Dressed to Kill (1980) Poster

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Surreal, bloody, erotically charged odyssey
fertilecelluloid17 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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De Palma's best known, but not best Hitchcock homage. Style triumphs over substance but it's still good fun.
Infofreak20 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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Stunning exercise in audience manipulation,possibly even MORE effective than it's model,Psycho
DrLenera30 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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Strangely Satisfying Thriller!
g-bodyl21 June 2014
I have read about the controversy this film created back in 1980, but it wasn't until now when I viewed the film that I can see why. This is a sharp, twisty thriller that borrows effectively from Alfred Hitchcock trademarks. But upon viewing it, Dressed to Kill is a strangely erotic film that is almost like a soft porn movie. Some of the scenes made me think that I was watching a porn film, but this film will succeed in holding your attention.

This film, directed by Brian De Palma, is about a woman named Kate Miller who has a sexually frustrated life and she sees a therapist named Dr. Robert Elliot. But sometime later, she meets this guy at a museum and they have sex. But she finds out he has a sexually transmitted disease and in her haste, she leaves without her wedding ring. But when she reaches the elevator, she is brutally murdered by a razor. From there on out, confusion ensues as people try to track down the killer.

The acting is really good. Michael Caine shines very well as Elliot and I wish he had more screen time. Nancy Allen was very effective and had the best overall performance. Angie Dickinson was also really good, but she hardly had any screen time.

Overall, Dressed to Kill is a very smart, though erotic thriller that gives off a similar feel to a Hitchcock film. The tension is high and it can also be scary at times. So in other words, it effectively delivers the thrills. I rate this film 9/10.
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Sleazy, Predictable But Very Entertaining
ccthemovieman-131 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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Worth viewing, but it hasn't aged well
Brandt Sponseller21 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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De Palma is in his element here.
Scott LeBrun5 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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Life's a drag
tieman6414 October 2011
Warning: 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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One of the Best
johnm_00113 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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A Brian de Palma Tour de Force
seymourblack-120 August 2010
Warning: 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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Amazing music and camera movement
talemunja18 December 2012
For early 80' this movie deserves respect. Brian De Palma present story that keep's your attention to the last minute.

I usually start napping after barely half of movie's today but he's movies keeps me focused. What i like in this and on movies by Palma i watched is-unpredictability.

Good movie, worth of watching, seriously.

It can be better of course but it's good. Long as keep your attention, driving you into story, stopping you from thinking. You just lie and let movie drives you into a story, enjoying a good trip to the end.

Acting is so natural, almost like in real life behavior. Characters in this movie are very natural. I like that.
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prime form, trite contents
dbdumonteil31 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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Designer knockoff...
Merwyn Grote8 March 2005
Warning: Spoilers
It is difficult to know just how to judge Brian DePalma's films. He is undeniably talented, and is capable of creating masterful works of kitschy dark humor like CARRIE and THE PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE, elegantly stylized suspense thrillers like OBSESSION and slick colorful popcorn epics like THE FURY and THE UNTOUCHABLES. Yet, much of his filmography is dominated by cheesy trash, marked by sloppy plotting, self-consciously showy set pieces and sometimes embarrassingly awkward drama. Often, too often, he focuses his attention on one or two sequences on which he can sate his penchant for flamboyant camera stunts and the rest of the film is slapped together with narratives and scenes that are as rickety as a rope suspension bridge from an old jungle movie.

His tendency to plagiarize, er, uh ... pay homage to Alfred Hitchcock is well known, but he is not all that discriminating in his thefts. He steals the set up for DRESSED TO KILL from Hitchcock's PSYCHO, imitates a bit of VERTIGO and even shoplifts from FAMILY PLOT, but the bulk of the film has no great respect for the master's work. It is like stealing the crown jewels to use the gems as trinkets on a dime store charm bracelet. The bits and pieces of Hitchcock that DePalma flashes on screen are meant to be nothing more than little trophies.

Like PSYCHO, the film is a two-part story; part one being a personal drama about a woman in emotional turmoil and the second half a thriller. But one of the reasons DRESSED TO KILL doesn't work is that DePalma doesn't seem to get what makes PSYCHO great and he totally fumbles act one. In PSYCHO, Hitchcock carefully structured the Janet Leigh story to be a compelling, self contained drama, separate, yet firmly connected to the Anthony Perkins thriller that followed. DRESSED TO KILL gives us this long and ultimately pointless shaggy dog act one involving Angie Dickinson as Kate Miller, a desperate housewife looking for some hot sex in the afternoon. DePalma has never shown any intrinsic gifts for comedy, yet he repeatedly goes for ill-considered humor to no real effect. When Kate serves up a smirky sexual innuendo to her teenage son, you can't help but cringe. Her discovery that she might have been exposed to a venereal disease seems aimed at getting a tasteless laugh, Even her lurid masochistic sex dream comes with a punchline.

