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43 out of 52 people found the following review useful:

Surreal, bloody, erotically charged odyssey

8/10
Author: fertilecelluloid from Mountains of Madness
17 February 2006

When you compare what Brian De Palma was doing in the 80's to what passes for entertainment today, his films keep looking better and better. "Dressed To Kill, "Blow Out", "Body Double", "Scarface" and "Carlito's Way" are all superb works of a cinematic craftsman at the peak of his powers. The guy had a long run of better than average films. This is pure Hitchcock with an 80's dash of lurid perversion, an affectionately told tale of lust and murder with plenty of twists, huge helpings of style, a stunning Pino Donaggio score, and a trashy, giallo-inspired plot. De Palma's love of complex camera-work and luscious, blood-smudged visuals helps overcome the logical holes while the terrific performances of Dennis Franz, Keith Gordon (a good director in his own right), Nancy Allen (De Palma's wife at the time) and Michael Caine make every scene special. Let the virtuoso take you on a surreal, scary, erotically charged odyssey and you'll enjoy every frame of "Dressed To Kill".

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49 out of 70 people found the following review useful:

Stunning exercise in audience manipulation,possibly even MORE effective than it's model,Psycho

Author: DrLenera
30 March 2005

Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho may be one of the most influential movies ever-for a start it was at least partially responsible for the whole subgenre of 'slasher' movies and the shower scene has inspired more homages than you can count. Brian De Palma's thriller Dressed To Kill is basically a semi remake of Psycho,right from the structure of it's story to it's villain right down to certain specific scenes. It's also an absolutely stunning piece of audience manipulation and perhaps more importantly a cracking thriller. Watch this film knowing about the Psycho element and as long as you don't mind some graphic sex and violence you should have a whale of a time. In fact,to a modern audience it may very well be more effective than Psycho {and this is coming from a big Hitckcock fan}.

De Palma's intentions are apparent right from the beginning,which shows a naked woman, played by Angie Dickinson 'enjoying herself' in a shower,with huge close ups of her breasts {not Angie Dickinson's though}. A man suddenly surprises and assaults her. Than we cut to Angie and her husband having loveless sex on a bed. This whole opening sequence has it all-the Psycho reference,the slight twisting of that reference,the dreamy eroticism,the sudden shock,the surprise. It shows De Palma,more than anything else,playing with his audience,manipulating them like puppets on strings. Yes,like Hitckcock,but sometimes going further. Basically,if you like this opening sequence,you will enjoy the rest of the film.

While there definitely IS a plot {quite a familiar one,but you should know this by now},it is Dressed To Kill's set pieces that stand out,that show De Palma's brilliance. There's a dreamlike and subtly erotic sequence in an art gallery where Dickinson is picked up by a stranger,an incredible murder in a lift which is shocking without showing THAT much blood,a thrilling chase in an underground train station where the heroine is pursued not just by the killer but for a while by a gang of youths,a very scary ending about which I won't go into {except that it features another shower scene!}but where the tension is ramped up to an incredible degree. Here,De Palma is BETTER than Hitchcock.

Although the best scenes are those without dialogue,where De Palma just lets Pino Donnaggio's lush,darkly beautiful score take over the sound,there is quite a bit of fun to be had in the often deliberately humorous dialogue,and the really rather cute relationship between nerdy Keith Gordon and tough as nails Nancy Allen,who make a great team. The identity of the killer is not exactly hard to spot,perhaps more work could have been done here,but going by the cheeky attitude of the film in general this may have been intentional.

When Dressed To Kill originally came out it was heavily criticised for being misogynist,especially with the first third of the film {just in case you HAVEN'T seen Psycho,I won't go into detail}. I've always believed that this part of the film is about the possible dangers of indulging one's fantasies. De Palma is NOT a misogynist anyway really,think of the many memorable heroines of his films. Even if you disagree, see Dressed to Kill to see an oft criticised but occasionally brilliant director at the height of his powers.

