Brian De Palma, maestro or misogynist? Hot on the heels of reviewing MGM’s other controversial release of the week, Straw Dogs, I find myself revisiting De Palma’s equally controversial Dressed to Kill; a film that raised the ire of feminists (not to mention the transgender community) upon its release. This stylish and evocative thriller makes its Blu-ray debut in all of its uncut glory courtesy of MGM, and this delightfully sleazy film not only holds up, but has never looked or sounded better!
The film opens with the now-legendary shower sequence in which sexually dissatisfied housewife, Kate (Angie Dickinson), lathers herself up while watching her husband through the fogged glass of the shower door, her ecstasy accentuated by Pino Donnagio’s gorgeous score. It’s a long, exceptionally erotic scene, but the titillation gives way to terror when a man’s hand reaches around and covers Kate’s mouth. Soon, the man’s other hand ventures down to her nether regions (shown in much more explicit detail in this unrated cut), lifting Kate off of the ground as he grinds his body against hers. We then realize this was all the stuff of repressed fantasy as the scene gives way to Kate being dutifully mounted by her less-than-skilled husband. He finishes what Kate terms as his “wham-bam” morning servicing before leaving for work and Kate heads off for a day filled with meaningless appointments, including a trip to the museum with her boy-genius son, Peter (Keith Gordon), who backs out at the last minute so he can finish his science project.
Dejected, Kate pays a visit to her therapist, Dr. Elliot (Michael Caine), where she complains about her husband’s sexual prowess and questions whether or not she’s still a desirable woman. She goes so far as to ask Dr. Elliot if he’d like to sleep with her, which he assures her he’d be interested in were it not for the fact that we was a happily married man. He encourages Kate to save her marriage and confront her husband about their problems in bed. Kate reluctantly agrees, but, later, at the museum she has a chance encounter with a handsome stranger that leads her to disregard the good doctor’s advice. After a steamy session in the back of a cab, Kate goes to the man’s apartment and spends the entire afternoon with him. Satisfied, gathers her things and prepares to leave, but not before making a shocking discovery about the man that causes her to flee, narrowly avoiding a mysterious blonde woman outside the elevator. In her panic, Kate realizes she’s left behind her wedding ring, and decides to return to the apartment, but, when the elevator doors open, the blonde is waiting for her, straight razor in tow.
The dying Kate is found by high-priced escort, Liz Blake (Nancy Allen), who not only retrieves the murder weapon, but also catches a glimpse of Kate’s killer in the elevator. In the meantime, Dr. Elliot receives a disturbing phone call from a former patient named “Bobby”, who informs the doctor that he’s stolen his razor and killed a woman, and will kill again if Dr. Elliot doesn’t tell Bobby’s new shrink that he’s mentally fit for sexual reassignment surgery.
Later, at the police station, Liz is grilled by the sleazy Detective Marino (Dennis Franz), who, despite knowing better, says she’s his number one suspect unless she can produce the client she was visiting in the building in which Kate was killed as an alibi. Dr. Elliot is also brought in for questioning, devastated to hear that Bobby’s victim was one of his own patients. The doctor makes no mention of Bobby, but his behavior is odd enough to prompt young Peter (who’s attached a homemade listening device to the wall of Marino’s office) to further investigate the doctor and his patients.
Peter stakes out Doctor Elliot, Doctor Elliot tries to track down Bobby, and Bobby stalks Liz, culminating in a batshit insane climax that’s equal parts Hitchcock and Argento.
I’ve been a fan of Dressed to Kill since I first saw the film on cable back in the 1980’s, but I’ve grown to really love the movie, especially after my discovery of the Italian thrillers it’s obviously patterned after. It has all of the ingredients of a classic giallo, from the sexually motivated black-gloved killer and melodramatic style to the bountiful amounts of nudity, violence, and pure unadulterated sleaze, Dressed to Kill is a brassy, trashy treasure. Sure, the performances are almost universally terrible (Dickinson is especially bad), the dialogue’s wooden, and the “revelation” at the end is about as surprising as finding a crap on your shoe at a dog park, but that’s all part of the gialloesque charm, and, besides, everyone knows that the real star here is De Palma’s direction. The man is at the top of his game with Dressed to Kill, with nifty split dioptics, exquisite steadicam shots, and all manner of in-camera wizardry. Donnagio’s schizophrenic score serves as the perfect complement to the film, with a soothing melody that gives way to a dissonant cacophony of strings and horns as the killer strikes.
MGM slips Dressed to Kill onto Blu-ray quite comfortably, with a gorgeous 2:39.1 transfer that retains the film’s gauzy 80’s look, but manages to balance that aesthetic with a sharpness and clarity that’s jaw dropping when compared to previous incarnations. The level of fine detail is superb, color is well-balanced, and blacks are deep and true with just the right amount of fine cinematic grain. It’s a great looking transfer and it’s accompanied by an equally impressive 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack. This new mix does wonders with the original mono source, with nicely implemented directional effects, crystal clear and organic sounding dialogue, and a fantastic representation of Donnagio’s score.
MGM doesn’t skimp with the extras, this time delivering a host of goodies carried over from the DVD release (all in Standard Definition) including The Making of a Thriller, a lengthy making of documentary that’s as entertaining as it is comprehensive; Slashing Dressed to Kill, which focuses on the hoops De Palma had to jump through the MPAA to avoid the dreaded X-rating; Dressed to Kill – An Appreciation by Keith Gordon, in which the actor/director discusses his experiences on the project and the impact it had on him as a director, and A Film Comparison – The Three Versions of Dressed to Kill, which is exactly what it sounds like. Also included are an extensive stills gallery, and the film’s theatrical trailer (in HD).