Thursday, November 3, 2011


Brian De Palma, 1980
Starring: Michael Caine, Angie Dickinson, Nancy Allen, Keith Gordon

Though I'm somewhat reluctant to admit it, Dressed to Kill is my favorite De Palma film by far. Wait, I'm sorry. My favorite non-musical De Palma film.

Angie Dickinson plays Kate Miller, a repressed housewife who has a libido like a cat in heat. She goes to see a psychiatrist, Dr. Elliott (Caine) to deal with her desires. One afternoon, while visiting an art museum, she lets herself get involved in an affair, but when she tries to sneak back home to her husband and teenage son, she is brutally murdered by a mysterious blonde woman. This murder is witnessed by prostitute Liz Blake (Allen), who has to try to figure out the identity of the blonde assassin before her own life is forfeit. With the help of Dr. Elliott and Kate's tech-savvy teenage son, Liz tries to get to the bottom of the murderer's identity in time.

In many ways, Dressed to Kill is a blatant homage to Hitchcock, but there's really nothing wrong with that. I would rather see a thousand decent Hitchcock rip-offs that most of the garbage coming out of Hollywood lately. And this is delightfully sleazy. I mean, the film opens with a woman masturbating in the shower to a rape fantasy while her witless husband stands shaving at the sink.

There are great performances from Dickinson and Caine, who I would watch in anything. Dickinson in particular brings an almost disgusting level of sexuality to the screen that unfortunately fades when she is killed. Allen is annoying, but I'm not sure if that can be blamed on her performance or the script. Either way, she plays a convincing part as an amoral call girl more concerned with staying alive than playing by any conventional rules.

As long as you can get past some of the weird, slow-motion shots, this comes highly recommended. Not technically a horror film, it is more of a perverse murder mystery/thriller. I also recommend the creepy Pino Donaggio score. Though set and shot in New York, Philly locals will be interested to know that the interior art museums scenes were shot in the Philadelphia Art Museum. There's an MGM special edition DVD that might be a little annoying to track down, but that comes with a nice documentary and some interesting featurettes.

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