The film treats Kate like a pathetic joke and introduces her to one humiliation after another, before disposing of her and her story entirely. Unlike Leigh's Marion Crane, Dickinson's Kate Miller is pitiable, but not very sympathetic. Despite a nice performance by Dickinson, her character is nothing more than a trivial plot device. Yet, this disposable beginning is the best thing about DRESSED TO KILL. Though it is treated with all the subtlety of second-rate soft-core porn, this part of the film at least provides some guilty pleasure sleaziness to it. When the film gets to its slasher movie core, DePalma clumsily stitches together a lame series of sequences involving a cross-dressing killer, improbable coincidences and a vaguely homophobic plot littered with treacherously illogical holes and punctuated with embarrassingly bad dialogue. And the less said the better about the almost comatose performance by Michael Caine as a compromised psychiatrist and the creepy work of Dennis Franz in what would be the first of many stereotyping roles as a vulgar, unpleasant police detective.

When the film came out in 1980, it was greeted with mixed reviews, though a good number of top critics embraced it on purely stylistic grounds. And on one viewing, without much time for thought, the film moves along nicely if improbably from one contrived moment to the next. But great, or even good thrillers should be able to endure repeated viewings; knowing all a film's secrets should not lessen the enjoyment of watching it more than once. Indeed, the more a film like PSYCHO reveals about itself the more there is for the viewer to enjoy. But the striptease that DRESSED TO KILL does over repeated viewings only prompts the viewer to see that the pseudo-sophisticated style DePalma drapes over his tale is only meant to hide an already lifeless mannequin.
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A modern classic
chris814 July 2002
"Dressed to Kill" has been more or less forgotten in critical circles in the past 20 years, but it is a true American classic, a film which is much more than just a glossy thriller.

I sincerely hope the DVD release will give more people the chance to hear about it and see it.
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It's a rip-off, but a stylish and mostly enjoyable one.
Li-125 July 2003
** 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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Surprisingly hokey and dated
210west10 June 2016
Prompted by the new documentary on De Palma, I finally sat down and watched this film. Maybe I shouldn't have been surprised, but I was: It's really nothing but a tarted-up giallo, the sort of thing Mario Bava or Dario Argento might have made, only with a 20-times-bigger budget and at least one bigger star.

Like the Italian giallos, it has a complicated, thoroughly preposterous comic-book-Hitchcock plot, the same salaciousness, the same lurid violence, the same air of unreality.

However, where Argento films tend to have jarringly inappropriate electronic rock scores, this one has an equally inappropriate lush romantic score that reminded me of a high-priced supper club.

Granted, context is everything. If "Dressed to Kill" were the work of some little-known Italian genre specialist, I'm sure I'd be praising it right now. I like giallos. Lurid and preposterous? Not a problem.

But for a well-regarded (if controversial) Hollywood box-office hit, the film seems stupid, fakey, and somewhat distasteful. Even with a body double, you'd think Angie Dickinson would have been embarrassed by it.

I actually found myself looking away at times -- not because of the excessive (and really pretty gratuitous) blood and nudity, but because of the horribly stilted acting by Dickinson and, even worse, by Nancy Allen. I guess it's been said a million times, but wow, the latter certainly was lucky to have been married to De Palma. It's hard to imagine any other way she'd ever have been cast. (Nice lady, I'm sure. Pleasant enough in "Strange Invaders.")

The film is currently 35 years old, and it feels it. The plot seems crude. The action scenes, sometimes in slow motion, feel stagey and unreal. The police-procedural aspects and the scenes involving psychotherapy also seem unreal (though that sort of thing is par for the course in giallos).

What also felt dated -- and, God knows, politically incorrect by today's standards -- was the treatment of blacks and transsexuals, though I must admit this seemed downright refreshing.

P.S. I once had a long conversation with a film-school student who'd just won some sort of college-level directing award, and I remember asking him whom he regarded as the most overrated director then working. Without much of a pause, he said, "Brian De Palma" -- which I thought was a pretty good answer.

