On the last night of work before selling her strip club, Blue Jeans (Wren Walker) oversees the final evening’s entertainment alongside a motley assortment of regulars, staff and new customers. When a group of miners turns up for the night, we discover they have unearthed a mysteriously infectious black goo, which mistaking for oil, causes the afflicted to projectile vomit a lot and turn into psycho monsters.
SevÃ© Schelenz’s (Skew) sophomore feature is a modern exploitation movie that would not have been out of place in a grindhouse or drive-in movie theatre 40-odd years ago. Mining the underrated strip-club-patrons-attacked-by-ghouls-sub genre, it’s fun stuff if blood and guts and boobs are your main entertainment triumvirate. That being said, there is little here that hasn’t been seen before in the likes of From Dusk ‘Til Dawn, Planet Terror or Zombie Strippers. While the monsters in Peelers are not zombies, to take that tack feels a little like getting out of something on a technicality. They’re aren’t zombies, except they basically are. And in the oversaturated zombie market where The Walking Dead has masterfully explored almost every undead facet, can Peelers offer us anything new?
We open with a rather nifty pre-credit sequence set in a hospital, as a bunch of doctors and nurses deal with an infected patient behind a closed door. It’s very nicely done and is effectively subtle. It’s probably the only moment of subtlety in the entire movie, as the next 85 minutes unfurl with a ton of gore and nudity. Peelers certainly has a little of that Assault on Precinct 13 / Rio Bravo vibe, as the assembled strip club occupants are beset by an unknown number of adversaries, but if it has a more base genre companion then it must be the berserk, blood-drenched lunacy of Lamberto Bava’s Demons. The essential plot for both is thus: group of people get holed up in a building, people get attacked, people turn into monsters, lots of blood.
Peelers is a curious movie in some respects as the superb effect work belies its low budget roots. But at other times the set design and wooden supporting performances leave us in no doubt of its B-grade. The plus points are most definitely the design of the sort-of-zombies-sort-of-psychos-sort-of-infected monsters, and some very inventive kill sequences. If Peelers can claim nothing else, it can certainly boast cinema’s best pregnant woman/water breaking gag; and there is another amusingly inventive urine based death scene to look forward to. The movie gives us bursts of invention, urging us to like it, but ultimately falling short of the fundamentals with plot and characters that rarely rise above mediocrity.
The film is not quite inventive enough for the long haul. Too much focus on stripper performances in the first third of the movie probably didn’t seem like a problem on paper, but the movie’s pacing suffers as a result. The plot is also too derivative to allow Peelers to elevate itself into the higher echelons of the genre. While nobody is going into this movie expecting Citizen Kane, one can’t shake the feeling throughout that we’ve seen it all before, and the thinly drawn characters struggle with some dreadful dialogue. Finally, despite taking place inside the club and in small, open rooms, the monsters appear at random and without logic, and not in a cool Michael Myers way. The result is that it’s hard to tell how many creatures there are, so all sense of our heroes’ progress is skewed.
Mercifully, Peelers never delves into Meta horror-comedy territory. It always takes itself and the created universe seriously, which makes both the darker elements and moments of levity more effective. But like last years’ fellow Canadian export, Wolf Cop, the results can’t match the inviting concept. Peelers is a solid enough 90 minutes that will likely appeal to horror aficionados with a more generous mindset, but it’s more of a film about genre reworking, rather than genre defining.
THE REEL SCORE: 5/10
Screening as part of this year’s A Night of Horror film festival in Sydney.