Roger Corman gave slasher fans plenty to celebrate in the 80s, not least of all the SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE series, but this paean to bad hair, lycra and pole dancing is certainly one of the legendary producers lesser efforts.
In classic exploitation style, someone is killing the exotic dancers at one of Los Angeles least salubrious clubs. Rock Bottom is the aptly named strip joint where poodle-permed ladies grab onto poles with toned thighs, flash the punters with a whisper of cloth between their twitching buttocks before flinging their studded bras akimbo and exposing their breasts to the ever present neon and dry ice. All the while forgettable power ballads throb in the background. Yes, we are very much in late 80s hell.
The first buttock twitcher to bite the big one is ambushed in a park and pushed off a balcony before being dowsed in petrol and set alight by a hooded assailant. Just yards away are undercover cops on some sting or other, who narrowly miss saving her from becoming bar-b-q'd diva. One of them, Cody Sheenan (Kay Lenz), is dressed as a bag lady. Her next assignment is somewhat more (although not a whole lot more) glamorous, when her mulleted partner, Detective Heineman (Greg Evigan), suggests she goes undercover at the club where 'ladies' is crossed out on the toilet door and 'sluts' has been sprayed there instead. A classy joint to be sure.
It tuns out that the murdered woman was a dancer there, and the lesbian lover of Roxanne (Pia Kamakahi), the star of the club. Understandably, the ladies are little bit down after finding out about their comrade's untimely demise. Sunny (the policewoman's stripper name), enters the weekly amateur night. She dances like Stephen Hawkins on trampoline, but when, in a fit of desperation, she rips off her dress, shakes her booty and then sets her nipples free, she unexpectedly wins the competition. Her plan comes to full fruition when she is offered a gig at the club, and sets about trying to get to the, er, bottom of the mystery. She's keen to finger the lone weirdo in the club (actually the club only ever seems to have about ten people in it at any one time) called Pocket – who is called that because the girls think he's wanking through a hole in his trousers as they dance.
Meanwhile, another dancer is garrotted by the killer and tied to the bottom of a long distance lorry. Clearly, someone who doesn't appreciate mid-air star jumps to bad 80s soft rock is intent on whittling down the erotic cabaret performers ...
Perhaps in an effort to negate any charges of misogyny, Corman hired female directors and sometimes writers to helm his 80s horrors where t&a was as important (or in this case more important) than the blood and thrills. The SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE and SORORITY HOUSE MASSACRE flicks, the effortlessly entertaining HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP (1980) and then STRIPPED TO KILL were all helmed by women – in this case Katt Shea. As with most of those films you'd be hard pushed to guess that a woman was calling the shots. STRIPPED TO KILL's biggest failing as a thriller (with some slasher undertones) is the insistence of showing routine after pole-dancing routine (one after another for what seemed like eternity). If the occasional flash of boobs is your thing you might be entertained, but even the biggest mammary appreciator will find their attention wandering after what seems like the thirtieth display of rock hard hair, spandex and silicone. Whilst fitting to the setting, the first half of the film stutters along like an old banger bunny hopping down the road as far as the thrills go.
Lenz and Evigan as the cops do pretty well, but the acting is very variable through out. Shea's one, dare I say it, feminine, touch is to get some good dialogue out of the girls. This isn't the exotic dancing of Verhoeven's ultra polished shitfest SHOWGIRLS (1995) (although that particular film reached the dizzy heights of bad movieness that STRIPPED TO KILL could only dream of). Here the girls are lethargic, world-weary and anything but erotic off stage – as I expect real strippers actually are (although they do sport killer names here such as Mademoiselle Fanny). Unfortunately, when the camera isn't on the girls dancing the first half is a badly edited, confusing, muddy sounding mess. Also, STRIPPED TO KILL isn't nearly camp enough, and never manages to attain the kind of bad movie nirvana subject matter like this could sorely do with. Thankfully, things do pick up in the second half when the makers decide the audience has tired of the dog-eared burlesque (and yes, we had) and ramps up the action quota, all topped off with an admittedly off-kilter surprise revelation (which is partly a surprise because it doesn't actually make any sense!).
STRIPPED TO KILL must have been popular, because it launched a whole slew of increasingly cheap knock-offs. For my money, Tony Marke's THE LAST DANCE (1992) was the best of the bunch (and is certainly more entertaining than this).
Shea followed this with the sequel, imaginatively titled STRIPPED TO KILL 2, which offered more of the same but at least had the good decency to have a proper slasher doing the dirty.
BODYCOUNT 6 female:3 / male:31) Female pushed off bridge and set on fire