Still, I do very much enjoy "Phantom of the Paradise" and "Carlito's Way."
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Oozing with style, but completely lacking in substance
ThrownMuse11 March 2007
A repressed housewife (an annoying lisping Angie Dickinson, whose body double treats/horrifies us with an extreme closeup of her delicates) is sexually bored by her husband and decides to branch-out. This directly results in a string of murders that soon involve a high-class prostitute (Nancy Allen, clearly I am in the wrong business if SHE can bring home $600 a night) and her psychologist (Michael Caine). If you are going to watch De Palma rip off (excuse me, "pay homage to") Hitchcock, watch "Sisters" instead of this. "Dressed to Kill," while loaded with style and technical skill, is one of the tackiest thrillers I have had the displeasure of sitting through. The plot is absurd and tired. It does feature some surprisingly effective jump scares and nasty graphic murder sequences that should please any horror fan, as long as they can get past the silly story line, that must have been dated even in 1980.
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A Bad Hitchcock rip off
erwan_ticheler17 July 2004
Warning: Spoilers

Brian de Palma is a director who made very good movies like THE UNTOUCHABLES and CARRIE,but DRESSED TO KILL has got none of the tension and good acting of those films.

The film is a remake of Hitchcock's classic PSYCHO but it also has copied scenes of VERTIGO and,very strangely,CARRIE.The acting is not good,not even Michael Caine gives a good performance.

The movie starts like a cheap erotic flick and goes on like one.Fans of De Palma will probably say that this is good but I think that it perverts Hitchcock's work,in which the sexual references were much more subtle and therefore,in the end,much better worked out. The museum scene is overlong and a definite copy of the scenes with Kim Novak in VERTIGO.The killing of Angie Dickinson is a copy of the shower scene in PSYCHO as is Dickinson's character(a woman who is prominent in every scene until she gets murdered half way).The scene in which Caine's motives are explained is literally a copy of the final scene in PSYCHO.The final scene is a copy of De Palma's own movie CARRIE,why did he do that,you ask.

The tricks,that are numerous in the film,are not necessary.They are just to show of.

No,this isn't a good film. 4/10
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Erotico Psycho.
Spikeopath13 February 2014
Dressed to Kill is directed and written by Brian De Palma. It stars Michael Caine, Angie Dickinson, Nancy Allen, Keith Gordon and Dennis Franz. Music is by Pino Donaggio and cinematography by Ralf D. Bode.

Brian De Palma continues his commitment to Hitchcock thrillers with this erotic and lurid slice of entertainment pie. Plot in short order finds a razor wielding blonde woman on the loose in the city. A high class prostitute, a psychiatrist and the son of a victim try to solve the mystery before they themselves fall to the blonde killer.

De Palma throws it all at the audience here, merrily pushing people's buttons as he goes. He uses all the tools and tricks of his trade for maximum impact, blending a number of genre staples and churning out a hyper stylised neo-noir that gleefully toys with audience expectations. Oh the plot is bonkers, deliriously so, but De Palma is a crafty pro who deftly marries up the excesses of the plot with virtuoso camera work, and not content with that he then brings Donaggio's musical score into play to ensure the viewer's senses are tingling.

Unsurprisingly for the director, Dressed to Kill is sexually charged and violent, from the steamy beginning that ruffled feathers in a number of quarters, to the outrageous coda at the end where De Palma homage's himself, it's a film revelling in its schlocky being. However, it still has time for dramatic suspense and dangerously sensual mysticism, reference an extended section of film that sees Allen's hooker pursued relentlessly through the perils of the subway system, and a sequence played out at an art gallery without dialogue as we become Dickinson's disoriented eyes. Then there is the key murder scene, a dizzying array of slashes and cartoonish blood, it's purposely excessive and followed by screw tightening suspense that sets up the rest of the movie.