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63 out of 100 people found the following review useful:

Worth viewing, but it hasn't aged well

7/10
Author: Brandt Sponseller from New York City
21 February 2005

Kate Miller (Angie Dickinson) is having problems in her marriage and otherwise--enough to see a psychologist. When her promiscuity gets her into trouble, it also involves a bystander, Liz Blake (Nancy Allen), who becomes wrapped up in an investigation to discover the identity of a psycho killer.

Dressed to Kill is somewhat important historically. It is one of the earlier examples of a contemporary style of thriller that as of this writing has extensions all the way through Hide and Seek (2005). It's odd then that director Brian De Palma was basically trying to crib Hitchcock. For example, De Palma literally lifts parts of Vertigo (1958) for Dressed to Kill's infamous museum scene. Dressed to Kill's shower scenes, as well as its villain and method of death have similarities to Psycho (1960). De Palma also employs a prominent score with recurrent motifs in the style of Hitchcock's favorite composer Bernard Herrmann. The similarities do not end there.

But De Palma, whether by accident or skill, manages to make an oblique turn from, or perhaps transcend, his influence, with Dressed to Kill having an attitude, structure and flow that has been influential. Maybe partially because of this influence, Dressed to Kill is also deeply flawed when viewed at this point in time. Countless subsequent directors have taken their Hitchcock-like De Palma and honed it, improving nearly every element, so that watched now, after 25 years' worth of influenced thrillers, much of Dressed to Kill seems agonizingly paced, structurally clunky and plot-wise inept.

One aspect of the film that unfortunately hasn't been improved is Dressed to Kill's sex and nudity scenes. Both Dickinson and Allen treat us to full frontal nudity (Allen's being from a very skewed angle), and De Palma has lingering shots of Dickinson's breasts, strongly implicit masturbation, and more visceral sex scenes than are usually found in contemporary films. Quite a few scenes approach soft-core porn. I'm no fan of prudishness--quite the opposite. Our culture's puritanical, monogamistic, sheltered attitude towards sex and nudity is disturbing to me. So from my perspective, it's lamentable that Dressed to Kill's emphasis on flesh and its pleasures is one of the few aspects in which others have not strongly followed suit or trumped the film. Perhaps it has been desired, but they have not been allowed to follow suit because of cultural controls from conservative stuffed shirts.

De Palma's direction of cinematography and the staging of some scenes are also good enough that it is difficult to do something in the same style better than De Palma does it. He has an odd, characteristic approach to close-ups, and he's fond of shots from interesting angles, such as overhead views and James Whale-like tracking across distant cutaways in the sets. Of course later directors have been flashier, but it's difficult to say that they've been better. Viewed for film-making prowess, at least, the museum scene is remarkable in its ability to build very subtle tension over a dropped glove and a glance or two while following Kate through the intricately nested cubes of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

On the other hand, from a point of view caring about the story, and especially if one is expecting to watch a thriller, everything through the museum scene and slightly beyond might seem too slow and silly. Because of its removal from the main genre of the film and its primary concern with directorial panache (as well as cultural facts external to the film), the opening seems like a not very well integrated attempt to titillate and be risqué. Once the first murder occurs, things improve, but because of the film's eventual influence, much of the improvement now seems a bit clichéd and occasionally hokey.

The performances are mostly good, although Michael Caine is underused, and Dickinson has to exit sooner than we'd like (but the exit is necessary and very effective). Dressed to Kill is at least likely to hold your interest until the end, but because of facts not contained in the picture itself, hasn't exactly aged well. At this point it is perhaps best to watch the film primarily as a historical relic and as an example--but not the best, even for that era--of some of De Palma's directorial flair.

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47 out of 74 people found the following review useful:

Sleazy, Predictable But Very Entertaining

7/10
Author: ccthemovieman-1 from United States
31 October 2005

A great suspense movie with terrific slow camera-work adding to the dramatics makes this a treat to watch and enjoy. Director-writer Brian de Palma does a super Hitchcock-imitation (many called it a "ripoff") with this film and the 2.35:1 widescreen DVD is a must to fully appreciate the camera-work (and several scenes with people hiding on each side which are lost on formatted-for-TV tapes).

