Stripped to Kill

Stripped to Kill (1987) *****  The first in a series of seedy adult fairy tale collaborations between writer-director Katt Shea and co-writer Andy Ruben, Stripped to Kill is among the finest erotic thrillers of that genre’s late 80s/early 90s peak period. Kay Lenz brings a valuable earnestness to her exploitative role as an L.A. policewoman going undercover as a stripper at the Rock Bottom, a club whose talent is falling prey to a mystery maniac. Greg Evigan plays her charmingly unshaven, doughnut-scarfing, zen-aspiring partner and, inevitably, love interest.

Shea, Ruben, and crew imbue Stripped to Kill with a convincing but expressionistic visual sensibility, a nocturnal air of stylized grime and neon magic that sets it apart from its thriller cohorts. “Deny the Night,” a moody, low-key rock song written by Ruben and performed by Larry Streicher, burns over a glorious opening credits strip sequence, perfectly establishing the darkly beautiful tone and themes of the film. Night, wet streets, red light, flashing knives, and fire dimly illuminate the dangerous world of this film and give it much of its personality.

Tawdry it is, but never at the expense of its humanity, with each character granted a more or less believable individuality. The supporting cast is especially strong. Three’s Company‘s Norman Fell is adorably sleazy and jaded as the strip club manager, while all of the dancers are captured at their expressive and memorable best both on stage and in their dressing room moments. Diana Bellamy also deserves special mention for her minor supporting role as Shirl. Icy and tough but also funny and almost warm at times, Stripped to Kill is a unique experience not to be missed by fans of murder thrillers and the female form in motion.

Stripped to Kill 2

Stripped to Kill II: Live Girls (1989) ***1/2  This disappointing sequel, again from the team of Shea and Ruben, fails to recapture the right combination of elements in writing, cast, and design that made Stripped to Kill such a special film. As a stand-alone piece, however, and without its classic predecessor to throw it into such an unflattering contrast, Stripped to Kill II is a passable if mopey and fairly predictable piece of trash.

Maria Ford, who developed a following for her willingness to appear naked in such films, is a picture painted from a gaudier palette than Kay Lenz and is less capable of carrying a demanding dramatic feature. She is, however, a more accomplished dancer than Lenz, more convincing as a stripper, and is actually at her best as an actress in her surreal dance and dream sequences, which, along with the other dancers’ periodic interludes, constitute Stripped to Kill II‘s strongest suit. Of particular note is Ford’s cat routine with roommate Karen Mayo-Chandler as the lion tamer.

Stripped to Kill II‘s cast is adequate, but – as with nearly every other aspect – falls short of the bar raised by the original. Eb Lottimer is innocuously low-key in his turn as the police detective who falls for Ford, the prime suspect in this installment’s series of stripper murders. All of the strippers are physically gifted artists and fine in action, but less than charismatic in dramatic scenes. Norman Fell, had his character returned, would have been a welcome source of seriocomedy, as would Greg Evigan or Diana Bellamy, sorely missed, the endearing role of Shirl having passed to ghastly Virginia Peters.

Shea, focusing on a more sundazed set of characters, would return to form and further develop her sleazy L.A. fairy tale aesthetic with Streets (1990).

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