De Palma and his on form principal cast members are having fun, how could they not with such trashy material to work from? Is Dressed to Kill phobic and misogynistic? Well plenty of people think so, in fact there was quite a fall out when the film was first released, when De Palma was subjected to the ire of a few minority groups. Judge for yourself is the only way to go really, but personally in amongst the schlock I feel there's comment on the dangers of fantasising beyond your realm, or of unfaithfulness, maybe even that America is itself irresponsible for its treatment of women on film? Of course it could just be De Palma at his most playful? Sitting there giggling to himself as others lose their cool… 8/10
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Bet it looked good on paper
livk51127 February 2006
I can find very little thats good to say about this film. I am sure the idea and script looked good on paper but the filmography and acting I am afraid is not the standards I would expect from some very talented people. I would doubt that this features highly in their CV Filmography. Michael Caine appeared wooden at times in his role as the Doctor, and at no time no did I actually believe in his character. The plot was unbelievable especially with regard to the victims son. Some of the scenes were very reminiscent of other films, that at times I wondered if it was actually a spoof thriller. The lighting at times was dark and this added to the feeling of watching a low budget movie with some big named stars, wondering why I bothered to watch it at all.
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strongest evidence that de palma is overrated
jdkaye5 December 2005
Can you have a psycho thriller, featuring a psychiatrist even, which completely lacks in psychological insight? can you have a suspense film in which the viewer feels absolutely no emotional investment in any of the poorly drawn, weak, and idiotic characters? can you invest the first half hour of a film developing a character that you immediately thereafter terminate? can you shamelessly rip off a classic like Psycho and simply call it an homage, even if your homage stinks? Can you make a film that insults every single special interest group (gay, black, mentally ill, prostitute) all at once? Brian de Palma tries to answer all of these questions in the affirmative with this truly, truly, spectacularly awful film. If it weren't for Scarface, de Palma would be a nobody.
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Mildly amusing "giallo" with gargantuan plot-holes
Maciste_Brother1 April 2003
Warning: Spoilers

What can you say about a movie when the best thing about it is Angie Dickinson? Or that the movie starts and ends with dream sequences of a woman taking a shower and getting killed? This is another De Palma cheesefest, filled with sexism, split-screens, Pino Donaggio music and "deviant" behavior like transvestites/transsexuality. DRESSED TO KILL is filled with SO many contrived moments that it almost becomes deliriously funny. Here are a couple of examples:

After Angie has sex with the man at his apartment, she finds out that he has some sort of venereal disease. Shock! But the thing is, when was this doctor's report made? 6 months ago? 12 months ago? In other words, the film makes a big point to show something like this and yet forgoes all other aspects about this "shocking" revelation that divorces it from reality. The man might have already been cured for all we know. Making a big fuss over things that might be explained a bit more rationally only makes DTK look silly and overwrought. Yes, I know that it's all about Angie's feelings of guilt but the way it's handled in DTK still makes me laugh for all the wrong reasons.

And when Angie is in the elevator and realizes she left her wedding ring at the man's apartment she goes back to the seventh floor only to face the killer there who subsequently slashes her to death. First, how did the killer know that Angie would return to the seventh floor? Second, how did the killer anticipate that Angie would be alone in the elevator? Third, if the killer bothers to murder Angie in the elevator, why doesn't the killer stop the elevator on the seventh floor or in between floors? This would have prevented the elevator from going up or down to other floors where people are waiting patiently and who would be witnesses to the murder. Massive and inexcusable plot-holes.

There are numerous other silly details, like the kid playing Hardy Boys and creating a camera that takes time-lapsed still shots of the doctor's office, or the whole pointless split-screen moment, when we see, on the left side of the screen, Michael Caine listening to disturbing messages and watching documentaries on transsexuals, and on the right, we see Nancy Allen being chased by, gasp, a tall blonde woman. Those scenes are only there to pad the movie's length. They are pointless. And to make things even more deliriously silly, De Palma shamelessly channels Hitchcock, which gives another layer of unintentional weirdness/awfulness to it all.

Even with all it's flashy camera-work and violence, DRESSED TO KILL is surprisingly low key. At times, it looks and feels like a low budget film. There are just a couple of set pieces. And there are only a couple of characters. The film feels small. And like every Brian De Palma films (his big or low budget ones), there is one great scene that stands out, this one being the entire museum scene, but then everything else falls apart fast soon afterwards. DRESSED TO KILL peaks very early and there's simply nothing interesting that happens after the elevator scene. Michael Caine, straight from two disaster epics (THE SWARM and BEYOND THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE, both bombed massively), sleepwalks through his role. Nancy Allen is sexy in a sassy and street-smart way but I felt at times that she didn't care much for the whole thing. That she was above this kind of film. And the guy who played the kid was okay but I never liked his role. He doesn't seem to belong in this type of film. In the end, Angie's character is the only one in the movie who seemed to have a semblance of depth. It's not much but seems to be much when compared to the cardboard characters populating the film. It's one of Angie's best performances. And as for the dream sequences, they're totally gratuitous. One was enough. I don't see the reason for book-ending the film with two similar dream sequences. They're contrived and just a tad tasteless, to say the least, certainly the one with Angie's body double. The second dream sequence reinforces the fact that De Palma didn't have a good script and didn't know where or how to end the movie. I mean, there are three endings in DTK.

