The titillating saga of unsatisfied housewife Kate Miller (Angie Dickinson) and her untimely death originally started out as an adaptation of Gerard Walker’s Cruising – which ended up in William Friedkin’s hands due to rights issues – and while the first act truncates the subject matter quite well, Dressed To Kill veers off in another direction soon after. More specifically, it becomes the most lurid and sleazy reimagining of Psycho to date, trumping the awkward masturbation scene in Gus Van Sant’s photocopy job. But with a few extra touches like a Nightmare On Elm Street main character switch (Kill predates it by four years) and Brian De Palma’s atmospheric direction, the film employs some welcome variations on the familiar tale.
De Palma, a director not exactly shy to show his penchant for Hitchcock, opens voyeuristically as the camera creeps around a corner to reveal the sexually frustrated wife pleasuring herself rather explicitly in the shower as she watches a man shave in the mirror. In giallo-esque fashion, an unknown assailant suddenly appears behind her and covers her mouth with one hand while he violently searches her body with the other. It’s all a daydream, an escape for the unfulfilling love making session she’s having with her husband but clearly,Dressed To Kill isn’t beating around the proverbial bush here; it’s overly erotic and damn proud of it.
Visiting Dr. Elliot (Michael Caine) as the sole member of a couples counseling session, she seeks advice at first but soon comes onto him. Unsuccessful and looking for an easy hook-up, the cougar sets her sights on the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Taking a cue from Vertigo, cinematographer Ralf Bode navigates the halls in an almost 10-minute dialogueless chase scene, showing both Kate’s hesitation to approach someone and her lustful surrender. Soon after, she’s murdered by a crazed woman with a razor, but not without high class call girl Liz Blake (Nancy Allen) glancing a peek at her killer’s reflection (an ingenious touch) and stealing the weapon off the floor. Anxious to clear her name and get a pre-NYPD Dennis Franz – also playing a cop here – off her back, she teams up with Kate’s distraught tech-geek son (Keith Gordon) and begins a game of cat and mouse with the assailant.
Dressed To Kill is, admittedly, not without its fair share of plot holes (how did the killer know Kate would go back to the apartment?), but De Palma’s stylistic approach and eye for casting is what makes the film so engrossing. Dickinson takes full advantage of the material, giving her character just enough sexual allure, frustration and vulnerability to break her away from the Police Woman stereotype she had at the time. Allen and Gordon ham it up in a good way and have a natural chemistry as the unlikely partners, and Caine – great as always – seems underused, even when considering his character is the most underdeveloped in the script.
De Palma is a master of his craft and Dressed To Kill is a minor masterpiece in his filmography. Though the entire film revolves around an event that doubles as a plot hole and the social implications behind its reveal are generalized a little too much, he delivers a provocative and engaging retread of an American classic made by his idol. If imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery, then Hitchcock will probably be waiting for De Palma in heaven to give him a pat on the back.
MGM’s 1080p presentation is impressive, even more so considering films from the same era that aren’t known as “A” titles have generally been given so-so HD transfers. Grain has been kept intact, having a heavy presence occasionally, and the picture quality is a revelation when compared to its SD counterpart. Colors is strong and vibrant, particularly reds and blacks, though shadowing effects are iffy with spotting issues popping up every now and again. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is immersive throughout, keeping a good balance between Pino Donaggio’s score, the dialogue and ambient noises. Immersion is incredible on the track, working extraordinarily well in the opening shower scene and subway sequences.
The Making Of A Thriller (43:51) – An extensive retrospective documentary about Dressed To Kill, with interviews from everyone except Michael Caine. It covers everything from Angie Dickinson’s hesitation to do something so psycho sexual right after Police Woman ended to Brian De Palma’s alternate sequences, including an opening where the killer castrates himself and the use of narration during the museum scene.
A Film Comparison: The 3 Versions Of Dressed To Kill (05:14) – A shot-by-shot comparison of a few scenes from the unrated (which is included on the disc), R-rated and network versions of the film, including the opening, Kate’s death, Liz stripping in Dr. Elliot’s office and the finale.
Slashing Dressed To Kill (09:50) – De Palma, Dickinson, Keith Gordon and Nancy Allen talk about the cuts that needed to be made – pretty much everything from the previous featurette – in order for the film to get an R rating.
Dressed To Kill: An Appreciation By Keith Gordon (06:06) – Gordon, who has worked with De Palma on multiple projects, goes on and on about how great the director is and what it’s like to work with him. He’s a good listen, but nothing revelatory.