Color, 1987, 86m.
Directed by Katt Shea
Starring Kay Lenz, Greg Evigan, Norman Fell, Pia Kamakahi, Tracey Crowder
Scorpion Releasing (Blu-ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
Color, 1987, 86m.
The spirit of exploitation filmmaking was dying fast in theaters in the late 1980s, but fortunately VHS was there to pick up the torch with a flood of titles coming out every week to satisfy fans looking for cheap thrills with a little substance and visual style for good measure. One of the films that easily rose to the top of the pack was Stripped to Kill, a continuation of Roger Corman's dedication to providing big breaks to more female directors than all of the major studios combined. In this case the gamble paid off big time as a seemingly formulaic plot about a cop going undercover as a stripper to stop a killer turned out to be a colorful, unusually well-mounted thriller crammed to gills with gaudy colors, quirky characters, and bizarre plot twists.
While hanging out on skid row posing as homeless people, Detective Cody Sheenan (House's Lenz) and her partner, Heineman (Evigan), witness a stripper being set aflame by a maniac and tossed off a bridge. They're unable to save her, but Cody is talked into delving further into the club where the victim worked, Rock Bottom, a seedy strip club lit like a Whitesnake video and run by none other than Norman Fell, a.k.a. Mr. Roper from Three's Company. Cody wins a permanent gig as a dancer after winning an amateur night contest, giving her to perfect cover to match wits with a maniac intent on picking off the strippers one by one.
Stripped to Kill marked the directorial debut for Katt Shea, a veteran drive-in actress from films Preppies, Psycho III and Barbarian Queen. The latter film marked her first collaboration with Roger Corman, whose company Concorde was one of the shining (and very frugal) lights in exploitation cinema near the end of the '80s. She went on to direct an above-average sequel, Stripped to Kill II: Live Girls, and went on to do Streets, Poison Ivy, The Rage: Carrie 2, and the underrated Dance of the Damned. It's easy to see how she earned her stripes here as she injects the film with a lot of wild visual flair and keeps the characters offbeat and intriguing, with the supporting dancers all getting a chance to make an impression and show off some wild routines. Anyone expecting some slasher thrills will come up a bit less satisfied as it only really kicks into gear horror-wise in the last 15 minutes, but the revelation and final showdown are perverse enough to make it worth the wait.
The film turned out to be a significant hit on VHS for Concorde, who released it through MGM/UA with the eye-catching cover art that's remained with it ever since. Incredibly, it even inspired a gender-reversed TV remake of sorts a year later with Ladykillers, which really has to be seen to be believed. For some reason the film (along with many of the other Corman MGM/UA titles) kept getting announced for a DVD release but never seemed to materialize until the 2014 release from Scorpion and a slightly more belated Blu-ray sold exclusively through Screen Archives, a much-needed special edition with a slick new HD transfer far more capably handling those blinding shades of red and magenta. The DVD looks pretty nice for NTSC (here's a sample grab to compare to the first one above), though the Blu-ray does a more capable job of handling the darker scenes (of which there are many) with a natural veneer of grain and adept handling of the hotter shades of red. The DTS-HD MA 2.0 track sounds quite solid as well.
The first commentary with director Katt Shea finds her needing very little prompting from moderator Walter Olsen as she chats extensively about getting the project approved (by basically ambushing Roger Corman on his way to lunch), casting real strippers for roles in the film (complete with acting lessons in Shea's living room) and admiring their creativity and enthusiasm, and the intended color scheme for the film. She also talks about how MGM's support for the script led them pay more for the video rights and ensure a slightly longer shooting schedule than normal. The second commentary puts Shea in more of a moderator role as she's joined by Kay Lenz, who talks about doing this hot on the heels of a Rod Stewart music video and shares memories about all of the women she worked with in the film, not to mention the joys of wearing clothes made by Trashy Lingerie (who also designed Shea's wedding dress!). Video-wise the extras include the very red band theatrical trailer, an 18-minute video interview with Shea (who's still highly charismatic on camera), who covers her preference for the film's original title of Deception (yeah, you can see why they changed that) and chats far more about the films she made afterwards and her current acting classes, and an 8-minute interview with Corman about his early days with Shea and the elements of the story that appealed to him.