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Brian De Palma
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While taking a shower, Kate Miller, a middle-aged, sexually frustrated New York housewife, has a rape fantasy while her husband stands at the sink shaving. Later that day, after complaining to her psychiatrist Dr. Robert Elliott about her husband's pathetic performance in bed, she meets a strange man at a museum and returns to his apartment where they continue an adulterous encounter that began in the taxicab. Before she leaves his apartment, she finds papers which certify that the man has a venereal disease. Panicked, Kate rushes into the elevator, but has to return to his apartment when she realizes she's forgotten her wedding ring. When the elevator doors open, she's brutally slashed to death by a tall blonde woman wearing dark glasses. Liz Blake, a high-priced call girl, is the only witness to the murder and she becomes the prime suspect and the murderess's next target. Liz is rescued from being killed by Kate's son Peter, who enlists the help of Liz to catch his mother's killer ... Written by
It's a rip-off, but a stylish and mostly enjoyable one.
** 1/2 out of ****
Director Brian De Palma has never helmed a truly original film his entire career, but let's face it, he's just as good as anybody else when it comes to crafting palpable suspense, and it's this talent of his that makes his more blatant rip-offs immensely watchable. Dressed to Kill is one such example. Taking a few cues from Alfred Hitchcock, it's an erotic thriller that (mostly) emphasizes character and suspense over sleaze.
Angie Dickinson stars as Kate Miller, a sexually dissatisfied wife (though quite loving mother) who needs some things to spice up her personal life. She relates her problems to her psychiatrist, Dr. Robert Elliot (Michael Caine), to the point of almost prodding him to sleep with her, but he refuses. On a random day in an art museum, she encounters a mysterious man with whom she plays a little game of cat-and-mouse. Following him to a cab, they enage in a tryst inside the taxi, all the way to his apartment, where they proceed to go at it for several more hours. Then as she awakens to leave, she finds out through a little note by the health department he's got STD's! In a panicked state, she runs to the elevator, but is brutally murdered by a tall, blonde woman brandishing a razor blade. The rest of the film focuses on Miller's son, Peter (Keith Gordon), who teams up with a gold-hearted prostitute (Nancy Allen) to find his mother's killer.
Dressed to Kill doesn't get off to the best start. For the first half-hour, the sexual frustrations of this middle-aged woman are less than captivating, and until the elevator scene, this is a snoozer. But the remaining 2/3's or so of the picture is often first-rate entertainment, delivering an abundance of suspenseful moments and shocking violence.
The film improves drastically when it focuses on the relationship between Gordon and Allen. Both deliver good performances, and there's a non-sexual chemistry between them that works superbly. Too bad De Palma doesn't really focus on this interesting couple until the last half-hour.
The last five minutes are among the film's most suspenseful (and you get to see Allen naked!), though I think we're all in a little agreement when we say that the final shock is a bit gratuitous. Also excessive is the film's resemblance to a certain Hitchcock film. Even without that resemblance, though, Dressed to Kill would still have been predictable. I mean, come on, I knew the identity of the killer in a heartbeart. You'll figure it out just as fast, too.
Pino Dinaggio's score is chilling and among his better works. De Palma graces the screen with his usual camera work, there are a lot of uninterrupted shots and split-screens. A lot of people see Dressed to Kill as a "have safe sex" message, which I could kind of agree with, even though Dickinson's character would still have been offed in a horrible manner even without that tryst.
The first of De Palma's two erotic thrillers, Dressed to Kill happens to be the weaker of the two. Yeah, it's often suspenseful and entertaining, but Body Double stands out more, with better pacing, suspense, and direction. My advice, take a look at both and decide for yourself.
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