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Today's Date is:

DRESSED TO KILL


Reviewed by: Christopher J. Jarmick
Genre: Horror
Video: Anamorphic 2.35:1 Widescreen
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Mono 1.0, DVD Format: SS-RSDL
Language: English, French
Subtitle: English (Captions Only), French, Spanish
Length: 105 minutes & 117 minutes
Rating: R & NR
Release Date: 08/28/01
Studio: MGM
Commentary: None
Documentaries: Making Dressed to Kill - 42 minute recently produced documentary featuring most of the major players (but not Michael Caine)
Featurettes: Slashing Dressed to Kill: Featurette covering controversy of film including feminist group protests. * * * Dressed To Kill: An Appreciation by Keith * * * Dressed To Kill Comparison X, R & G
Filmography/Biography: None
Interviews: Only as part of documentary and featurettes
Trailers/TV Spots: The original theatrical trailer is presented in Widescreen
Alternate/Deleted Scenes: Note: The original R rated theatrical film and the Unrated director's cut versions of the film are included on the disc.
Music Video: None
Other: Both the R rather and Unrated versions of the film are included on the disc.
Cast and Crew: Angie Dickinson, Dennis Franz, David Margulies, Brandon Maggart, Keith Gordon, Michael Caine, Nancy Allen
Screenplay by: Brian De Palma
Produced by: Samuel Z. Arkoff, George Litto
Directed By: Brian De Palma
Music: Pino Donaggio
The Review: Dressed to Kill was (and remains) a film that pushes the envelope of good taste--just as Alfred Hitchcock delighted in doing when he was making films like Rope. Rear Window, Vertigo, The Trouble with Harry, Psycho or Frenzy. Dressed to Kill however is more than just another very good homage to Hitchcock, De Palma style. * * * The director of such diverse films as Hi Mom!, Get to Know Your Rabbit. Phantom of the Paradise and Carrie, returned to improve on what he was trying to accomplish with Sisters and Obsession. Creating a highly stylized suspense thriller, which took Hitchcock's techniques and ideas a step further (using and exploring and working with space) . * * * You might look at Dressed to Kill as a combination of several Hitchcock films (Psycho and Frenzy, and Rear Window ) and Michael Powell's Peeping Tom, but there is much more than merely an homage to the master on display here. De Palma pushes the envelope of the suspense thriller in ways that he had never attempted before. He was rewarded with a huge box-office success for his efforts, but he was also the target of a tremendously powerful group of feminist who over-reacted to the film and branded De Palma a misogynist. * * * Michael Caine gives one of his better performances as Manhattan therapist, Dr. Robert Elliott. A psychotic killer is following and killing some of the woman patients of Dr. Elliott and trying to make it look like the doctor is responsible. The whiz kid son of one of Dr. Elliott's patients (Keith Gordon), a prostitute (Nancy Allen) and a police detective (Hill Street Blues and NYPD Blue's Dennis Franz) all want to find out who the murderer is and stop him before he kills again. * * * Nancy Allen's overly aware caricature like performance style was never better utilized than it is in this film. Allen can be annoying and grating. But cast as a prostitute (yes pretty much with a heart of gold) in Dressed to Kill, both her faults and strengths work seamlessly , giving us a memorable performance. She's often too self-aware and her performances often feel forced … but this works perfectly for the character she plays in this film. * * * What really drove the feminists nuts though, was the extremely voyeuristic nature of the film and the graphic mixture of sex and violence. We watch bored housewife (Angie Dickinson) fantasize and masturbate in the shower. Angie's body was doubled in the film and filmed to satisfy every horny teenaged boy in the audience. It's her fantasy that is the reason for the scene but it is filmed with a decidedly male perspective. It was shocking to see a popular t.v. star like Angie D. do a scene like this in a main stream film in 1980, and it remains a pretty graphic scene today--even though it's much more obvious a body double was used then it was at the time the film was released. De Palma's mission was accomplished. He pushed the envelope and created a film people talked and argued about (and still are). * * * When a cheating spouse is murdered in the film it's as much rooted in Judeo-Christian guilt as it is misogyny. I've never felt there was an underlying hatred of women on the filmmaker's part at all in this film. Quite the contrary. The feminists were reacting in knee jerk style and targeted a successful popular film with over-wrought charges to grab attention to their message. They made this film sound as offensive as something like Porky's (the popular sex comedy) truly was. * * * If however one decides to come to this film with the attitude that it insults and offends women, there is plenty to find offense with here. It's a film that purposefully straddles the fence between good and bad taste and it's story concerns serial killers, bored