DRESSED TO KILL (1980)
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1980 thriller opens with bored and sexually unsatisfied high society housewife Kate Miller (Angie Dickinson) having a rather rough sexual fantasy while her husband is pounding away at her. She relays this frustration to her therapist, Dr. Robert Elliott (Michael Caine) and even hits on him to no avail. Kate finally has an affair with a stranger she meets at an art gallery, but is savagely murdered by a mysterious blonde in the elevator on her way out. The murder is witnessed by high priced hooker Liz Blake (Nancy Allen) who now is caught between the killer who saw her as well and a cop (Dennis Franz) who uses her to help him investigate Elliot, whom he thinks knows more about the killer than he is saying. Will Liz get out of this mess alive?
As written and directed by Brian De Palma this is a bombastic and overindulgent thriller with a slight case of Psycho envy and every bit of it is intentional. Subtlety is not De Palma’s style and he directs the film with a hand that evokes both Alfred Hitchcock and Dario Argento, especially when bathed in Pino Donaggio’s operatic score. The cinematography is lush, the violence is intense and bloody and despite some very raunchy dialog and some intense sexual overtones, the film does retain some class, even when it’s not trying to be classy. There is some nice suspense, a couple of intense chases and upon first viewing, it is a provocative mystery as to who our homicidal femme fatale “Bobbi” really is. The fun of repeat viewings, is seeing how obvious the killer’s identity is in hindsight, as the clues where there all the time. There is some nice interaction between Allen’s sassy hooker and Kate’s inventor son Peter (Keith Gordon) as the two team to hunt down the killer, Liz to save her own skin and Peter to avenge his mother’s death. Complimenting this sexually charged thriller is the before mentioned cinematography by Ralf D. Bode and that melodramatic score by Donaggio who also scored Joe Dante’s horror classics Piranha and The Howling. If the film has any failings, it can be a little too melodramatic for it’s own good and approaches borderline silly in a few spots. Most of this comes in the first act with Kate’s game of sexual cat and mouse with the stranger at the art gallery being a prime example. It’s a bit much to the point of camp, but otherwise this is an entertaining erotic thriller.
The cast is top notch. Caine is mysterious and aloof as Dr. Elliott. He knows far more than he is telling about his patient “Bobbi” and keeps us in the dark as to just how involved he is, aside from knowing victim and killer. Nancy Allen is sexy and sassy as Liz. She’s hunted by a killer and being manipulated by police and Allen portrays a women trapped in the middle with few friends, but a lot of spunk, very well…and she’s quite hot in the role, Speaking of hot, Angie Dickinson was almost 50 when she portrayed the fiery and sexually frustrated Kate and she exudes sexual desire and a touching sadness in a very solid performance. She was also still stunningly gorgeous (even with the knowledge that she had a body double for the infamous shower scene) and her character evoked sympathy from the audience long before her harrowing and gruesome death by straight razor. Gordon is also good as Kate’s genius nerd of a son and we can see why Carpenter chose him three years later to play equally nerdy Arnie Cunningham in Christine. Rounding out is Dennis Franz as the sleazy, yet still somewhat charming and likable Det. Marino. A really good cast.
Brian De Palma’s most infamous flick is part Hitchcockian mystery/thriller and part Italian giallo. It’s got violence, loads of sexual tinged scenes and dialog and a mysterious figure in black stalking her prey. It can be delightfully bombastic and operatic at times, although sometimes too much for it’s own good. It’s got a solid cast and at this point, loads of 80s nostalgia. Not perfect, but a fun and entertaining mystery thriller with an elevator murder that sticks with you long the flick is over.
3 straight razors.