Stripped to Kill (1987)


USA. 1987.


Director – Katt Shea Ruben, Screenplay – Andy Ruben & Katt Shea Ruben, Producers – Mark Byers, Matt Leipzig & Andy Ruben, Photography – John LeBlanc, Music – John O’Kennedy, Special Effects – Roger George, Makeup Effects – Michael Westmore, Production Design – Paul Raubertas, Choreography – Ted Lin. Production Company – New Concorde


Kay Lenz (Cody Sheenan), Greg Evigan (Heineman), Pia Kamakhi (Eric Bayer/Roxanne Bayer), Norman Fell (Ray), Peter Scranton (Mr Pocket), Tracey Crowder (Fanny), Debbie Nassar (Dazzle), Lucia Lexington (Brandy), Carlye Byron (Cinnemon), J. Bartell (Margolin), Athena Worthy (Zeena), Michelle Foreman (Angel McKenna)


After a stripper is murdered, detective Cody Sheenan is assigned to investigate the club where she worked. Her partner Heineman persuades her to go undercover as a stripper. Cody auditions on amateur night, ends up winning the competition and is hired. Now required to dance topless on a nightly basis, she tries to get to the bottom of what is happening as more of the girls start being killed.

Stripped to Kill was the first film as director for Katt Shea Ruben. Ruben had previously worked as an actress, racking up a handful of credits in bit parts in films such as Scarface (1983), Barbarian Queen (1985) and Psycho III (1986). She persuaded Roger Corman to back her debut as a director for Stripped to Kill. The idea came about after she visited a strip club with her husband and co-collaborator Andy Ruben and was inspired to write a script, actually employing some of the dancers as her cast. Stripped to Kill proved a moderate success in video release. Katt Shea Ruben subsequently went onto direct Dance of the Damned (1989), a very similar film that has a vampire visiting a strip club; Streets (1990) about teenage runaways hunted by a psycho cop; and the more mainstream, theatrically-released likes of Poison Ivy (1992) and The Rage: Carrie 2 (1999). Following her divorce in 1992, she is credited as just Katt Shea. She has now retired from directing and teaches acting classes.

The plot about the woman going undercover in the strip club posing as a stripper became a familiar one in the various psycho-sexual thrillers of the 1990s; here is (as far as I am aware) the first time it was conducted. As such, Stripped to Kill is not a particularly sophisticated variant. It is largely focused around a series of scenes where the strippers come on stage and take their gear off. Each of the stripper scenes come at regular intervals and go on for several minutes at a time but crucially none of them advance the plot in any way, they are just eye candy for an audience that has presumably been lured by the word ‘strip’ in the title. What must be said though is that some of these set-pieces are occasionally imaginatively staged – one in which a stripper starts off bound in a glowing spider web in the dark and does a dance using glowsticks; a surprisingly sinister sequence in which a stripper appears as a figure in a hood with a noose around her neck.

The police procedural plot takes a far backseat position to these stripper scenes. Occasionally the film remembers to return to the investigation – even then, this is half-heartedly developed and mostly seems to consist of Kay Lenz and Greg Evigan trading flirtatious banter. As a police procedural, the film is lacking – it only takes the time to create suspects and red herrings in the rudimentary way, nor does the script come with any twists. A psycho film would also have placed far more into the stalking and despatching of the various girls but Katt Shea Ruben never does this in much more than a rudimentary way. Another thing that almost any psycho-thriller that takes up the undercover in a strip club plot would do is place the heroine of the show in some kind of personal peril (either that or would have her seduced by a guy only to discover he may be a suspect) but this never does until one scene right near the end where Kay Lenz wanders into the killer’s apartment by accident.

The one interesting thing the film does give us is a reasonable twist when it comes to the revelation of the killer’s identity. [PLOT SPOILERS] Here it is revealed that the killer is actually Pia Kamakhi’s brother who had an attachment disorder and killed her because she took up with another girl, after which he adopted drag to pose as her. You cannot help but think there are some logic flaws in his plan – like if he is wearing falsies as becomes apparent near the end, would this not become extremely evident when he goes to work at her chosen profession as a stripper? Also his one-line explanation for his motivation – “She was leaving. I had to kill all of you” – doesn’t exactly hold water.

Katt Shea Ruben returned to make a sequel Stripped to Kill II: Live Girls (1989).

Trailer here

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