Actress turned writer and director, Katt Shea, presents a stylish glimpse into the glamorous world of erotic dancers in distress at the Rock Bottom strip club where the dancers actually have talent, lava lamps grace the tables, and regular customer’s named “Pocket” quietly jizz in their pockets while they enjoy the view. Not intrigued? Throw in girl on girl action, a serial killer, gymnastics on a neon lit floor, champagne flowing over a dancer’s breasts, cross dressing and you got yourself a good time. This is truly a love letter to strippers everywhere. Stripped to Kill puts Flashdance to shame and it takes a lot for me to say that since I use to watch Flashdance every night before bed when I was a teenager. As far as I am concerned, Rock Bottom is the coolest strip club in the world. These erotic artists are extremely creative and that’s exactly what Shea was trying to accomplish. Thankfully, I was fortunate to have a conversation with Katt Shea that gave me a little more insight.
After questioning the inspiration behind Stripped to Kill, Shea happily recanted that fateful night where she lost a bet and in return, had to attend a strip club where she was quite taken with the girls and their passion for dancing, “I was so entrapped in the creativity of the dancers and I felt people should know that this is out there, that it exists, and it’s pretty cool! I was really into women’s rights so a strip club would be the last place you could find me. So it was very unusual to be there.” Those passionate dancers and Katt Shea’s transformation on screen may have opened the door for many thriller and horror themed films featuring erotic dancers. It’s not something that moviegoers were use to seeing. I honestly thought Brian De Palma’s Dressed to Kill was the inspiration, to a degree but she assured me that the dancers she saw were the real inspiration and how she felt that this had “never been seen on film before.” If anything, De Palma unconsciously influenced her work. That’s not hard to believe since she had a small part in Scarface and directed The Rage: Carrie II.
It’s unfortunate that the cruel acts depicted in the film actually happen all the time. Strippers are murdered quite often and there are far too many instances where people just do not seem to care and the case goes cold. According to Shea, the artistry wasn’t all she was out to capture on screen and strippers really do get a bad reputation, “That’s one of the things I was trying to accomplish with the movie. To show that they were artists and that it isn’t appreciated and it is looked down on. That’s such an American way of being. It’s very prudish. It could be a sexy or erotic art form that there’s nothing wrong with but it’s not seen that way here. I did my part to try and elevate it as an art form and that’s why I made the movie. ”
Katt Shea did a remarkable job transforming these ‘strippers’ into actors. You can tell how passionate they are when it comes to their performance, dancing or not. A part of me felt enamored by these girls and I just had to ask, where did she find them?Â Are they real dancers or actors with body doubles? To which she replied, “These were actual strippers. I searched every club in LA for them. I succeeded in finding the best and most passionate ones that were really trying to do art. My partner Andy searched too.” Our heroine, Kay Lenz was the only actress familiar with the silver screen. Lenz has spent a lot of time on television and even had a major role in the horror film “House,” among others. The acting really isn’t bad for an 80s Roger Corman production and she explained that working for Corman is, “Very hard with limitations. He has certain requirements that you have got to come through with but on the other had, he gives you a lot of freedom.” I have always admired Roger Corman for allowing women to direct sleazy thrillers and horror films. Women are not paid as much as men but it surely makes for a wonderful combination and entertaining flicks.
As for the Stripped to Kill legacy, Shea was happy to hear that so many nerds like me are out there collecting her films on VHS. It almost seems like she was in disbelief, “Wow, you actually have a VCR that works?” I couldn’t believe how ecstatic she was and it fills my heart with joy that she appreciates all the love.Â Believe me, you guys should have heard me shout, “ERMERGERD!” in the video store after finding this gem. This talented lady has a lot of fans out there, myself included.
I wrapped our interview up quickly but had to know if she has been back to a strip club since. Unfortunately, she hasn’t had a reason to but this lady has a lot of life in her remaining so I am holding out hope that one day, she will let loose again. Do not forget to check out Stripped to Kill II, Poison Ivy, and The Rage: Carrie II.
