the sexes. Which, if you want to be a little more probing and, rather pertinently, a whole lot more charitable towards this project, is what the film is all about. The metaphor is so clear it can be seen from the shining, silver full moon. Blokes become foaming-mouthed monsters at the sight of a sexy woman getting her tasty bits out.
It’s hardly a Darwinesque revelation, is it?
But Glendening doesn’t want to goad the intelligentsia with subtext and allegorical observations on the gender wars. He wants to jiggle some boobies in your face and rip out the odd throats. The slightly weird thing about this endeavour is that both of these highly laudable intentions take place, for much of the time, off-camera. Cue a lot of audible dismay from the potential audience. He wants to be risqué and to tear the collective funny-bone out of its socket, but when it all comes down to it, he doesn’t really have the bottle to properly let rip. Thus, this can sometimes feel like a neutered version of what was originally dreamed up.
It is clear, right from the very first frame that Glendening is hoping to achieve some sort of cult-appeal. With an obvious gangland hit exploding a club in a 1984 flashback sequence, we are reminded of the trials and tribulation of poor Bob Hoskins in The Long Good Friday, and with the fun animated titles of predators and alluring ladies in conflict all set rather splendidly to Duran Duran’s classic talon-tapper, Hungry Like The Wolf, the effect is sure to bring on a big wolfish grin. I have to admit that this was a terrific way to open the movie. But Glendening’s stylistic traits don’t stop there. In fact, in a rather blatant steal from Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock, which this film seeks to emulate possibly most of all, we have split-screens, claw-dissolves and slashing wipes, characters introduced and named in garish neon, messages informing us of something happening Meanwhile … In fact, this does become exceptionally tedious with overkill during the first act, but then after a while, you may find yourself getting used to it and, strangely enough, even liking it.
Those who are professional enough give performances that are knowingly tongue-in-cheek. People like The Bill’s Billy Murray who, having a day off from those bloody annoying “where there’s blame, there’s a claim” commercials to play the new leader of Kemp’s wayward urban pack, get the joke and you can sense that they are having a bit of fun whilst obviously slumming-it. Steven Berkoff seems to have filled out a bit in an early cameo that winds-up being quite a starter for the non-veggies. Compston tries valiantly to walk the emotional tightrope of the boyfriend with a flesh-eating secret who is going to have to turn on his lady (who has a secret of her own) out of loyalty to his pack-mates, but his predicament is taken much too seriously and would have had a lot more impact had it been played for strictly laughs. Sarah Douglas, former genre babe/villainess from Superman 2 and Conan The Destroyer is alarmingly wooden, and only seems to strike the right tone a couple of times by sheer chance. Nevern, as the bouncer with a heart, is another hard-worker but is stricken with a poorly written script and a doomed love-affair that would have served the story better if it had actually been allowed to blossom. He would have been better as the buffoonish, have-a-go hero than the clunking dropped-ball of Phillip’s insecure Van Helsing wannabee Sinclair – who looks like a cross between Justin Lee Collins (who would make a more convincing werewolf than any of this lot) and Bill Bailey.
There’s even good old Alan Ford thrown into the juvenile curry, further adding to the Lock, Stock appeal, but also, quite cunningly reminding us that he was also in American Werewolf as the headline-spouting taxi driver who unwittingly informs the freshly lupine David of his latest killing spree. “It puts you in mind of the Demon Barber of Fleet Street!” And, during the cunning little epilogue, you’ll see Krull’s Lady Sarah, herself, Lysette Anthony getting menaced by something else with sharp teeth and an unhealthy appetite.
So there is a definite feel of being taken along for a ride on a jolly outing with a host of familiar faces.
The strippers, themselves, actually fare the best out of the entire motley, or Mutley crew. There is a definite attempt to provide them with rounded (ahem) characters and distinct personalities. There’s nothing Shakespearean about them, of course, but they are fit, nubile young ladies with considerable physical talents … so they totally convince as a gaggle of pole-writhers. And the writers have a lot more fun with their social hang-ups and complexes, thus their love-lives and off-kilter career trajectories butt-up quite nicely against their agreeable psychological shallowness. Emmerdale’s renowned slapper Adele Silva is the marginal leading lady, and she isn’t too bad if you can get past that irritating voice. Once things have gotten a little bit twisted for her, and she is feeling the effects of a supernatural fluid transfer, she delivers a very tasty stiletto side-kick to a punter disappointed by her lack of enthusiasm. Any concerns over her bikini-line are nixed when she discovers that she now has armpits that would make a Frenchman choke on his baguette. She can deliver a superbly aggressive tirade when she wants, and she can easily spar with the best of the wolf-pack.
Nedeljakova does well with her ditzy, love struck determination to change her ways for a guy who doesn’t actually deserve her. And, boy, does Coralie Rose’s scrotum-crushing Brandi look hot sporting a silver-loaded shotgun on the stage! (See picture.) And Bastian is amazingly cute as she falls for Franklyn’s ever-so-lucky doorman, even believing that the dead body he is trying to move is actually a martial arts practice dummy and begging to be allowed to smack it a few times. She even gives him a gift of a pair of engraved silver knuckledusters as a token of her love. Hmmm … do you reckon they’ll come in handy at some point?
Luscious glamour-puss Lucy Pinder makes a brief appearance as a dangerous Bride of Dracula, harassing the inane vampire-killer with an equally gorgeous companion, so the babe-quotient is more than impressive.
