Jul 7, 2018

Dance with Death (1992)

There were so many films like this in the nineties (and latter half of the eighties).  There's a string of strippers murdered, so a cop or reporter must go undercover as a stripper to catch the killer.  It was a genre unto itself.  Along the way, there's tons of red herrings and overlong striptease performances which pad the film from beginning to end.

I suppose it was a cheap way to make an erotic thriller: half the film is just shooting stripteases and the script is a ready-made cookie-cutter template.  Perhaps the biggest success was Stripped to Kill (which spawned sequels), but the legion of lesser known flicks within this odd genre are endless.  Let's have a look at one I'd never heard of - Dance With Death.

Let's meet the strippers: Sherilyn (Sean'a Mahoney), Jody (Catya Sasoon) and Lola (Jill Pierce). The bitchy banter is flying fast and loose backstage at the strip club.
Sherilyn: "Do you know how many animals had to die to get that coat?"
Lola: "Do you know how many animals I had to fuck to get this coat?"
Dermot, the club DJ, and the owner, Art (Martin Mull - man, he must have needed a paycheck bad!)

Whitney (Tracey Birch) asks Art if she can leave early.  When she leaves, we get this timely banter:
Dermot: She's really seeing a guy tonight?  I guess there's hope for me now."
Art: "I guess if the Berlin Wall can come down, anything's possible."
Whitney is killed out in her car by an unknown figure in the backseat.  For some reason, the death of a stripper manages to make the pages of a newspaper.

A reporter at the newspaper, Kelly (Barbara Alyn Woods) is sick of working the celebrity section; she wants to do real reporting.

She goes to her hardnosed editor, Hopper (Drew Snyder) and demands to be assigned this story.  Hopper doesn't get this chick - she's got the primo celeb job and wants to cover a stripper murder?

He lets her do it.  Of course this means she'll have to go undercover as a stripper.  The club is having a "Bottoms Up" contest where the winner gets a job (to replace the dead Whitney).  When Kelly first goes on stage she's overcome with anxiety.

Hopper is there for moral support.  (Can you imagine stripping in front of your boss?)  And look who else is there - fellow newspaper reporter, Millie, played by Lisa Kudrow!  Man, Phoebe is looking rough in this film.

 Kelly awkwardly removes her clothing.

Barbara Alyn Woods is a former cheerleader from Hinsdale South High School in Darien, Illinois.  She went on to star in a shit ton of stuff including a starring role in One Tree Hill and the Honey I Shrunk the Kids TV show.  We encountered her before in Ghoulies IV, and appeared on dozens of TV shows including Empty Nest, Seinfeld, Married with Children, Dream On, Murder She Wrote, Ally McBeal, etc.

Kelly finally removes her bra.  You can tell she's mortified - but it's all in the name of journalism!

Eventually the crowd gets into it, and Kelly starts to feel less inhibited.

Sherilyn and Lola look on with a bit of jealousy.

 Kelly wins the contest (of course) and immediately starts probing the girls backstage.  Sherilyn tells her more about what happened with Whitney.  (Note the Bruce Jenner poster!)

Kelly has a talk with the sassy black stripper, Sunny (Alretha Thomas), but is interrupted by Art. He asks everyone but Kelly to leave -
Art: Why don't you girls go powder your noses.
Sherilyn: Our noses don't need powdering.
Sunny: My ass could use a spit shine, though.
Huh?  What does that even mean?

Kelly (now going as "Dominique") makes friends with Jodie, who was Whitney's lover (and thereby a suspect).  Jodie is played by Catya Sassoon, daughter of Vidal Sassoon.

Catya Sassoon is easily the best and most convincing of all these strippers.  Clearly, this girl took some striptease lessons.

Catya Sassoon dropped out of Beverly Hills High School at 14 to pursue a modeling career. She died at a New Year's Eve party at the age of 33 of a Dilaudid and cocaine overdose.

Two potential red herrings are introduced: We find that there are a couple incriminating videotapes with both Hopper (!) and Art (!) fooling around with Whitney.  (Note that Hopper looks a lot like Kelsey Grammar in this videotape.)

