Horror Becomes Her - Stripped to Kill (1987)
Horror and films directed by women are both big blind spots for me, so I am taking this deep dive into some of the more outre films I have come across in my movie watching.
Just from the poster of this movie and seeing Roger Corman’s name in the opening credits, I was ready to cringe at a movie meant solely for heterosexual males to perv out to. Indeed, most of this movie is composed of strippers performing their acts and the plot is kind of just meant to be connective tissue. So color me surprised when this movie turned out to be much less male gaze-y than I had anticipated. Just because a woman is in charge of directing a movie featuring nude female doesn’t mean that it can’t be gross. But director Katt Shea talked in interviews about how she was impressed with the talent of many of the strippers she saw and how many of them treated their performances like any other art. She also thought it was a shame that few people outside of strip club attendees had seen these acts, and she saw Stripped to Kill as an opportunity to expose stripping to the mainstream in as non-leering way as possible.
The stripping performances are filmed well, and there are some clearly talented women featured. It is unfortunate that the performances serve almost no purpose narratively, even though the two didn’t have to be mutually exclusive. Shea also features a little of the behind-the-scenes interactions among the strippers, and we actually get to know them personally. Kay Lenz as the undercover cop is fairly convincing as a tough cop who is at first predictably judgmental about stripping. I liked the arc of her coming to understand the women she works with and also about stripping itself: that it is a performance and one can show one’s personality and express oneself in unconventional ways.
As a horror movie, those elements are pretty minimal. It really didn’t need the murder plot, and this movie could have been possibly more interesting if it were something like Magic Mike or the more recent Hustlers. Still, this was a pleasant surprise and probably the least exploitative movie I have seen in this marathon so far.