The downside of the movie, at least to anyone that has some kind of moral standard, is the general sleaziness of all the characters, including the policeman played by a pre-NYPD Dennis Franz (who has hair here!).

The opening scene is still shocking with a fairly long shower scene of Angie Dickinson that is quite explicit, even 25 years after its release. The film has several erotic scenes in it as Dickinson (if that is really her on the closeups) and Nancy Allen are not shy about showing their bodies.

There is not much dialog in the first 20 minutes and no bad language until Franz enters the picture after the murder. The first 36 minutes are riveting and even though it's apparent who the killer is, it's still very good suspense and fun to watch all the way through, particularly for males ogling the naked women.

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31 out of 52 people found the following review useful:

One of the Best

10/10
Author: johnm_001 from USA
13 October 2000

"Dressed To Kill", is one of the best thrillers ever made. Its dealings with sex and violence make this a film for adults. Brian De Palma, once again, proves why no other director can match his use of the camera to tell a story. He directs many scenes without dialog, and he tells much of his story, strictly through the use of his visuals, and Pino Donnagio's brilliant score. Filmed in Panavision, the film MUST be seen in widescreen, as De Palma uses the entire width of the film to tell his story. Cropped, on video, "Dressed To Kill", is barely the same movie. Solid performances from its cast, superb direction, and, perhaps, the finest film score ever written, make "Dressed To Kill" a must see.

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12 out of 15 people found the following review useful:

De Palma's best known, but not best Hitchcock homage. Style triumphs over substance but it's still good fun.

Author: Infofreak from Perth, Australia
20 January 2003

'Dressed To Kill' was Brian De Palma's third Hitchcockian thriller, and his most successful. I don't necessarily mean artistically successful, but it still remains one of his best known movies, and is the one on which his reputation as "that Hitchcock" guy mainly rests on. De Palma has made all kinds of movies in his long career but it says a lot for the impact 'Dressed To Kill' had on audiences for him to be stereotyped like that by many movie lovers. In 'Sisters' De Palma paid tribute to 'Rear Window', in his underrated 'Obsession' it was 'Vertigo', and this time around 'Psycho' is the major inspiration. Some critics of De Palma complain he is more interested in style over substance, and in 'Dressed To Kill' there is some truth in that. You will probably guess the murderer after the first 20-25 minutes, then think to yourself "no, that's just a red herring and there will be an unexpected twist later on". You might then be a bit let down when the your initial guess turns out to be correct after all, but there are enough thrills and dazzling sequences throughout to keep most thriller fans happy. Michael Caine and Angie Dickinson are both pretty good in their respective roles, but Nancy Allen ('RoboCop') gives the real outstanding performance in the picture. De Palma would subsequently give her another good role in 'Blow Out' opposite John Travolta. Also strong are Keith Gordon (who went on to star in John Carpenter's 'Christine') and Dennis Franz ('NYPD Blue') in supporting roles. Personally I don't think 'Dressed To Kill' is as good as 'Sisters', but I still think it's first rate exploitation thriller and definitely worth watching. Not De Palma's most interesting movie by a long shot, but still one of his most watchable.

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6 out of 7 people found the following review useful:

De Palma is in his element here.

8/10
Author: Scott LeBrun (Hey_Sweden) from Canada
5 January 2013

"Dressed to Kill" is an intense, dreamy, erotically charged thriller, and clearly another of filmmaker Brian De Palma's homages to the works of Alfred Hitchcock. It manages the neat trick of being fairly classy and rather trashy at the same time, as De Palma brings all of his directing skill to bear. This may not be his best but it's certainly one of his most well known, thanks in no small part to the excellent star trio of Michael Caine, Angie Dickinson, and Nancy Allen; Allen, of course, was married to De Palma at the time.

Caine plays an eminent psychiatrist, Dr. Robert Elliott, and Dickinson portrays Kate Miller, one of his patients who's not getting any sexual fulfillment in her life. Unfortunately, once she is able to experience an afternoon of passion the satisfaction is short lived, as a tall, cold looking blonde woman in sunglasses and trenchcoat slashes her to death with a straight razor. (This has to rank as one of the scariest ever elevator rides captured on film.) A witness on the scene is high priced call girl Liz Blake (Allen), who's accused of the crime after stupidly picking up the murder weapon. So she ends up working with Kate's son Peter (Keith Gordon) to try to identify the woman, who Liz and Peter guess to be another of Elliott's patients.

