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USA 1980
Directed by
Brian De Palma
105 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

Dressed To Kill

Brian De Palma’s Hitchcockian slasher thriller about a trans-sexual killer opens with an extended  sequence of Angie Dickinson touching herself (it was actually a body double as Dickinson was 48 at the time) in the shower then fantasizing about being murdered by an unknown assailant while her indifferent husband shaves himself.  Unsurprisingly, it is a scene which characterizes the entire film which is rather like a series of sex-and-death fantasies strung together in an obliging narrative..

Dickinson plays sexually-frustrated wife and mother Kate Miller who picks up a guy at an art museum one afternoon, goes back to his place for a bonk and ends up being slashed to death by a blond woman in an elevator.  A friendly hooker (Nancy Allen) who has witnessed the crime becomes the murderer’s next target and joins forces with the murdered woman's son (Keith Gordon) to work out who the murderer is, a fellow patient of Kate's psychiatrist, Dr. Elliott (Michael Caine) being the most likely suspect.

Dressed To Kill has a perfunctory plot that doesn’t try hard to be deceptive and loses traction altogether about mid-way when the science whizz-kid becomes the main agent in solving the none-too-difficult-to-solve murder of his mother.  But that is hardly De Palma’s point which is to play around with the genre. Thus, the opening Psycho-quoting sequence aside, we get a 9 minute dialogueless sequence in the museum in which Kate and her afternoon beau indulge in a kind of non-contact foreplay as various configurations of couples are seen in the background; split screens and overhead POVs, the latter technique most notable in the film’s false ending which is set in a loony bin. And so on.

Some people find this kind of thing frightfully entertaining as if putting quotations mark around something suddenly makes it wonderfully ironic. From this perspective Michael Caine’s stairwell exchange with David Margulies’ Dr. Levy is an uproariously funny parody of B-grade dialogue. To be fair there is a good deal of cleverness about Dressed To Kill but watching women being carved up with a cut-throat razor simply isn't my idea of something to do, quote marks or otherwise.




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