This L.A. strip club has definite rules in place to protect its performers, such as no dancer should be within five feet of the clientele, after all there are some strange people out there. But one night a member of the troupe, who has been having issues with her girlfriend and her brother who lives near her in an apartment complex, goes missing, and the boss (Norman Fell) feels this is yet another stress for his job that he doesn't need. He does not know the half of it, as while a cop, Detective Cody Sheehan (Kay Lenz), is undercover as a bag lady, she witnesses the missing stripper be pushed from a bridge and set on fire by a masked murderer. The killer gets away - for now.
Although this was a Roger Corman production, and come the nineties just about every one of his efforts had a scene set in a strip club so he could have the excuse to feature bare breasts to wake the audience up for a minute or two, something that many other exploitation flicks took their cue from, according to the director of this he had to be persuaded over the course of a year to make the film in the first place. This is curious, as it seemed to be an obvious choice for his business, but Katt Shea, who had been appearing in various movies as an actress, was apparently the one who steered the trajectory of his most basic pieces to their natural conclusion, one he pursued for decades.
If by the nineties Corman had well and truly run out of ideas and was forced to co-opt other people's, the eighties were the last gasp of him as a leader rather than a follower, the grindhouses that had become his output's stalking ground being phased out in favour of the dreaded VHS, where viewers could appreciate a film with, say, a stripper theme without the embarrassment of going to a theatre to see it. Stripped to Kill did escape into those remaining fleapits, but for the most part Shea was directing it to be seen in the planet's living rooms, assuming renters could look the counter staff in the video store in the eye while they asked to see something with a title that could be just as embarrassing.
Shea claims to be proud of each and every one of her movies, no matter how trashy, and she must have revelled in some sense of achievement here, not only because she was directing at last, but because it ended up more or less as she wanted it to. What was interesting was that, like Showgirls from Paul Verhoeven in the next decade, she approached it like a twisted musical, the stripping sequences dropped in throughout the action like musical setpieces that just happened to feature the performers whipping off their tops at the end of the staging. Yes, she was pandering to an audience of men, but she was dedicated to giving these dancers their due, hiring genuine strippers instead of actresses who then would learn the moves in question. Now it's kind of quaint to see so much effort go into the design of each strip.
After all, you see strippers in movies from the nineties onwards and aside from Showgirls the ladies don't expend so much energy on their turns; Magic Mike and its sequel are an exception that proves the rule, not merely because there was a lot of thought put into the staging, but also because it was men doing taking their clothes off and the female audiences demanded more of a proper show to feast their eyes on and enjoy. The punters we see in Stripped to Kill sit there with blank expressions, ironically making it look as if the dancers were wasting their time strutting their stuff for them. But this was also a police procedural cum horror movie, and Lenz, who did take her top off but was exposed as not much of a dancer no matter how game she was, was a sufficiently strong presence to make the nude scenes of any of the actresses look more empowering than in an item from a male director. Nevertheless, despite some nasty stuff, it was pretty silly, especially the twist ending that went a familiar route, no matter how daft. Music by John O'Kennedy (plus lots of cheap, anonymous rock for the onstage scenes).