In the opening minutes of his film De Palma shows you what you're going to be in for, showing Dickinson pleasuring herself in the shower (intercutting shots of Dickinson with those of a body double) until a male stranger materializes behinds her and starts forcing himself on her. The combination of sex and danger is always stressed in this movie; as we will learn our killer has some severe psycho sexual problems. There are some highly memorable sequences, such as an extended seduction taking place inside an art museum, that being followed by a steamy coupling in the back of a cab. Other aspects that make it effective are Jerry Greenberg's editing (this was the man that cut "The French Connection", after all), Ralf Bode's widescreen cinematography, and Pino Donaggio's haunting music.

The actors each get an impressive showcase; both Dickinson and Allen look amazing to boot. Included in the cast are Dennis Franz as the investigating detective, David Margulies as the psychiatrist who explains everything for us in the end in case we didn't already get it, William Finley who does some uncredited voice work, and Brandon Maggart in a brief bit as a john.

Overall, the film has a definite ability to get under one's skin. It's often genuinely spooky and could easily shock more sensitive viewers due to the level of sexual frankness on display. While subtlety may be in short supply, it's hard to deny the ability of "Dressed to Kill" to manipulate us into a state of excitement and expectation.

Eight out of 10.

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8 out of 11 people found the following review useful:

A Brian de Palma Tour de Force

9/10
Author: seymourblack-1 from United Kingdom
20 August 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"Dressed To Kill" is a visually impressive psychological thriller which contains moments of suspense, humour and violence and also numerous twists and bizarre developments. Its story is delivered in a way which is extremely elegant, fluid and well paced and also features enough unexpected elements to keep even the most demanding viewer fully engaged throughout.

Director Brian de Palma is generally recognised as a disciple of Alfred Hitchcock and this movie is clearly influenced by "Psycho". There are numerous direct similarities including the style of the murder, the type of weapon used and Angie Dickinson's role fulfilling the same function as Janet Leigh's. It's also interesting, however, that the Hitchcock influences don't stop there. The choice of the back of a taxi as the location for a steamy encounter involving Angie Dickinson's character and a stranger is undoubtedly inspired by one of Hitchcock's widely quoted anecdotes which related to his preference for leading ladies who might initially appear to be cool or remote. The amount of audience manipulation used is also a characteristic of Hitchcock's work.

Brian de Palma is so technically adept that his work on this movie ensures that it never becomes mere pastiche. An extended segment of the story which is told without dialogue is immensely impressive and the split screen sequences are also very effective.

Kate Miller (Angie Dickinson) is a frustrated middle aged housewife who discusses her problems with her psychiatrist, Dr Robert Elliott (Michael Caine) and in the course of their conversation comes on to him. He resists and later she goes on to have a fling with a complete stranger before being brutally murdered. The only witness to the crime is a high class call girl called Liz Blake (Nancy Allen) whose story isn't believed by the police and she becomes their main suspect and also the killer's next target. She then sets off to find the real murderer and joins forces with Kate's teenage son Peter (Keith Gordon) who is an inventor with a precocious talent which he puts to good use in trying to ascertain the identity of the killer.

The quality of the acting is consistently high with Angie Dickinson being particularly good at conveying her feelings during the sequence which had no dialogue and Nancy Allen being equally successful at portraying her character's streetwise attitude and vulnerability. Dennis Franz is also amusing in his support role as the crude and insensitive Detective Marino.

The exceptionally beautiful score by Pino Donaggio is haunting and absolutely perfect for this particular movie.

