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3 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Sex and Danger, 6 November 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Most people criticize DePalma's movies as simple vapid, sensationalistic trash with a highly developed cinematic sense. Few acknowledge, judgment in depth aside, what makes him truly worthwhile in the field of celluloid. Not only proves DePalma, in most of his films, to be an entertainer with a penchant for extreme violence, voyeuristic sexual overtones and enough baroque camp, but also a virtuosic master that out-Hitchcocks Hitchcock in the use of vicious audience manipulation for the sake of thrills, dread and edgy eroticism. His 1982 thriller ''Dressed to Kill'' is a visually entrancing and highly entertaining foray into spiky territory: the urban aura of deviance and perversion that jeopardize women as they follow their innocent, hermetic sexual desires.

The first act of ''Dressed to Kill'' reads like a lavish and genuinely eerie Freudian nightmare, set against a silently menacing and sexually dynamic Big Apple. The film follows a day in the life of Kate Miller, this film's Marion Crane, a candent and well-kept housewife who is reaching a middle-life crisis and has the nagging conviction that there must be better sex out there. One sunny Manhattan morning to be spent in errands, she goes to the modern art museum with the hope that the visit will accompany in her aroused state of mind. One of the most perfect and stylish in the history of suspense, the museum sequence is a masterstroke of ascending sexual tension, distilled in subtle, sweeping gestures. It begins spatially unsettling, almost Antonioni-like, as our subject sits silently on a bench, almost crushed by the pressing stillness of the room as she gauges placidly at the paintings and the accompanied observers. That's until she notices a stranger in shades that exudes an eminent air of attraction and sexual advancement, and the scene takes a heart-thumping turn. The cat-and-mouse chase between Kate and the stranger, played against Pino Donaggio's lush score, is a masterpiece of staccato, deliberate pacing, breathtakingly orchestrated by DePalma's clinical, taut use of cinematography. One can almost feel Kate's excitement and horror at her new intrepidity and her internal tug-of-war as she searches the maze-like museum for signs of the elusive man. Her chic gloves become the ultimate ticket to an arousing yet lethal reality that takes her a bit too far from the repression and insecurity she has been feeling all this time.

The brilliantly luring, suggestive first act and its set of perfectly choreographed scenes, filled with delicate visual technique that only accentuate the feeling of trepidation and a gory, misogynistic scene that still retains its visceral elegance, gives into a second act that plays like a typically svelte, agile-paced whodunit. DePalma's muse Nancy Allen is brilliantly effortless as Liz Blake, witness and prime supect and a frivolous, easygoing call girl with a street-smart sense of humor who is the opposite of Kate Miller,seeing sex as a mere transaction and being effortlessly adapted and knowing of the deviance and violence that lies within the big city. She makes a generation-gaping and curiously endearing team with Peter (Keith Gordon), Kate's science whiz son, who helps her lead their own investigation into the identity of the transsexual who brutally murdered Kate. Again De Palma seems to better Hitchcock in the handling of suspense scenes that avoid the typically weighty, macabre execution proper to some giallos, to focus on an urban dynamism that is more rousing than menacing, and that adds a sprightly, gossamer feel that in scenes like the subway one, proves to be also thrilling and masterfully effective.The killer is not the stereotypical lurker but an easily noticeable one, making him have a proximity to the audience that has more the vertiginous feel of an ongoing chase than the unexpected assault of the masked murdered. Although undoubtedly the film develops into something more vi brant, Brian de Palma's neo-Hitchcockian vanguard never loses its guard,using numerous split screens, mirror reflections and other voyeuristic tricks to install an intoxicating sense of danger in the gliding life of Liz.

The identity of the killer, although not that surprising, is supervised with expert precision by DePalma, only letting the vague assumptions culminate in a final resolution that is a staggering proof of his technical virtuoso. Began as a hypnotic spellbinder of a first act and continued as a whimsical action thriller of a second one, the film's true nucleus resides, however, in the first half. Kate's sadomasochistic dream in the film's very beginning plays like a romantic reminder that even the most forbidden, dangerous and arousing of sexual fantasies and desires have a greater vulnerability amongst the shiny surfaces of New York City, and its corners filled with psychos, degenerates and unprotected men. Her fatal mistake was not only to trust too much in the men around her but of believing she would find the mysterious, sadistic hunk of her dream somewhere in the journey. Ultimately that idealized hunk is in reality someone that resides in the much sordid, confounded level of sexuality and whose murdering instinct not only fulfilled Kate's fantasy but ultimately, as the final scene proves, touched another woman who thought she was shielded from the danger of sex.

