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Horror Reviews - Dressed to Kill (1980)

Dressed to Kill (1980)

Author: Josh G.
Submitted by: Josh G.   Date : 2008-07-23 05:43
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Written and Directed by: Brian De Palma
Starring: Angie Dickinson, Michael Caine, Nancy Allen and Keith Gordon


Reviewed by: Josh G.





ďDonít make me be a bad girl again.Ē


Black gloves, a razor, and a mystery to be solved. You know what it is. Itís a giallo! Hooray! But this time, somebody else is taking a step up to the plate, using Hitchcockís style and a set of big actors. There is also another difference to the regular routine of the sub-genre, and it involves Dressed to Killís origin. Much like Alice, Sweet Alice of four years before, this is an American version of what the Italians had already perfected. A new home is hard to get used to, so is Dressed to Kill able to pull itself off? With Brian De Palma, director of Sisters, Obsession, the original Carrie and The Fury, there doesnít seem like anything can go wrong. Are you ready for the sexual world of Dressed to Kill? You better be, because the elevator is going up!

Middle-aged Kate Miller (Golden Globe winner Angie Dickinson) fantasizes about being penetrated by an unknown man in her shower, being groped lustfully. She wakes up next to her husband, and the two make love. But Kate is unsatisfied, faking an orgasm just to please husband Mike (Fred Weber). She leaves and goes to see her psychiatrist Doctor Robert Elliot (Michael Caine), whom she tells about her weak sex life, and the dreams she has of having erotic one night flings. She flirts with the doctor, but Robert tells her that he loves his wife and cannot jeopardize his marriage. Kate then heads over to the art museum, where a mysterious man lurks about. After a chase through the museum, the two meet up at a taxi, where they pursue intercourse in a cab. Itís Kateís dream come true! The couple return to the manís apartment and engage in more sex until Kate leaves, taking the apartment elevator. Waiting for her on the other side of the electronic doors is a blonde woman with big black sunglasses and a straight razor. The woman brutally murders Kate, but the plan doesnít go as easy as intended. A prostitute, Liz Blake (Forced Entry and Carrieís Nancy Allen) witnesses the attack, and now, her life is on the line as the blonde lady tracks her pretty self down at every corner of the city.

A thriller and a mystery. But a horror or a slasher? The murder sequences in De Palmaís Dressed to Kill are extremely graphic, violent, and bloody. Although many people have a certain body count number a film must reach before it can officially be called a slasher (this has a very low kill count) itís Dressedís chases, close calls, and constant waving of the razor blade that gives it a stalk and slash feel. The killer, who sports a long dark coat, black gloves, and a blonde wig, is a transsexual, but from so far away, Liz cannot tell this. She spots the killer in the elevator mirror, and all she notices is that thereís a long-haired figure in the chamber with her. The first assumption is obviously that itís a girl. Blake made two big mistakes though. One, she got caught staring, and two, she picked up the bloody razor which fell to the elevator floor. She has now become the main suspect in the case. With this knowledge, Liz must figure out the story, along with the curious victimís son, Peter Miller (Keith Gordon), a boy of high intelligence with a knack for inventing things.

We do not hear much about Mike Miller. Heís usually never on screen. Instead, itís the psychiatrist, Doctor Robert Elliot of whom we hear so much about. The killer, who goes by the name of Bobby, leaves a message on Elliotís answering machine, informing the doctor that he stole his razor as well as had something to do with a client of Elliotís: Kate Miller. He also speaks of a ďblonde bitchĒ that saw him, referring to Liz, and more importantly, that heís ďa woman trapped inside a manís body.Ē First we started off with a dream of Kate being raped in the shower, then she comes onto a doctor, followed by a day of fucking in a taxi and mystery manís home, and finally...an angry transsexual is cutting up women because of some unknown cause. Even still, Dressed to Kill doesnít feel very sleazy. It almost has a classy ambiance to it that no doubt has to do with an interesting story, cast of fun characters, and the excellent writing.

Peter is a teenager intent on winning the science fair. He created a device to listen through walls (which is how he finds out about his mother) and a camera that takes a picture every eight seconds or so (which is how he tries to find the killer blonde lady in the city). Although he doesnít smile much, heís just as likable as our heroine Liz. Liz, the prostitute, likes to make jokes, knows her way around a difficult situation, and knows just when to use her body in a matter of sticky proportions. Sheís quick to realize her surroundings. Liz immediately notices blondie in the streets and takes a cab to ride away, where a taxi chase starts off. And donít forget to look closely at her cab driver. Itís none other than Bill Randolph, also known as Jeff from Friday the 13th Part 2. One of the best parts of the feature is when Liz runs onto a subway, escaping multiple dangerous men of the station, only to be attacked by the razor-carrying psycho. What bad luck! The acting is believable by everybody. Angie Dickinson even won a Saturn Award for her performance.

The music is terrific. Itís classical, elegant, and to be honest, it reminded me of Disney films. It had an innocence that when the scoring changed, and tensity flared up, you truly felt it. Brian De Palma is a genius. At the time, Dressed to Kill was cut to obtain an R-rating, in both nudity and gore departments. Neither are frequent, but when they do appear, itís major. This really isnít a story about revenge, although it is implied. Kate Miller makes a mistake. Sheís a victim of sending a mixed message to a dysfunctional identity. For years, people have plagued Brian De Palma with the title of an Alfred Hitchcock copycat, and the similarities are pretty easy to see. They both make great suspense movies. As in Psycho, the main character is also killed off strangely soon in Dressed to Kill. They both have sexual identity crisisí, and a shower scene is present too.

This gialloís killer is not a tough one to guess. Itís not spelled out for you, but if you think carefully about how each of the events have happened, youíll find an answer. On any account, the explanation to the murder is still good, and best of all, it makes perfect sense. There are little scenes of hilarity that De Palma throws in for the viewer. My favorite one is where Nancy Allen and Keith Gordonís characters are eating at a restaurant, discussing the process of changing sexes; going all the way in the transsexual transformation. In the background of Gordonís character, you can see a woman listening in on the conversation Ė a look of shock and illness spreads across her face; her friends notice that sheís feeling a little under the weather. Her expressions are absolutely priceless! The final confrontation at the end is, sadly, not all that it could have been. Still, itís worth it. Especially the ending, in which Brian De Palma manages to rip himself off from the ending of Carrie. Funky. Find it on an MGM DVD today in its fully unrated and theatrical version. The beautiful picture and sweet audio are things to be proud of, with documentaries, comparison featurettes, informative featurettes, a photo gallery and even an advertising gallery. Get aroused, because this is more than just a one-night sex romp. Itís Essential!




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