Katt in the Director's Chair
If you've seen the print ad for The Rage: Carrie 2, in which a teen Goth chick in a formfitting prom gown stares out from a hellish blaze above the tagline "Looks Can Kill," the film probably strikes you as a gratuitous sequel to Brian De Palma's classic Carrie rather than the latest study of distaff vengeance by feminist schlock auteur Katt Shea.
Who? The underappreciated maker of a half-dozen high-minded, low-budget thrillers featuring put-upon heroines who get even before the end credits, Katt Shea (also credited as Katt Shea Ruben, after her ex-husband and -screenwriting partner Andy Ruben) may never see her debut feature Stripped to Kill (1987) earn inclusion in the Walker's "Women in the Director's Chair" series. Still, Shea's body of work was the subject of a Museum of Modern Art retrospective in 1992--not to mention the fact that her best-known shocker, Poison Ivy, "boasts the highest [number of rentals] per copy in video history" (per Carrie 2's press kit). One critic called the 41-year-old Shea "the Camille Paglia of women film-makers," and it figures. Carrie 2's schizy sexual persona comes complete with multiple close-ups of teen female T&A and this serious claim by its director: "It addresses issues of how difficult it is to be a young woman today."
As much a remake as a sequel, Carrie 2 follows another persecuted young wallflower (Emily Bergl) with telekinetic powers. But what's different is how the movie's obsessive focus on predatory teen-male sexuality--and female fragility in the face of it--clearly pegs this as the work of a feminist. As the protagonist's psychic rage stems from her desire for revenge against the misogynistic jocks who inspired her friend's suicide, the ultraviolent denouement gives the macho meatheads their just deserts. Unfortunately, where De Palma unleashed split-screen images of nightmarish intensity, Shea's big set-piece at a killer house party resorts to graphic impalings with flying CDs and fireplace pokers. That is to say, the film's larger budget spoils its maker's penchant for the cheap thrill. Perhaps it's no coincidence that the priciest gig for this B-movie vet should amount to what you might call a neutered Katt.
Fortunately, Shea's late-'80s exploitation roots are well-preserved on videotape: The nudity-strewn Stripped to Kill (MGM/UA Home Video) turns from cheesy to harrowing as it follows a tough female cop who becomes a stripper to catch a psycho. The equally lurid Dance of the Damned (Virgin Vision) somehow extracts pathos from the ridiculous story of a lonely vampire's last tango with an exotic dancer. And the gritty Streets (MGM/UA) goes slumming on Hollywood Boulevard to come up with the redemptive tale of a drug-addicted young hooker (Christina Applegate). Clearly, Shea's characteristic theme involves the way exploited women can transcend their situations through ingenuity--a situation mirrored, perhaps, by her four-picture stint working for cinematic sleazemeister Roger Corman. Not that the unpretentious, up-by-your-bootstraps filmmaker would be likely to cop to this in print. "Directing is not a gender thing," Shea once said. "It's a people job, no matter what your gender is. If you can't communicate, you're dead."
The Rage: Carrie 2 is playing at area theaters
Get the Film Club Newsletter
Stay up to date on the best new movies with our critics' latest reviews, interviews and trailers for the films coming to a theater near you each week.