Starring Kay Lenz, Greg Evigan, Norman Fell
"You are the worst dancer I ever saw in my life. You're hired."
Hollywood Hot Tubs, RSVP, and Preppies, but she spent just as much time behind the camera. Her more well-known directorial efforts include the Drew Barrymore stalker flick Poison Ivy (1992), which spawned a still-churning series of sequels, and the unforgettable The Rage: Carrie 2 (1999), one of the 90's more audacious horror-flicks, but Stripped to Kill and it's equally bonkers sequel remain Shea's high-water mark. What was clearly intended to be just another bland erotic thriller turns into a festering cauldron of sleaze in Shea's capable hands, as drug strippers, stripper-cops, gender-bending weirdos, one-armed masturbators, and Greg Evigan in full creep mode all collide in an orgy of tits, blood, and bad fun.
Like many Roger Corman productions, Stripped to Kill boasts an impressive opening credits sequence. In this case, it's stripper footage over a crazy, tone-deaf metal tune called Deny the Night by one Larry Streicher. It sounds like Karaoke night at the local insane asylum. The perfect intro to the escapade that follows.
Mr Roper himself, the great Norman Fell, is Ray, the owner and operator of Rock Bottom, a low-rent LA stripclub with a very big problem - somebody's dousing his strippers with gasoline and setting them ablaze. The actual deaths don't bother Ray that much - he's a pretty jaded cat - but hiring new dancers all the time is a major drag.
Luckily for Ray, the vice squad is on the case. Detective Heineman (Greg Evigan) and Detective Cody (Kay Lenz) are assigned to solve the stripper-murders, so naturally Cody goes undercover as a stripper for a night. A tomboy by nature, she is not thrilled with the idea, but it does seem like a valid plan.
It's Cody's first time on stage, so Heineman and half the force, naturally, come to watch. She is not very good. But the crowd is full of ringers, so she wins amateur night - 300 bucks! By the way, amateur night at the strip club looks like the most fun ever.
The stripteases continue. There's a very suspicious character in the front-row wearing a dirty hooded sweatshirt and headphones, but nobody really notices. Weirdos are a dime-a-dozen in this joint. One stripper, Cinnamon (one-time actress Carlye Byron), falls off the stage halfway through her routine and lands in the weirdo's lap. So that was cool. Ray doesn't care for her pill-popping antics, though, so he fires her.
So, Cinnamon's out, and Ray needs a dancer. Cody's horrible, but she's available.
A humiliated Cinnamon takes off, but there's a stripper-killer on the loose, and she ends up on the chopping block. Not only does she get brutally murdered, but the killer straps her under a truck so that her bloodied body gets dragged down the street. Yikes!
Meanwhile, detective Heineman follows Cody home and says, "If I see any more tits I'm gonna throw up."
He's a very strange guy. Also meanwhile, Det. Cody's act improves greatly. In fact, Miss Lenz shows considerable skill in the dancing-naked arena.
However, it turns our that cody's supposed to be off the case - she finds out that she wasn't even supposed to be stripping. But now she's too embroiled in it to quit. Also, she has passionate semi-hate sex on the floor with Greg Evigan. It was bound to happen. Who can resist Greg Evigan in acid-wash?
Then Heineman does some sleuthing and figures out sweatshirt-dude can't possibly be the killer because, well, it turns out he doesn't have the proper equipment, so to speak, for a rapin' and killin' spree.
And so we get to the shocking - although sorta obvious - twist. And then things really get nuts with a nihilistic killing spree climax full of blood, screaming, fire, bullets, sexual ambiguity, and, of course, more tits-out dancing.
Aggressively bizarre and pervasively sleazy, Stripped to Kill is a mesmerizing mess that seems more like some late 60's grindhouse roughie than the glossy 80's late-night Skinemax fodder it was meant to be. Despite its lean and mean velocity, it's also one of the more even-handed stripper-centric flicks of the period. The Rock Bottom dancers all have realistic personalities with all the gripes, aspirations, and gallows humor you'd expect, given their occupation and the killer-on-the-loose scenario, and Shea never seems like she's judging the women for their choice of career. Fell is hilarious as the jaundiced, amoral boss, Evigan is full-tilt gonzo and playing very much against type, and Lenz looks surprisingly awesome naked. The only real gripe is the twist - anyone who's ever watched a psycho-killer since...well, since 1960's Psycho knows that anyone with gender issues is going to be the prime suspect, and Stripped to Kill gives away the game in the first five minutes. Still, even if you know where it's all going, this is one hell of a ride.
Although nothing about the original suggests a second chapter is necessary, Shea followed up with Stripped to Kill II, starring glamourpuss Maria Ford, in 1989. Both are highly recommended. Just keep a bar of soap handy.
- Ken McIntyre