Lost and Found: Dance with Death

For the second post in this series, it feels appropriate to highlight a movie from a lost genre that has been rediscovered thanks to streaming services like Tubi or Prime. Most late-eighties, early nineties director-to-video (DTV) erotic thrillers still haven’t made the transition from VHS to DVD, let alone the current standard of Blu-ray or 4K, so having such a bounty of them available to stream is a godsend if you love a good, trashy thriller as much as I do.

Barbara Alyn Woods in Dance with Death, serving Nomi Malone vibes three years before Showgirls.

Peel off a layer of clothing from the erotic thriller genre and underneath you’ll find a sub-genre focusing on mysterious serial killers with a bloodlust for strippers and exotic dancers. The gold standard is probably Stripped to Kill (1987), which I reviewed for Diabolique a few years ago, along with the equally great sequel. Katt Shea (Poison Ivy) directed both, and because these were Roger Corman productions she did so on the cheap, and fast as hell. Miraculously, they wound up being exploitation masterpieces. They also made Corman some money, so, as the master of the cheapie was known to do, he commissioned a copycat film to entice stripper-killer loving audiences to part with more of their cash.

The memorable poster art combines the two opposing forces in stripper-killer films: sex and violence.

This remake, Dance with Death (1992), somehow manages to be pretty much just as awesome as Stripped to Kill. No wonder, Corman basically reused Shea’s script (without paying her for it, which rightly pissed her off). In fact, entire lines of dialogue are recycled. It probably shouldn’t work, but against all odds it does!

Woods and her million-dollar smile. She is pretty great in the film, simultaneously seeming above the material and right in line with it.

Helmed by nineties sexploitation director Charles Phillip Moore (who?), Dance with Death makes a slight change to the plot: as opposed to a cop (played magnificently in Stripped to Kill by Kay Lenz) going undercover as a stripper to catch a serial slasher, this time a journalist (played magnificently by Barbara Alyn Woods) goes undercover as a stripper to catch a serial slasher. Big difference. Not really, but who cares when the results are this good?

Martin Mull and his tiny ponytail just want Woods to take her clothes off already.

Dance with Death has a fun cast too, including the always reliable Martin Mull as a permanently exasperated strip club owner, and Stephanie Zinone’s Cool Rider Maxwell Caufield as the impressively coifed detective who works with Barbara Alyn Wood’s character Kelly to sleuth out the killer—and of course he has sex with her because this is an erotic thriller, after all. Even Lisa Kudrow of all people shows up, two years before Friends, in a small, non-stripping supporting role.

So that’s what Phoebe was up to before meeting Monica, Rachel, Ross, Joey, and Chandler.

Woods is the glue that holds the entire film together, really. As Kelly she’s the dedicated, hardworking investigative journalist type, the kind who actually suggests embedding herself into the strippers’ lives to get the big story. Her sketchy and condescending editor (Drew Snyder) takes very little convincing to give her the green light, probably because he realizes he’ll get to see her naked onstage. And he sure does. We watch Kelly bloom from a shy, first-time stripper into a formidable stage presence over the course of the movie. She’s also a fighter, as evidenced during the lengthy final confrontation with the killer.

The Halloween-style final chase is ludicrous and wonderful all at the same time.

Dance with Death doesn’t skimp on stripping, skin, or sex, and Woods supplies all three in the sort of healthy doses required of the genre. As this sort of film goes, you can’t ask for a better lead actress performance, or a trashier good time than Dance with Death.

…and the Direct-To-Video Academy Award for Best Actress goes to: Barbara Alyn Woods!

Dance with Death is currently streaming, free with Prime.

3 thoughts on “Lost and Found: Dance with Death

  1. Cinematic Void here in Los Angeles is showing Stripped to Kill this Monday, and I am so excited to see it. Thanks for review this other film by Katt Shea. I now have another filmmaker to discover. I will definitely check it out!

    Liked by 1 person

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