A Gay Detective Goes Undercover in ‘Shock to the System’

Regent Entertainment

Chad Allen plays Donald Strachey, a private investigator, in “Shock to the System.”


Published: August 4, 2006

With his 1981 novel “Death Trick,” under the pseudonym Richard Stevenson, the writer Richard Lipez began a series of mysteries featuring Donald Strachey, a gay private investigator on the mean streets of New York — Albany, to be precise. Using the detective mode to reflect on gay themes, and vise versa, the books were sexy, playful and unafraid of politics, while always mindful of their genre mandate.

“Shock to the System” is the second Donald Strachey mystery to be adapted into a movie for the gay cable channel Here! Making allowances for the scale and tone of a low-budget television project, this is a sly, refreshingly grown-up gay entertainment, though rather less satisfying as a thriller. It’s enough to make one curious to see the first (“Third Man Out”) and hope they get around to adapting the other five. I, for one, would see any movie with a name as marvelous as “On the Other Hand, Death.”

Sweetly compelling as Strachey, Chad Allen embodies and subverts the classic butch detective. The plot involves Strachey going undercover at a gay conversion therapy organization to investigate the suspicious suicide of a client. His snooping leads through the predictable mystery movie twists, but also to a surprisingly nuanced take on the way gay conversion therapy exploits universal anxieties about who we are and wish we could be.

Morgan Fairchild turns in a freakish cameo amid a supporting cast nicely filled out by Sebastian Spence as Strachey’s politico boyfriend, Nelson Wong as his eager new office manager, Michael Woods as the conversion therapy guru and a handful of naked football players.

“Shock to the System” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). Some hard-boiled language, some gay hanky panky and a steamy shower scene.


Opens today in New York, Los Angeles, Palm Springs and San Diego.

Directed by Ron Oliver; written by Ron McGee; director of photography, C. Kim Miles; edited by Steve Schmidt; music by Peter Allen; production designer, Rick Whitfield; produced by Kirk Shaw; released by Here! TV and Regent Releasing. In Manhattan at the Tribeca Cinemas, 54 Varick Street, at Laight Street, TriBeCa. Running time: 91 minutes.

WITH: Chad Allen (Donald Strachey), Sebastian Spence (Timmy Callahan), Michael Woods (Dr. Cornell), Daryl Shuttleworth (Detective Bailey), Morgan Fairchild (Mrs. Hale), Anne Marie Deluise (Lynn Cornell) and Nelson Wong (Kenny Kwan).