The Flesh and The Fiend: Stripteaser (1995)

Matty gets to grips with Dan Golden’s stagey dramedy.

‘A blind man stumbles into a titty bar during last orders’ might sound like the start of a joke but there’s nothing funny about Neil (Rick Dean) when he whips off his sunglasses, flings his white stick, pulls out a gun, and proceeds to physically and psychologically torture the staff and patrons still inside Zipper’s Clown Palace. OK, OK — there is, but they’re not the type of laughs you were maybe expecting with such a bawdy, slapstick set-up. Instead, they’re awkward and uneasy; the sort of mean-spirited chuckles you keep to yourself, and certainly don’t admit to giggling at in polite company.  

The third collaboration between the inimitable Dean, starlet Maria Ford, and photographer turned director Dan Golden following Naked Obsession (1990) and Saturday Night Special (1994), STRIPTEASER is, in a sense, a kind of companion piece to their first team-up. Like Naked Obsession, Stripteaser is another exploration of individuality. This time, it’s the flipside: whereas Naked Obsession was, ultimately, about finding happiness away from the supposed norm, Stripteaser is what happens when someone’s disconnect with the world around them manifests itself in violent and frightening ways.

Now, as thematically perfect as they are together, it’s somewhat frustrating that comparing them only amplifies Stripteaser’s flaws. Written by Duane Whitaker as a cheap chamber piece for a pal who wanted to break into the film industry, but picked up by Golden and exec producer Roger Corman when that iteration fell through, Stripteaser — so-called because Corman wanted to cash-in on Demi Moore’s then-upcoming Striptease (1996) — lacks the pomp of Naked Obsession and never quite manages to shake its inherently stagey nature. However, some overly talky, not-quite-as-sage-as-it-thinks-it-is passages aside, that last point isn’t too bad if you consider the film an acting showcase. While Whitaker and Golden’s attempt to open the story up by tacking on a ‘cops on patrol’ subplot strikes a bum note, it existing solely to facilitate an admittedly very funny and deliciously nihilistic coda, they’re at their best when they simply allow Stripteaser’s cast to take the lead.

As well as helping to fill the T&A quota (along with the equally impressive — if slightly underused — Nikki Fritz and Ann-Marie Holman), Ford submits a textured turn that’s buoyed with real poignancy as her perpetually downtrodden character does what she can with the crap hand that life has dealt her. Lance August cuts a suitably pathetic figure as a recurring, tragi-comic punchline, and cameos from R.A. Mihailoff, Linnea Quigley, and John LaZar add a splash of kitsch-y colour (look out, too, for blink-and-you’ll-miss-‘em appearances from Richard Gabai and Jim Wynorski). But make no mistake: Stripteaser is, without doubt, Dean’s moment to shine. A ferocious mix of Alex DeLarge, Krug Stillo, and Johnny from Mike Leigh’s Naked (1993), the charismatic Dean is electric. A mesmeric and volatile presence, he attacks Whitaker’s venom-soaked polemics with the gusto of a man possessed — an idea that cinematographer Andrea Rossotto runs with, lighting Dean with an increasingly more malevolent glow as he becomes more erratic and terrifying.

USA ● 1995 ● Comedy, Drama ● 74mins

Rick Dean, Maria Ford, Lance August ● Dir. Dan Golden ● Wri. Duane Whitaker

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