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22 out of 39 people found the following review useful:

prime form, trite contents

7/10
Author: dbdumonteil
31 October 2006

In France, it's considered polite from French critics to genuflect to the apparently cohesive chain of films Brian De Palma left behind him. However, a good proportion of his films are marred by bombastic effects "Carrie" (1976), "the Fury" (1978) "Scarface" (1983) without mentioning his borrowings from Hitchcock. Here, in "Dressed to Kill", it's impossible not to think of "Vertigo" (1958) for the long sequence in the museum while the key moment in the lift makes inevitably think of the shower anthology sequence in "Psycho" (1960). About our involved film, I don't want to revive the old debate: does De Palma rip off Hitchcock? Instead, i would tend to be generous and to classify "Dressed to Kill" in the category of De Palma's winners alongside "Sisters" (1973) and "Obssession" (1976). With however some reservations and they're the ones I previously enumerated which fuel the bickering between De Palma's rabid fans and his detractors.

If there's one sure thing in "Dressed to Kill" which can generate general agreement among film-lovers, it's De Palma's virtuosity in directing. He wields his camera just like a filmmaker expert is supposed to do. His sophisticated camera work brilliantly fuels the suspense which entails a rise of the tension and a discomforting aura. The audience is easily glued in front of the screen. This is helped by the use of several long silent sequences during which everything depends on looks and gestures. By the way, in "Psycho", there were also long silent, suspenseful parts...

But the main drawback in De Palma's 1980 vintage is that the quality of the plot can't be found wanting and appears to be a rehash of many formulaic, corny ingredients pertaining to an incalculable number of murder stories. The prostitute is the sole witness of the crime. Then, she's suspected by the police and has to act on her own (with a little help from the victim's son from the scene in the subway onwards)) to track down the murderer and to prove her innocence. Apart from the fact that De Palma uses a type of character who for once isn't demeaned at all, it's a menu which smells the reheated. And the filmmaker ends his film on a sequence that echoes to the opening one. Yes, it's superbly filmed but when one discovers its real function, one figures: "it's almost gratuitous filler". Perhaps De Palma wanted to stretch his film beyond one hour and a half when at this time the viewer knows (and even before) who the killer is.

The two central mainsprings in De Palma's set of themes articulate hinges on manipulation and voyeurism. The latter theme is well present in "Dressed to Kill" from the first scene onwards which makes the film almost look like a soft porn movie. And the filmmaker isn't afraid to film his main actress and wife Nancy Allen in her underwear. I find his approach about this theme rather doubtful. But maybe the first sequence was conceived to be a mirror of the viewer and De Palma wanted to stir his peeping tom side.

I don't want to demean at all De Palma's work. His prestigious work in directing which entails a communicative treat to film redeems the global weakness of the story and its doubtful aspects. Twenty six years after, the controversy he aroused amid movie-goers isn't ready to subside.

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5 out of 7 people found the following review useful:

Life's a drag

8/10
Author: tieman64 from United Kingdom
14 October 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Brian De Palma's early films all portrayed little gender wars. Along these lines we had sororicide in "Sisters", in which Feminized and Masculinized twins jostle for control, and incest and matricide in "Obsession", in which a father usurps his wife to be with his daughter. Next came "Carrie", in which telekinesis becomes a little girl's means of fighting off various groups of monogamists, nymphomaniacs, romantics and repressed fundamentalists, all in an attempt to assert her own sexual independence. De Palma then released "The Fury", in which the guilt-ridden narrator of "Carrie" (Amy Irving) represents the monstrosity of adolescence, of potentiality. That film ended with the return of the Repressed, and the ridiculously orgasmic destruction (John Cassavetes becomes a raging erection who explodes at Irving's new-found whims) of the conservators of an inhibitory adult order.

Even De Palma's first features, "Greetings" and "Wedding Party", portrayed gender as being a performance and white male heterosexuality as needing to be rigorously, continuously reenacted in order to be maintained with any coherence, often by repeatedly destroying that which it defines itself against (homosexuality, femininity, the Other etc).

De Palma's sleazy "Dressed to Kill" continues this obsession with gender construction. Here Michael Caine plays Robert Elliot, a trans-gender who is psychically possessed by a feminine personality (anima), a possession which causes him to kill women in order to prevent his masculine personality (animus) from being aroused. Thematically, the film's reference point is Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho". Visually, it's "Vertigo" and "North by Northwest" on cocaine.