As if we don't have enough suspects with Art, Hopper and Jodie... we have this loner named Henry.  He creepily lurks around the strip joint and we even see him buy a switchblade from a guy selling weapons from the trunk of his car.

Would you believe Henry is played by Michael McDonald from MAD TV?

Kelly is really getting into her undercover assignment.  She's all smiles and pep on stage now.

You have to wonder why Barbara Alyn Woods would do a B-movie role with so much nudity.  I suppose she was feeling really happy with her body in '92.  That year she appeared in Playboy, did this movie, and also got naked on "Dream On"...

(Left) In 1989 she played Kareen Brianon on an episode of Star Trek TNG "The Schizoid Man", and (Right) got naked in the "Dream On" episode - "It Came from Beneath the Sink".  She was nude in a few other things, but never showing the full frontal.

So, there's one more guy we need to talk about: Shaughnessy, played by Maxwell Caulfield (the guy from Grease 2). Shaughnessy has been posing as a strip club customer, but he's really an undercover cop.  He runs into Kelly at the crime scene of Sunny (yeah, the black girl died).

So, with both their covers blown, they get to know each other and share information on the case.

 Yet another striptease from Kelly.  She gets better and more enthusiastic each performance.

Okay, maybe a little overboard.  She splashes champagne on herself and writhes with orgiastic passion.

Shaughnessy was in the audience and he thinks Kelly may be getting carried away with her undercover role.

Naturally, their fight ends with sex at his place.  More nudity from Barbara Alyn Woods, but it's poorly lit.

Kelly goes to Jodie's house and finds her dead.  A rather disturbing moment as we know the actress would really be dead ten years later.

Kelly goes back to her newspaper HQ to talk with Hopper, but Millie informs her that Hopper's been MIA for the past few days.  (Again - Lisa Kudrow looks awful!  I know they were going for the Plain Jane look, but damn!)

Shaughnessy confronts Henry in the park.  It's so hilarious to see Michael McDonald playing a supposed serial killer - it's hard to take it seriously.

The confrontation leads to Henry being shot dead (rather harsh, I think).  So, with suspects Jodie and Henry out of the picture, who's the real killer?

Kelly goes to Art's office and finds him with a knife sticking out of his back.

Hopper arrives and says he killed Art, but he's not the serial killer - he had to kill Art because he was being blackmailed by the video tape.   Shaughnessy arrives and blows his ass away.

Will the real serial killer please stand up?  Drumroll please.  It's Shaughnessy!  (He's all bloody and menacing looking now.)

Literally the next 15 full minutes are spent watching Shaughnessy chase Kelly through an abandoned warehouse.
At one point, Kelly turns into the Incredible Hulk and moves a dumpster in front of a door. 

Then, Kelly turns into McGyver and rigs up an office with tripwire and other various traps.

 Granted, 15 minutes is a long time to be chasing through a warehouse, but Kelly is wearing an amazingly revealing dress - super short with gobs of cleavage.

 In the final confrontation (after Shaughnessy has "risen from the dead" countless times like Jason Voorhees), Kelly splashes him with gasoline.

She throws a lamp down and it ignites, lighting Shaughnessy up in flames.

The film ends with Kelly writing her masterpiece detailing the stripper killings called, you guessed it, "Dance With Death".  THE END

It would have been better if Lisa Kudrow was the killer.  It didn't make much sense being Shaughnessy. And what about Sherilyn and Lola?  They could have taken a cue from the slasher genre and served as additional kills.  Instead, they fade out into irrelevance.

Still, it was better than your average film within this genre (the aforementioned - "strippers are murdered so a reporter or cop must go undercover" genre).  The reason it rises above these other forgettable films is Barbara Alyn Woods isn't afraid to deliver the nudity - with gusto.  Plus, it didn't hurt to have appearances by Martin Mull and Michael McDonald.  The film has a lot of moxy - it really tries, and doesn't phone it in, despite the limitations of the genre's template.


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