On with my very descriptive plot! The film opens with WAIT FOR IT…… a glorious dance routine by a very attractive stripper to the catchy but oddly lyriced “Deny the Night.” (Note to self: I need to find this soundtrack.) In this opening scene, we learn that the dancers have to be topless for at least 30 seconds. There’s little plot development, besides the introduction of strippers Angel and Roxanne’s sexual relationship and Roxanne’s disapproving brother. At least two more erotic routines featuring back flips and splits play out before anything of importance happens. Moving on, our first stripper (Angel) is thrown off a bridge and set on fire before detectives on a stake out mission, for something unrelated, can get to her. Detective Cody Sheehan (Kay Lenz) is determined to find the killer. The only way Detective Cody can get the assignment is if she goes undercover at the Rock Bottom strip club. Her unconvincing partner, Detective Heineman (Greg Evigan,) desperately wants to see her naked so he talks her into going undercover, uncovered. By unconvincing I mean he’s the most unconvincing detective I have ever seen sporting blue jeans, black leather vests, and black leather jackets.
By the time Cody gets on stage, she’s clearly the worst dancer in the history of the world but she has the goods and the crowd goes wild after she rips off her gown. As the crowd begins to cheer her on, you can see joy and excitement in her expression. Her inner bad girl has been unleashed and she soaks in the attention for a quick minute until she realizes, “Holy shit. I am naked in front of a crowd of men!” A nice Asian man stands up to wrap his coat around her before she makes her way off stage and the DJ says, “Chivalry is not dead.” I’d have to say her act wasn’t all that bad after seeing the drunken, pilled out mess named “Cinnamon” that followed and limped off stage while the DJ commented, “What a trooper!” That DJ is a killer. However, that Amateur contest was soooo rigged. There’s no way in the hell she could have beat Debra Lamb if this were a legit stripper world.
In the dressing room, the girls talk about the death of their stripper friend “Angel” when Cinnamon walks in, pissing all over the poor dead girl’s name. Thankfully, the no nonsense club owner gets rid of her skank ass for good due to her shenanigans onstage and inability to keep clean. Good riddance. It’s fun to see what goes on behind the curtains. Girls massage their snakes and practice with nun-chucks for protection from the crazed killer on the loose.
We are introduced to more dancers and entertaining numbers. Fanny is my favorite to watch as Dazzle tells Detective Cody, “She was pregnant once. She was dancing on stageâ€¦ I said GIRL YOU LOOK FAT. She said, I’m not fat. I’m pregnant.” Meanwhile, Cinnamon is strangled for being a lousy character that nobody cares about.
The coolest dance involves a gigantic, black light lit spider web with the dancer untangling herself. Then we get to see Kay Lenz and her poor dancing skills again. She attempts to walk up to a customers shaking with money in his mouth until the owner screams at her. Apparently, these dancers are not to be touched or within five feet of the customers. Lap dance anyone?
Detective Heineman has been snooping around in hopes to find clues that will lead to the killer. The red herrings prevent him from finding anything useful. The duo is eventually told to abort the mission and Detective Cody finds out that she was never suppose to go undercover as a stripper, only a waitress or whatever else the club has to over. After resigning and interrupting a bizarre yeast infection conversation, the owner talks her into staying one more night.
She makes her last performance and Heineman goes into a fit of rage because he feels only one man should be allowed to see her treats and he’s the right man for the job. Even though, he was the jackass that got her into stripping in the first place. The two get into arguments off and on throughout the film. One comically ends with a big black woman saying, “Don’t give into that ass hole!” The stripper lifestyle pulled Cody in long enough for her to enjoy the power and she is so distracted by this addiction, she begins to lose focus on the reason why she’s there in the first place.
Further investigations and sneaking around conclude that Roxanne was the killer the whole time and Detective Cody stabs her after finding her dead perverted neighbor in her closet. Like most thrillers and horror films, they always fail to make sure the killer is dead or at least restrain their presumed dead bodies. This big mistake leads to Roxanne shooting Heineman and removing the prosthetic boobs which reveal that it’s actually Roxanne’s sister and Roxanne is long dead. This sick and twisted schizophrenic babbles on about his fucked up childhood and how his sister promised they would never be apart. He didn’t take too kindly to the idea of his sister’s girlfriend Angel moving in and scooting his weird ass out. Psycho boy chases Cody around the streets and they end up back at the strip joint where thankfully, all the strippers are still present and able to assist in killing off that little freak for good. Oh and Heineman is not dead, he was wearing a bullet proof vest!
Stripped to Kill teaches us three very valuable lessons. 1) Appearances can be deceiving. 2) Stripping is a lost art. 3) Fishnet stockings cost $14 in the 80s. As for hardcore horror lovers, you can expect a few drops of blood but no gore. The pacing is still pleasing as we are entertained by talented naked dancers in almost every frame. I have heard a few people complain that the dances are too long but for women like me who has spent their entire life in the arts, it’s a wonderful film to watch.