Carrie (1976)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
The master of suspense (or is it exploitation?), 7 August 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Despite coming from an era where special effects and slick technology weren't handy resources for creating exciting or interesting horror movies, Carrie must remain one of film's finest examples of raw, sophisticated and devastating tension, created under a modest but virtuosic budget and with a rare capacity (even today) to play with the audience's emotions in a blunt, visceral manner. It is done with Hitchcock in mind, although merely in technique and in tone, never in the themes or the subject of horror or suspense. Most of the film's core one must thank to Brian De Palma's exploitative and lurid manner of maintaining suspense and revering classic horror architecture: stock characters, Gothic camp, and an obtuse, over-the-top view of cruelty and madness into a film that remains a perverse yet instantly accessible and strangely easygoing classic.

For me, De Palma has been not only Hitchcock's most faultless copycat, but still in all his elegant pastiche, manages to be a rougher-around-the-edges and more disturbing version of his mentor. ''Carrie'' is based on Stephen King's novel, but his movie version almost seems like a revision, not an adaptation. De Palma's Carrie pays up more visually and technically to any other work in his oeuvre, than to Stephen King psychologically intense and bleak novel. After all it's the same De Palma of always: slightly humorous, greedily destructive, still managing again to ludicrously inject in typically pulpy, sensual fashion heaps of veiled erotic undertones, harsh melodrama and wrenching violence. Case in point is the almost soft-porn locker room scene, steam pouring all over the place and a dreamy, kitsch score by Pio Donaggio leading us to the porcelain-skinned figure of our heroine, as she showers in slow motion. Suddenly while soaping her virginal body, she realizes that period blood has poured almost imperceptibly through her thigh. This macabre detail abruptly halts this ethereal introduction and instead introduces us to Carrie's steamless reality and the vile snake pit of tormentors that plague it. The image of those luminous teenagers roaring from laughter and darting Carrie's flaccid, awkward, moist body with tampons is a perfect example of DePalma's exhilarating sensationalism. The shock factor is later replayed for us in magnified close-up when we see the brainless principal of the school subtly notice Carrie's period blood in the shorts of Miss Collins, her onlyprotecting teacher. DePalma is a master.

He also wants us to feel tension, not just empathy and sadness for the protagonist, and he builds it like a pressure cooker, dread piling up as we learn about Carrie's eerie supernatural power and the treacherous plans her classmates have for her. We also witness plenty of domestic horror between Carrie and her mother, a psychotic religious wacko who is held responsible for most of Carrie's delayed, repressed sexuality and social immaturity. What's fascinating is that the White household is played tongue-in-cheekly Gothic: all dark, candlelit, rusty, creaking wood…every time Miss White enters the scene, Hermannesque orchestral music plays as if the Count of Dracula had just arrived at his castle while the guests were waiting. When Carrie arrives home at the end, organ pipe at full volume guides the girl through corridors filled with thousands of candles, almost as from the Exorcist. DePalma is a sucker for stylistic excess, culminating in the voodoo-like Christ Carrie is supposed to pray at when Momma locks her up. Even in the flip-side, the lively, colorful high school scenes Carrie will always observe with retirement are played up against a backdrop of cheesy 70's funk.

DePalma plays with point of view, lightning (there is even a flash Frankenstein-type lightning striking at an outwards shot of Carrie's house), music and actors in a way that makes Carrie what Psycho was to the 50s, a bag of shock tactics and muddled, yet humane psychology to guide the audience to a point of inevitable, larger-than-life catharsis. The prom scene reminds me of what tragedy was for the ancient Greeks, sporting a conclusion so intense the audience feels a harrowing sort of purge. DePalma's camera pirouettes around the overblown, glitter-ball romanticism of the prom set-up, one-hit wonders from the 70's looming from the speakers, to perfectly capture Carrie's new position, one of enchantment and almost ecstasy yet led by obvious mistrust and terror. It slickly leads up to that infamous slow-motion, silent and almost palpably sick scene of humiliation and violation. All the mayhem that comes after, shot in deep red, is an almost orgiastic example of DePalma's baroque virtuosity.

As in post-data, I would like to comment that the only time that curiously, DePalma is subtle is in monitoring the high school scenes. The school Adonis has a blonde afro, the antagonist is blond, dressed in pink, and eye-rolls and swears more than actually talking, and her friend, dressed even to prom with a cap, only grins and giggles throughout the whole picture. Yet nothing else in this respect is one-dimensional, DePalma is a master of technique and he uses nothing more than again angles, actors and dialog to perfectly capture the complicity, familial sense and high exclusiveness of junior high, through silences, looks and hurried conversations. There is no sketch-artist portrayal of the high school jungle; it all remains quietly realistic. It wouldn't hurt to point out that one of the popular girls is fat and has glasses, not your pretty girl prototype, and I'm glad DePalma did create a hairspray-stinking but thoroughly human high school.

Yet again Carrie is not a film you will remember for speaking against or preaching a bit on the hell that high school is for some. Or a haunting tale about what religion extremism does on some. You will plainly remember it as the exploit-y story about that girl that got teased cruelly and killed the whole school in response. Yeah it's that kind of story, and with pride.