Sometimes, a name is all you need. If you head to your local video store and see a DVD labeled Zombie Strippers, two things usually happen (and one is not in your pants - necessarily). First, you feel like you've seen this sort of movie before - probably because you have - and second, you almost instantly recognize your need to make said suggestively titled item part of that night's personal viewing. Think about it. Isn't that the thought process when you see something like Mad Monkey Kung Fu, Jesus Christ: Vampire Hunter, or The Corpse Grinders gracing the shelves of your local B&M? Well, before you leap to add the latest release from Koji Kowano, let's take a step back for some perspective. Not matter what tag you find it under - The Girls' Rebel Force of Competitive Swimmers, The Undead Pool, Nihombie 2 or as Swithblade Releasing is offering it, Attack Girls' Swim Team vs. the Undead - don't be fooled by the promise projected by such an amazing moniker. Instead of featuring nubile Asian gals in skimpy swimwear kicking zombie ass, we get...well...ummm...hmmm...well...a spy sex slave conspiracy with lots of lesbian cavorting and rampant rape fantasies.
Aki arrives at her new high school to find things in turmoil. A doctor is on campus inoculating everyone against a new mystery virus. A weird girl named Sayaka, sporting a similar birthmark and mole as she, is getting way too close for comfort. And the swim coach, a cruel and dictatorial pervert, has been found dead, stabbed to death after being particularly mean to a supposedly sick student. Though she wants to participate in the aquatic activity, she has a fear of the water she just can't explain. Suddenly, the school suffers a zombie outbreak. The teachers turn murderous and the students start craving human blood. Amid this sinister situation, Aki starts remembering a past as an assassin, the cruel brainwashed byproduct of a sexually sick mad scientist. Before she knows it, she's battling the living dead, other hired killers, and her own unnatural urges as things go from bad to much, much worse.
Instead of trying to decipher what Attack Girls' Swim Team vs. The Undead actually is - and trust me, that's going to take a wealth of Japanese culture lessons, a protractor, and about 60 gallons of highly caffeinated green tea - let's spend a few moments figuring out what it isn't. It is clearly NOT a horror comedy, though the title would suggest otherwise. The gore is intermittent and ill-defined, and the entire undead angle gets dropped early and often for more gal-on-gal gladhanding. It is also not a satire, since nothing here reeks of lampoon, spoof, or outright mockery. And finally, it's not the kind of oddball goof that we've come to expect from outsider filmmakers from around the world. Director Koji Kawano may have an established reputation among other Asian auteurs, but this shot-on-video burlesque is no Oh! My Zombie Mermaid or Battlefield Baseball. Instead, what we have here is a surreal set-up which leads to a last act loaded with softcore shenanigans and lots of exposed female flesh. Instead of silly, things turn seedy, and then sleazy. Instead of being double over in laughter, or gross out by the arterial spray, we feel like bathing in a tub filled with antibacterial soap and then heading to a confessional.
Indeed, it's so strange how initial expectations get flummoxed here, as well as how readily Attack Girls' plays along. The standard mix of titillation and terror is understandable, with Kawano throwing in random weirdness - a juggling math teacher, a chainsaw wielding female instructor - to keep us engaged. But there is a moment, a sequence right after Aki discovers her school overrun with monsters, where the movie finally reveals its true tawdry motives. As chaos crashes all around them, our heroine and her flirtatious little stalker settle in on the floor of the cafeteria's kitchen and proceed to get their sisterly Sappho on. With a camera lurking about like a reprobate old uncle and a desire to get in close for every tongue kiss and nipple caress, what appeared to be a wacked out take on Japanese education and fright flicks instead becomes a porno sans money shots. By the end, when both Aki and Sayaka are showing off their skin bags and getting ram-rodded by the weepy mad scientist, we actually consider asking for our money back. Like a dirty magazine hidden inside a soiled brown paper wrapper, Attack Girls' Swim Team looks like one thing, but actually ends up delivering the old (jail)bait and switch.
So, is the sudden descent into total debauchery really that disconcerting? Can you still enjoy this movie and not be bothered by the weird raincoat crowd sensibilities involved? The answer is yes...and no. Clearly, if your mentality is geared toward such adolescent flesh fantasies, if you covert any opportunity to see surgically enhanced hooters rubbing against each other, if the fact that the film doesn't make lick of sense unless your talking about carpets, then by all means, you'll find it a groin-grabbingly good time. If, on the other hand, you don't mind a little T&A but find its X-rated relative unbearable, if you want to see a culturally twisted horror comedy, not a men's magazine come to life, if the Japan's crazy concept of entertainment gets your joy juices going (just not in the way Kawano wants them to), then you'll definitely have mixed feelings. Crackpot conspiracies that allow insane scientists to experiment on teenagers in order to forge a master race of maniacs is a great set-up for a story. And having a bunch of aqua babes battling it out against the bloodthirsty horde is another genius step. Somewhere along the line, Attack Girls' Swim Team vs. The Undead got another, wholly prurient idea in its head. While not lethal, it definitely damages the film's overall appeal.
There is something very unusual about this DVD, and it has nothing to do with the mind-bending movie included on it. For some reason, Switchblade is releasing this title sans Menu - no option to 'start' or 'stop', no 'settings' or 'scene selections'. Just a blank screen followed by the beginning of the movie. When you access the menu option on the remote, you get a DVD credits page. Push the button again, and it's the company logo - followed almost immediately by the start of the film. So there appears to be no other option except to play or not to play. As for the tech specs, we get a direct from video image, suffering from many of the problems - bleeding, softness, ghosting - that comes with a non-converted picture. The transfer does its best, but we still get moments of blurring, especially in the action. The colors are bright and cheery and the blood is as red as splashed fruit juice can look like. While anamorphic, the 1.85:1 presentation is problematic and far from perfect.
The sound situation here is shrill and poorly modulated. The dialogue drops in and out, and the musical score fluctuates wildly. Sometimes, it sits back and observes. At other moments, it wants all the aural attention. The Dolby Digital 2.0 mix is mediocre, but at least it preserves the original Japanese language track. The subtitles do a good job of clarifying the conversations, helping compensate for some of the sonic upheaval.
None - unless they are buried in a menu option that this critic could not connect to - and that's a shame. A movie like this almost demands bonus features so that filmmakers and cast can comment on and clarify their motives. Sadly, none of that is present.
It's not a matter of being a prude. It has nothing to do with the same sex situations involved. And as an middle aged adult male who enjoys the notions of free love and the public pronouncements of same, this critic isn't calling for some kind of censorship. But at the end of the day, when all is said and done, one doesn't come to a movie called Attack Girl's Swim Team vs. The Undead and expect an extended excerpt from Asian Babes Gone Bonkers. It's almost as if director Kawano forgot what he was doing halfway through and shouted "Hey everyone! Let's make a skin flick instead!" Whatever the case, what could have been a considered cult classic is now left lying there like a big fact unequivocal question mark. Since there's enough here to entertain, including in the boudoir department, this film will earn a Recommended rating. Again, it's not a matter of morality or smug superiority. Sometimes, a moviemaker needs to remember a simple cold hard fact - when you offer up a title like Attack Girls' Swim Team vs. The Undead, your audience expects certain things. Fail them, and they will definitely fail you.
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