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Reviewed January 3rd, 2002 by David Nusair


Brian DePalma has often been accused of ripping off Alfred Hitchcock. Dressed to Kill represents DePalma’s most obvious homage to Hitchcock – and one of his most successful movies.

To give away too much of the plot would be criminal, but here it is in a nutshell. Angie Dickinson stars as an unhappy woman stuck in a seemingly loveless marriage. Michael Caine stars as her therapist – whose straight razor was recently used in a brutal murder. Much like Psycho, nothing is what it seems and characters that appear to be permanent are not.

Filled to the brim with DePalma’s characteristic visual flair, Dressed to Kill is an amazing film just to look at. With his ethereal, soft-focus atmosphere and floating camerawork, the movie plays out like a dream turned into a nightmare. The film’s opening sequence prepares the viewer for its trance-like nature – with Dickinson rudely awakened by a horrifying dream in which she’s brutally murdered – and never lets up.

The first third or so of the movie may seem disorienting to someone who’s never seen either a Hitchcock or DePalma film before. It doesn’t appear to be going anywhere and often comes off as being downright pointless. DePalma devotes this entire first third of the film to Dickinson – we watch, voyeur-style, as she goes about her daily routine. It’s a flirtatious trip to a museum that kicks things off, though. There, she playfully engages in a game of cat and mouse with a mysterious man – culminating in an erotic cab ride home. Though it initially seems as though this tall, dark stranger might influence the plot in some way, the film veers a sharp left and throws in the first of many surprises.

The bulk of the movie concerns Michael Caine’s efforts to get to the bottom of the mystery surrounding Dickinson. He teams up with a prostitute that may or may not know what happened to her, and the two work to piece together the various clues that exist. Nancy Allen, DePalma’s then wife and a staple of his flicks up until their divorce in the mid-80s, plays the hooker as one of those heart-of-gold types. She’s good, as is the rest of the cast. And with a movie like this, where nothing is ever quite what it seems, that can’t be too easy. Talk about employing a poker face.

Dressed to Kill contains a great deal of impressive thrills and over-the-top slasher antics, but it’s DePalma’s inventive style and the quality of acting that makes the movie more than just a forgettable horror flick.

Audio: Dressed to Kill is presented with a remastered DD 5.1 soundtrack and sounds very good. This isn’t a movie that relies a lot on ambient sounds; rather, its focus is mostly on dialogue. It’ll give your front speakers a nice workout, but the rears won’t have much to do (there is one scene late in the movie set during a thunderstorm which sounds amazing, but that’s about it).

Video: This anamorphically enhanced 2.35:1 transfer initially seems as though it’s quite poor, but as it turns out, is an accurate reflection of how the movie was shot. DePalma has shot the movie through various filters, which gives the whole thing an incredibly soft look. This transfer reflects that. This is probably the best this movie has looked since its initial theatrical run.

Extras: The biggest extra is the fact that you can choose to watch either the R-rated or unrated version of the film. The primary difference seems to be the amount of nudity and gore, but you can see for yourself in a short featurette that’s included. In it, you get a comparison between both cuts, in addition to the TV edit (which is hilariously confusing). Along these lines is a short featurette called Slashing Dressed to Kill. This features some of the folks involved in the movie talking about the struggle they had to get the flick past the censors. Short and sweet. Next up is a lengthy documentary (around 50 minutes) on the making of the movie. This covers everything from the first few drafts of the script to the casting to the eventual uproar when the movie was released. This is an incredibly informative doc that doesn’t appear to leave anything out. Any lingering questions you may have had will no doubt be answered somewhere in this featurette. If we can’t have a commentary track from DePalma, this is probably the next best thing. One of the stars of the movie, Keith Gordon, went on to become a director himself and is the subject of yet another featurette entitled An Appreciation by Keith Gordon. He basically talks about how working with DePalma was a beneficial experience and about the various plot points in Dressed to Kill that he finds the most fascinating. Next is a slideshow (that you can’t control) featuring a lot of behind-the-scenes photos. Finally, you get some press photos and a trailer.

Conclusion: Dressed to Kill starts off a little slow, but once it gets going, it’s a thrilling ride. Check it out.


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