In closing, I have to admit that the first time I saw DTK, I HATED it! I still do BUT now having been a fan of the giallo genre for many years, which DRESSED TO KILL was obviously inspired by it, I can now finally put DTK in some sort of context (other than a cheap Hitchcock rip-off) and see it for what it is (or for what it tried to be): it's a definite mixture of gialli and Hitchcock films. As mildly amusing as DTK is, I can't help but wonder if De Palma and Dario Argento weren't competing with each other back in the 1970s and early 1980s, continuously trying to top each other with these giallos, or gory thrillers. Of the two filmmakers, I prefer Dario films made before PHENOMENA. TENEBRE seems to be Dario's answer to DTK and as uneven as TENEBRE is, it is more rewarding than DRESSED TO KILL. At least TENEBRE has a real transsexual. LOL!
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Taut Suspenseful Masterpiece From Brian De Palma With Amazing Performances All Around!
callanvass10 July 2005
Warning: Spoilers
This is a taut suspenseful masterpiece from Brian De Palmawith amazing performances all around!. It's extremely suspenseful, and often scary, and the score is fantastic, plus all the characters were awesome. Yes it rips off Psycho a lot, however it's still a brilliantly made horror/thriller, with a fantastic opening and a shocking and unpredictable finale!. This is unquestionably one of the best horror/thrillers i have ever seen, and the elevator scene is one of the most memorable scenes ever, plus Michael Caine is simply amazing in this!. The ending is excellent, and the hospital scene near the end is absolutely terrifying, plus the end twist shocked the hell out of me!. It never failed to creep me out, and the stalk sequences are absolutely brilliant, plus Nancy Allen and Keith Gordon had fantastic chemistry together!. This is a taut suspenseful masterpiece from Brian De Palma, with amazing performances all around!. The Direction is Incredible!. Brian De Palma does an incredible job here, with Amazing camera work, incredible angles, fantastic use of colors, awesome zoom in's and zoom out's great POV shots and keeping the film at a very very fast pace!. There is a bit of blood. We get bloody stabbings, knifing's, bloody gunshot wounds,and 2 bloody slit throats.The Acting is amazing!. Michael Caine is AMAZING here, he is amazing in the acting department, creepy, is very likable, was mysterious, and really just did an amazing job overall i Loved him! (Caine Rules!). Angie Dickinson gives a memorable performance here, and was quite beautiful, and had good chemistry with Caine. Nancy Allen is STUNNINGLY GORGEOUS!, and is fantastic here, she is extremely likable as the hooker, had excellent chemistry with Keith Gordon, and put on a tremendous show!. Keith Gordon is very good as the kid, he had excellent chemistry with Nancy Allen, and was very likable!. Dennis Franz is good as the detective. Overall this is unquestionably one of the best horror films ever made, and i say drop what your doing immediately and go see it!. ***** out of 5
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Here's what you learn from DRESSED TO KILL
info-123887 October 2017
Warning: Spoilers
— Sexual pickups always end badly

— Transsexuals are mentally disturbed people

— Black men on subway platforms are dangerous

— Nerdy guys can build anything

— If you really put your mind to it, you can wear anything and it will fit just fine, even a nurse's uniform clearly four or five sizes too small.

This really has to be one of the worst films I've ever seen, with the one star given it for the cinematography. Everything else — acting, writing, direction, even the freaking music — is so bad that it becomes almost unwatchable halfway through. Never mind that the film starts and ends with naked women taking showers (and no, author of synopsis, Angie isn't taking a shower while her husband is shaving: that entire sequence is a fantasy she needs to get off while her husband is screwing her in the next sequence) with plenty of way over the top shots of naked breasts and vaginae. Never mind that the film's twist that the doctor is actually the killer is glaringly apparent looooong before anyone in the movie figures it out. Never mind tat the music score makes it sound like something from the Hallmark Channel. This thing is just a sad, sad, sad piece of work: misogynist, transphobic, far too sadistic in its use of close-up violence to inform the audience that sex is bad, no matter how it's being carried out.

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