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"Dressed to Kill" - {Blu-ray}
Wayne Klein
Studio: MGM/Fox
Release Date:
Special Features:

45 minute documentary, three featurettes Rating: R


Often dismissed by critics without any since of insight as a deriviative, boring director who apes Hitchcock, Brian DePalma continues to be an underestimated director; while DePalma certainly does mine much of the same deep, dark cave of the human psyche as Hitchcock did, DePalma does so creating post-modernist films that are filled with a sense of self awareness of a film WHILE you are watching it. DePalma also delights in his own perverse way in our lack of comfort with sex and sexuality. In fact the two directors that DePalma is MOST comparable to would be David Lynch or David Cronenberg (much more so with Cronenberg) who both have taken elements of the Hitchcockian thriller and driven them into much darker, disturbing and surreal territory. Like Cronenberg DePalma's films tend to have an element of perverse satire mixed into the thriller elements often just this side of laugh-out-loud comic moments. That doesn't mean he doesn't take the thriller as a genre seriously--he does. One of my colleagues at dvdtalk once compared DePalma to Sergio Leone in that he takes the moments in his films to an almost absurd operatic level and that comparison does, indeed, hold true for DePalma (like Leone) has a post-modernist take on the genre as a whole and while intergrating all the elements he has learned from other directors, he also points to their absurdity making us even more aware of the fact with a wink and a nudge that we are watching a film, an entertainment and it's almost as if DePalma is daring the audience to accept each over-the-top moment and try to divorce themselves from the fact that they are watching an entertainment. ***

Hitchcock himself briefly took up the post-modernist mantle with his thriller "Frenzy" which showed that he had studied what his disiciples were doing in film. "Frenzy" shares a lot more in common with "Dressed to Kill" than "Psycho" from the tone and approach to the material (the superficial resemblence between "Psycho" and "Dressed to Kill" is a bit more pronounced although it is entirely that--superificial). If Hitchcock had lived and been in good health it's hard to judge what type of films he might have made in the wake of his conventional thriller "Family Plot" (Hitchcock did return to more conventional narratives after making a film that challenged him--it was almost like he needed to recharge his batteries for the next assault on moviegoers) but, I suspect, he would have tried to continue to push the boundary much as DePalma and Cronenberg (and later David Lynch) did of the thriller. Hitchcock was a late bloomer reaching his peak as a director while in his 50's and 60's (although he did lose his way for a spell after "The Birds"). ***

I remember going with my older sister to see "Dressed to Kill" and being embarrassed at how sexually blunt the movie was. While I was prepared for this somewhat with other DePalma thrillers I didn't quite expect it to be quite so--blunt particularly during a scene involving one of our characters in the shower pleasuring herself. Some have complained that this element brings a cheesy porn style into the film unnecessarily but I would disagree--it's all part of DePalma's plan to make us uncomfortable and push us away from key moments of the film and then lure us back in again keeping us as viewers off balance. ***

"Dressed to Kill" allows De Palma to take on "Psycho" style thrillers with his own pop psychological slasher fest. In "Dressed to Kill" a transsexual serial killer named Bobbi stalks a hooker Liz (Nancy Allen) after she witnesses a brutal murder. Liz ends up working with the one of a victim Peter (Keith Gordon who later turned to directing himself), a world weary police detective (Dennis Franz) and a reluctant ally the killer's psychatrist (Michael Caine) who is also getting creepy updates on his message machine from his former patient. Revealing anything else would spoil the fun of DePalma's film so we'll leave the plot details a bit vague. ---

Image & Sound:

"Dressed to Kill" isn't what I would call a demonstration quality Blu-ray but it is a substanial upgrade over the DVD that MGM put out a couple of years back. Colors are bolder, detail is better and although blacks are occasionally crushed on the whole this version improves with a sharper presentation of the film. ***

The 5.1 lossless presentation sounds quite nice giving ample room to Pino Donaggio's marvelous over-the-top Herrman styled music score. Dialogue remains crystal clear throughout and the surround presentation although not as active as a more modern film sounds quite nice. ---

Special Features:

The extras are ported over from the previous edition including the 45 minute documentary on the making of the film from 2000 featuring then contemporary interviews with cast and DePalma. ***

We also get three featurettes on the movie the most interesting of which is the comparison between the three different versions prepared of the film--the theatrical "R" rated version, an uncut version and the TV broadcast version. It's quite an amusing comparison. ***

Actor/director Keith Gordon gives us an appreciation of the film in a solid interview and we also get a 10 minute featurette on how the film was cut to meet the MPAA guidelines. ---

Final Words:

There are always going to be those who dismiss DePalma as a Hitchcock wannabe missing the point that DePalma subverts and often turns the expectations/relationship between filmmaker and audience on its head. DePalma was the least conventional (along with Coppola) of the film directors to make it big in the 70's and while DePalma's work isn't quite as original as Coppola's, it certainly should be taken on its own merits rather than lumped into the slasher directors that made films in the wake of "Psycho".


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