DRESSED TO KILL (1980)
Directed by Brian de Palma
I’m a huge fan of Brian de Palma and his direction of Dressed To Kill produces some of the most memorable scenes in cinemas. From the sensual, erotic opener of Kate’s dream sequence in the shower to her later liason in the taxicab, sexuality and emotion play a big part in this movie. What really stands out for me is the silent scenes in which a word is not uttered yet the actions onscreen say more than words ever could. My favourite of these is when Kate decides to pass the time at the New York art gallery. Sat there watching couples and families, whilst mulling over her Thanksgiving dinner list in her diary, she paints quite a lonely picture. That is until a handsome stranger sits down next to her, and here the cat and mouse flirtation game begins, as she looks to seek the interest of the man, and yet doesn’t want to get involved. The scene is intense and breathtaking, as the camera swoops around the gallery, as both we and Kate search for the stranger. De Palma also manages to craft the scene that it focuses upon a simple glove as the catalyst. How one glove can play such an important role in a film is beyond words, but De Palma knows just how to make it work and bring out a certain emotion from the viewer. The glove is not the only object in the movie that seems to be a character of its own, with every detail in the film perfected for the scene – nothing by chance, everything with purpose.
Of course, the film needs a stellar cast and I don’t think De Palma could have chosen better people for the roles. Angie Dickinson plays the sultry housewife Kate, who’s sexual despair leads her astray and unfortunately for her, a target for the killer. De Palma’s then-wife, Nancy Allen, charms as the street-wise, good-natured call girl Liz who’s in fear of her life, both of being locked up and killed. Michael Caine maintains a professionalism that’s difficult to sway as the concerned psychiatrist, Dr Elliott. Scientific genius teenage son of Kate, Peter Miller is played by Keith Gordon and he decides to investigate Dr Elliott after the death of his mother, convinced that one of his patients is the killer. These impressive cast members really make the film inclusive to the audience, especially Angie as Kate, who really has to convince people to invest in her character with very little backstory, and she easily achieves this in the first five minutes.
Dressed To Kill has many strings to its bow, with it being such a memorable film for a variety of reasons, including those I already mentioned. Being a slasher flick, you may wish to know how violent and bloody this film is. If you’ve been reading our site recently, you’ll have seen that the elevator stabbing scene was chosen by Dr Lenera for Death of the Week. Despite actually showing around 20 seconds of violence, the way the film is shot makes it feel a prolonged onslaught, and that’s down to the excellent cinematography from Ralf Bode and direction from de Palma. Using clever angles such as the reflection in the elevator’s corner mirror, different viewpoints and the intense pace makes for such a hard-hitting murder scene, one that disturbs and sticks in the mind long after the film is over with. Though we see the slashing of the hand and throat, not much blood is spilt, yet the sight of the knife slashing and Kate’s face and white coat dress covered in blood is quite a shock to the system. THis is filmmaking at its best, to achieve so much by doing little. If you can trick the viewer into seeing more than they did, with the power of imagination, then that is job accomplished, 110%.
Though the focus is hunting down a deranged killer, Dressed To Kill isn’t without its comedy moments. Some dialogue contains subtle wit, whilst others are just plain hilarious. My favourite scene is near the end as Liz discusses transexual operations with Kate’s son, Peter, in a restaurant. Sat behind Peter are three pensioners, one of whom is obviously eavesdropping. Her face is a picture as Liz graphically describes the operation of converting male genetalia to female. Moments like this lighten the mood, though they don’t take away the harshness or brutal horrors of the movie.
Arrow Video have brought the uncut version to Blu-Ray for the very first time in the UK and the transfer is remarkable. Crisp and clear, yet keeping its distinct 80s film charm, the film pleases in its high definition format. The disc is loaded with extras, including insightful interviews with Angie Dickinson, Keith Gordon and Nancy Allen, a making-of featurette and featurettes discussing the film and its varying classification ratings. The release also comes with a reversible sleeve featuring the original cover as well as the new artowork by Nathanael Marsh, and a collector’s booklet with new writings about the film.
An absolutely gem of a film, and a masterclass in filmmaking, DRESSED TO KILL is thrilling from start to finish. A definite must-see!