But the real coup is the sinister cameo that Robert Englund makes ... and, no, he doesn’t get his kit off! Now, we all know that the former Freddy is no stranger to the role of genre walk-on, and it is true that seeing his name in the credits of a two-bit, low-level horror-show is apt to cause the most concern over its relative value, but he actually supplies the film with its creepiest moments. As Tapper, the prior Alpha Male of the pack, now banged-up behind bars, he gets a visit from his replacement and his told that his old enemy of Jeanette is still alive and plying the same old trade. In a gravely macabre, evil-eye glinting performance he sends some true shivers up the spine as the kennel-locked wolf-leader. It’s quite possible that Glendening wanted to convey something of a Hannibal Lecter aura about him, but Englund licks his lips and, even without any enhanced sideburns or curling fangs, makes you aware of the beast within. Sadly, as far as proper atmosphere goes, this is about as far as it gets … and it took a genre-titan who is now well passed his scare-by to provide it.
With numerous references to the classics of carnivorous lunar activities, such as the immortal line “You made me miss,” having HM’s local lock-up glaringly monikered Chaney, and a fair few quotes from Little Red Riding Hood and The Three Pigs, the film takes on the air of Joe Dante flick minus the snappy wit. Quite possibly, there are too many of them … and mostly of the groan-worthy sort.
Worse is to come.
The makeup FX are terrible. Really terrible. Arguably, this is intentional … as some of the gory prosthetic props – legs, hands and heads strewn about the dance-floor – can look quite decent. Regular readers will already know how devoted and obsessive I am with all things wolfish, and I have said, time and time again, that I am more intrigued and terrified by the wolfmen who retain much of their previous humanity. For me, they are both more ferocious and monstrous than men that simply turn into big, four-legged, tail-wagging wolves, and they tend to be more realistic. When viewed under the sick glow of a neon streetlamp, a hairy face leering out from under a hoodie could indeed be quite an intimidating sight, and the image of a hunched-over figure, bulked-up and lurking about at the end of an alleyway is infinitely more menacing than seeing a quadruped cocking its leg up against a lamppost, even if it is the size of a small bear. Plus, the less overtly monstrous it is, the closer such a creature would be able to get to you without you realising that you were on the menu.
Going back to yak-faced Henry Hull in Universal’s first “full” lycanthropic outing, 1935’s The Werewolf of London and, of course, the marvellous fuzz-ball of Lon Chaney Jnr in the seminal The Wolf Man from 1941, both of which had makeup supplied the great Jack P. Pierce, we find this is to be the main draw … and it has become justifiably iconic. With the vestige of humanity still playing about beneath the fur, there is the implication of a horrible intelligence at work.
Glendening tries, but fails to deliver the same frisson with his scenes of the pack strutting down the streets, sniffing the night air and looking like a bunch of over-aged skateboarders.
Sadly, as much as I would love to commend his semi-homage to such bygone days, the plastic-appliances and tufts of hair seen here look worse than any such disguise you could purchase off the shelf in a branch of Smiffy’s. Obviously, this is supposed to be cheap ‘n’ cheerful, but when you consider that the awesome Carry On Screaming (hey, I’ve just had to pause to imagine Finella Fielding in her vamp getup doing a lap-dance!), another hugely successful horror-comedy, actually made its hairy monsters genuinely frightening at the same time as being incredibly daft, Glendening seems to have missed a golden opportunity.
Plus, if you have any affection for Dee Wallace’s were-poodle at the end of The Howling, just wait until you clock the feral females here!
But there are some golden moments that bask in the light of the perpetual full moon hanging over London Town.
The freak-out Mohawk wolf going out on a nocturnal recon scales a set of high bars and drops down on the other side with a grunt of effort, only to realise with the aid of nice camera pull that the gates were actually wide open. A poor unfortunate who is about to have various bits of his anatomy removed by some nasty mobsters playing footsie with a loved one’s severed appendage is apparently saved by the werewolves, who make short and bloody work of the captors … only to have his thanks cut cruelly short as the pack then devour him as the main course. The long and illustrious history of protagonists having to deal with a dead body they don’t want discovered is given a nice shot in the arm – or, rather, klonk! on the knob - with Franklyn’s desperate attempts to conceal Mickey’s erectile corpse. The addition of the silver knuckledusters is like a mob-land doffing of the cap to Larry Talbot’s silver-tipped wolf’s head walking cane, and I like this quirky little touch. Although it’s obvious as all hell, it is hard to resist a supernatural stand-off that places a patrol of Little Red Riding Hoods against a baying, wolf-whistling pack of red-blooded, male slobber-gobs. And you’ve got to smirk when a full-on howl of pure anguish is elicited by a hard kick in the dog’s doodahs! Oh, and stick around to get your teeth into a post-credits sequence.
But … when all said and done …
Strippers vs Werewolves isn’t very good at all. But that title and one glance at the artwork already tells you that. This is designed purely for the lads coming back after a few beers and, as such, it should go down a doggie-treat. The production values are low, but the location shooting is effective and the cast, whilst hit-and-miss, still provide some meat to chew on. When the funny bits come, they are really funny. The humour isn’t exactly biting, you understand, and surprisingly it could have done with being even more ribald, yet there are plenty of sight-gags and some superb one-liners that show some definite promise. But when the ball is thrown, these wolves often forget to fetch it back and some moments fall horribly flat. What surprised me most of all was the mean-streak that runs through the story. This occasionally sits awkwardly with the irreverent tone that is struck elsewhere. The pacing is also off, with far too much time spent on the domestic front and a well built-up and highly anticipated climatic face-off proving to be weirdly lacklustre and all rather humdrum, drawn-out and unsatisfying.
Still, it’s great that Duran Duran get the main song whilst Spandau Ballet’s prettier Kemp just gets one in the eye, even if it is actually his son who is covering it. I always preferred Duran Duran! And there’s no denying that, as modern horror-comedies go, this is infinitely superior to Lesbian Vampire Killers! Which isn’t saying much.
Although listed as being Region B, this disc played the film perfectly well on a US PS3, although not the accompanying featurette.
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