Stripped to Kill (1987)

Actress Katt Shea lost a bet once, and her husband made her visit a strip club. Once she was there, she discovered that not only were the performers talented, they were both phenomenal dancers and artists putting on an erotic stage show, and she decided then and there that she was going to find a way to make a movie about it. She approached Roger Corman to produce, argued with him, fought with him, and finally convinced him to let her make the movie she wanted to make. The result? Stripped to Kill, an erotic thriller that is both a sexploitation picture and something of an art film showcasing the unusual and incredible feats that strippers perform on stage.

In the Skid Row neighborhood of Los Angeles, cops Cody and Heineman are assigned to a case about a murdered stripper after she is burned alive in front of Cody’s eyes. To learn more about the strippers and who might be targeting them, Cody goes undercover as a potential dancer for the Rock Bottom strip club. However, she learns to appreciate stripping as a form of erotic storytelling while also tracking down possible leads. While Heineman fixates on one particular client, Cody follows her gut, leading to a fiery showdown that is entertaining if not also totally implausible.

Now you might be thinking that this is going to be some kind of unrealistic sleaze fest, but no, all credit must be given to director Katt Shea. She recruited actual strippers, gave them acting lessons in her living room so they’d be able to handle the supporting duties, and then filmed their routines. As someone who happens to be a fan of burlesque (I know, shocking), the routines on display here are fantastic feats of flexibility, strength, and artistic direction. The guys in the audience are getting wasted on shitty booze in a smoky neon haze, but the ladies up on the stage are incredibly talented. Yes, they’re getting topless, but it feels considerably less sleazy than, say, pretty much any erotic thriller featuring strippers that I’ve ever watched. The sleaze comes in during the filthy gutter scenes and exploitative murders that make up the rest of the film.

Things fall apart when the killer is revealed, which seems to be a recurring problem I have with erotic thrillers, though I’ve never see them have such fiery results. Basically the bad guy here wants to take out some rage on all of the strippers in question, so when he is revealed to Cody, he chases her while in drag through a park, forcing her to take various turns by using gasoline, a lighter, and a pistol to direct her path via fire. The problem? He’s literally carrying gasoline and a pistol, and he’s got no pockets in that outfit, so I don’t know how he sets any fires. Plus he’d have to run ahead to set all of the traps he does, so I don’t know how he gets there. Plus he needs way more than that single canister of gas to do all of the burning that he does. Watching Cody’s path get cut off by fire is visually an impressive move, it just doesn’t make much sense.

You know one area where the movie doesn’t work? The soundtrack. It’s freaking ridiculous what songs were used in this movie. Apparently the actual routines were set to something else, but Roger Corman was never known for his budgetary extravagance, so when the cost to secure music rights was higher than he wanted, it was replaced with something more “affordable,” meaning “crap.”

Also, a special nod to actor Norman Fell for his role as the aged strip club owner. He’s hilarious, both in his need to make a buck and his banter with his employees. When he was in a scene, it was an entertaining scene.

Here’s a definitely NSFW trailer:

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