Dressed to Kill
dressed to kill | brian de palma | michael caine | angie dickinson | nancy allen | crime | drama | mystery | thriller | united states | giallo | keith gordon | dennis franz | david margulies | ken baker | susanna clemm | brandon maggart | amalie collier | mary davenport | homage
Film: Dressed to Kill
Director: Brian De Palma
Writer: Brian De Palma
Starring: Michael Caine, Angie Dickinson and Nancy Allen
This is a movie that alluded me until after college. I first heard about it in the Fangoria Top 300 horror movies issue as well as the Horror Show Guide encyclopedia I’m working through. This is also one that pops up on podcasts regularly as well. I’m now watching this as it was selected for Movie Club Challenge for the Podcast Under the Stairs. It was one that knew things coming in, including who the killer was, but it didn’t bother me. I also knew that writer/director Brian De Palma borrowed things for this one as well. The synopsis is a mysterious blonde woman kills one of a psychiatrist’s patients and then goes after a high-class call girl who saw the murder.
To start this off, we get an interesting introduction. Kate Miller (Angie Dickinson) is in the shower, pleasuring herself while looking at her husband, Mike (Fred Weber), who is shaving. Then she is attacked by someone and it turns out to be a dream. We then see this married couple having sex, but she doesn’t seem to be into it as much as he is.
We then get to meet Kate’s son, Peter (Keith Gordon). He is working on a science project and he pulled an all-nighter. This upsets his mother. She is impressed with what he is working on though. She does allow him to not come to a dinner that is scheduled with Mike and his mother. We will learn a couple times; Mike isn’t his father. From here, Kate goes to see her shrink, Dr. Robert Elliott (Michael Caine). It is here that she comes on to him and he shuts it down. The takeaway is that she is unhappy in her marriage.
Kate then goes to a museum. She notices Warren Lockman (Ken Baker). There is some flirting back and forth that leads to her going home with him. She learns some information about the guy, not all good though. She tries to leave and she is attacked by a blonde woman. Liz Blake (Nancy Allen) is in the building and she is a witness. She even takes the razor the attacker was using. She becomes the prime suspect though when she cannot supply an alibi. Detective Marino (Dennis Franz) oversees the investigation and he’s quite hard on her.
Liz must find a way to prove her innocence. This will lead her to Peter as they try to discover who this blonde woman is. She goes back stalking Liz to cover up the crime. There is a sexual angle to the crime and some deep seeded issues with the truth of their identity.
That is where I’ll leave my recap and deeper introduction to our main characters. Where I should start is with the elephant in the room about De Palma borrowing from other filmmakers. The most glaring one that everyone points to is Psycho. We get that from the basic set up with the story in how we follow Kate to start before shifting us to Liz as our lead character. Going along with this idea, we also have a similar mirror to the story. Liz is dealing with the police and wanting them to do more, but they can’t. For this movie, they’re held up by the standards and the law where in the original one, they didn’t believe the characters. To avoid spoilers for those who haven’t seen this yet, there is another at the reveal of the movie. There is also an information dump at the end that we got in the classic.
Duncan from TPUTS had brought up that this also borrows from giallo films, more specifically from Dario Argento. It would make sense since he also borrowed from Hitchcock. Our killer here uses a straight razor which is the classic weapon from these Italian based thrillers. We are also getting sexual depravity and concepts that fall outside of the normal which also correlate back to gialli.
With that out of the way, I still think that De Palma does enough of his own thing with these concepts. I like the idea of sexuality in this movie. Kate isn’t getting her needs met from her husband. I don’t like that she cheats on him. Her comeuppance would be getting the venereal diseases that she gets from Warren. She doesn’t deserve to die, but it is what it is. We also follow Liz who is a high-end escort. She is using her sexuality to get what she wants, but she does have higher dreams as well. I like that they’re our main characters as strong women going after what they want. It is also fitting to have our killer being a ‘woman’ as well.
Then moving from the strong women, I want to go to the toxic masculinity. We don’t get a lot of that here, but it is mostly seen from Detective Marino. There is an interesting reveal with him at the end, so I will say that. He does treat Liz poorly though. I feel bad for her. He is pushing her to do some things outside of the letter of the law. There is a reveal at the end that feels a bit too convenient. I did want to say that.
The last thing I want to go into would be the idea of transsexuality. It makes a point to feature a Phil Donahue episode where he is talking with someone who was a man and decided to transition over to being a woman. During that episode, this person points out that there are people in macho jobs that have gone through the same thing. This factors back into the ending. There is also the character of Bobbi. I could tell who they were from the first time we see them. I did know the reveal as well. Dr. Elliott continues to reach out to her as the movie goes and we also meet a Dr. Levy (David Margulies) who is helping them. I did like the psychosis here and the explanation to why things happen in this movie.
That should be enough of the story and the deeper context of things that I saw. I’ll then go to the acting. I thought it was good across the board. Caine is solid as Dr. Elliott. Dickinson works as Kate. The best performance though for me was Allen. It is an interesting role for her to play for me. I grew up with her in Robocop and then in Carrie. She can carry this movie with her character. We get a great scene with her at the climax as well in lingerie. I liked Gordon, Margulies and the rest of the cast. Franz plays his role so well. I hate him, but I give credit to the performance.
Then my last things to go into would be the effects, cinematography and the soundtrack. For the former, I thought what we got were good. They don’t do a great job at hiding the identity of Bobbi, but that could also be watching in this HD. I do think the attack on Kate was great and the blood looked good. We get some great cinematography as well. There are shots that are reminiscent of Hitchcock and Argento, but I give credit there. We also get the patented De Palma split screen. I also enjoyed the Pino Donaggio soundtrack as well. It feels like a giallo from there and it fit building the tension and atmosphere.
In conclusion, I enjoyed finally seeing this movie. It was a blind spot movie for me. Despite it being spoiled, I don’t think that ruins the movie. I’d reason to bet as a seasoned cinephile, I’d guessed it without knowing. The story is borrowing from other elements while still doing its own thing. I like the acting, I thought that was good. The cinematography was on point and the soundtrack was as well. I even like the effects that we do get. I didn’t love the ending. That was something I had an issue with as I don’t know if we need everything we get there. Regardless, I found this to be a good movie and one that I’ll revisit for sure.
My Rating: 8 out of 10