In post-McCarthyist America, the rigid enforcement of anti-communism frequently meant the assertion of a masculine totalitarianism, which often targeted "sexual deviants" and posited "them" as sexually perverted bogeymen out to destroy society/family. These fears eventually gave way to a post 1960s resistance directed against centralised power and the pressures of conformity. Released in 1960, "Psycho's" Norman Bates (the name's a pun: "nor man", "norma" and "normal") – a transsexual who identifies his Mother/the Feminine as the source of the phallus – was essentially made murderous through the interior colonisation of the American subject by pseudo-Freudian beliefs in essentialization and the medicalization of gender and sexuality (medical understandings of the gay/transsexual have relied on a collapsing of sex and gender, viewing both as "the same thing"). Norman's "rebellion" against masculine power was crazy, but the dominant order itself emerged as being insane.

"Dressed" continues this cultural unease with traditional gender alignments, but focuses on a post 1960s trend amongst transsexuals and certain strains of feminism to essentialize gender. Here, Elliot's male body is literally possessed by Bobbi, a feminine personality which desires a sex reassignment operation so that Elliot may become a "woman" with "the right body". In other words, transsexuals are victims of a society which equates the genitalia with gender behaviour and confuses the organ with the signifier; ridding themselves of the organ they can thus supposedly be rid of the signifier which divides them. "Dressed" then enters "Scarface" territory. Rather than accepting the status of symbolic subject, the transsexual, like the "normal" subject, searches for illusory wholeness which he/she believes will be attained by altering the body in order to possess "it", the "it" which in American society is invested with the meaning of the subject's whole being. Unsurprisingly, in real life, transsexuals more frequently wish to be "girls" rather than "women"; an attempt to ward of self-fragmentation and to establish a pre-social self. The incapability of achieving discursive mastery is itself a common De Palma theme, the subject continually floundering in the dark to sustain his identity. For De Palma, traditional male subjectivity is predicated on the notion of male wholeness and feminine lack, whilst "Woman" serves as the Other for the male subject, a place where he projects and disavows his castration. As inadequacy continually "feminizes" the male subject, the cycle must be continually repeated (partially why action movies start looking "gay", camp or homo-erotic after a couple years).

Though deemed misogynistic, "Dressed" really highlights how individuals are "bent" by a larger cultural discourse. Bobbi has been "trained" to equate the male body with negative dominant and violent behaviour. She represents a strand of feminism which reduces gender roles to the same binary logic they had always been subjected to (only reversing them: male=bad; female=good). In her desire to make herself the politically correct sex/gender ("riding between cars is prohibited", a cunningly placed sign states, referring to Bobbie's refusal to allow for gender ambiguity), Bobbie then emerges as the vulgar, dark side of late 1970s feminism, man-hating, repressive, murderous and essential-minded. By essentializing gender roles, certain feminists, like transsexuals, replicate hegemonic ideas.

Bobbi then targets Kate Miller, a woman whom she murders with a phallic shaving knife. Kate's a figure of sexual independence, capable of her own desires/fantasies. Bobbi kills Kate to silence feminine desire, eradicating all who complicate traditional, bio-cultural gender roles. Supporting her is Detective Marino, a foul-mouthed, sexist, aggressive cop. In her way is Peter, the only positive male character in the film, a sensitive, accepting male. Kate's iconic "courtship" ritual in a museum (see "Vertigo", De Palma's Bible), with a man named Warren, is itself an intricately staged game of shifting power, Kate wavering between masculine aggressiveness/overt sexuality and feminine respectability/passivity in this sequence; pursing and pursued, pushed and pushing, spectator and object.

Another character, Liz, ignores telecasts which mention "individuals with penises being supposed to develop masculine identities". She understands that gender is a masquerade, a position one assumes, and is seen discussing her stock-market investments (traditionally masculine) and dressing in both masculine and feminine clothes. She has moved beyond the essentialist logic of Elliott/Bobbi.

8.5/10 - With its baroque visuals and flamboyant camera work, "Dressed To Kill" remains a De Palma classic. Worth multiple viewings.

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