fantasizing housewives, male fantasies, and prostitutes. * * * It's not a real argument to make however. De Palma was exploring the possibilities of giving character to space in films. He had challenged himself to be able to tell a story by using a completely fluid camera style. He preferred camera movement, rather than sharp editing to evoke shifts in time and place. We see him trying for his goal in Sisters and finally mastering what he was after with Obsession. But Obsession was a stylized throwback to another era (though set in the 70's). De Palma completely restrained himself during that film and refused to give into anything that could be termed excessive or puerile. The filmmaker barely allowed humor into the film. * * * He wanted to make a film that pushed the envelope, not stayed within it. He wanted a film that was stylized and purposeful but was also ground breaking in ways he hinted at with his earlier Greetings and Hi Mom features. * * * With Carrie, De Palma expanded the remarkably poorly written Stephen King book (which contained some wonderful ideas) with a motif that explored the dark side of Christian guilt and obsession. As Pauline Kael proclaimed: "De Palma uses tawdriness as a tuning fork. No one else has ever caught the thrill that teen-agers get from a dirty joke and sustained it for a whole picture ." (See Kael's When the Lights Go Down). * * * Carrie explored teen-agers, Dressed to Kill explores mal-adjusted grown ups that just below the surface are as obsessed with sex as teenagers ever have been. Suppressing sexual desire and giving into them creates their own set of problems, which De Palma explores in Dressed to Kill. * * * And he has fun exploring them with sometimes tawdry , exhibitionistic/voyeuristic sequences. * * * De Palma uses images we will accept as an audience, and images we almost expect him to use as a filmmaker working in Hitchcock's territory. He then goes beyond our expectations to engage, titillate and shock us. While dances on the edges of the envelope of what anyone would consider good taste he delivers the film in a fanciful stylistic flair that would make Hitchcock proud. He never actually goes too far. * * * What do I mean when I say he dances on the edge of the envelope but never actually goes too far? Jump ahead to the infamous scene in De Palma's Scarface. Again it's a controversial scene that takes place in a shower/bathroom (just like one's De Palma gave us in Carrie, Dressed to Kill and mocks in Blow Out). Scarface is forced to watch as his accomplice is savagely tied up in the shower and a Chain saw is used to tear him to pieces. It's a gruesome, brutal unforgettable scene. But we never see what we think we see in that film. We don't actually see what is being done. De Palma goes further than Hitchcock did in the shower scene in Psycho… but he does not show us what we think, what we are convinced. we see. As any good storyteller, and writer knows. . . leaving something to the imagination is more effective than showing everything. Texas Chainsaw Massacre has a reputation as being one of the most disgusting and goriest films ever made. However the film has almost no actual blood or gore in it and it downright tame by today's standards. * * * De Palma was exploring how far to go with each of his major sequences in Dressed to Kill. He perhaps showed a little too much bloodshed, a little too much nudity--but he specifically wanted to go a little too far and achieved that effectively rubbing the audiences' noses in what he was doing, without abandoning all sense of taste. * * * Today, a younger viewer approaching Dressed to Kill, will see a deliberately paced, very stylized film. It won't feel like it's a brand new or timeless film. It has dated. For one it's got the soft-focus look of late 70s early 80s art films. It's got Actors who give us stagier performances than the more natural, sometimes partially improvised and often wooden performances we are accustomed to in horror films. It's more concerned with visuals then it is with its dialogue. This makes for a few real clunky lines of dialogue. The film also takes it's time in getting started and contains an extremely long and slowly building masterful set piece which requires a bit of patience to completely appreciate. I think most will be mesmerized by it. * * * Younger viewers have also had the opportunity to be exposed to a whole catalog of films from the past. Many will see the sophisticated parody at work throughout De Palma 's film. He's not only giving us homage to Hitchcock, he's twisting and having fun with it --sometimes at the master's expense. At the same time De Palma is still very hard on the strings of exploitation films like he did with Carrie. He's affectionate toward exploitation but has much more film making skill than such exploitation stalwarts as Jack Hill or Larry Cohen are. The sometimes-seamless visual sequences suddenly are thrown by base impulses to tease and shock an audience. De Palma , delights in showing off like a kid in a candy store with a 20-dollar bill who's naughty enough to sneak some peaks at the adult magazine rack. When suddenly a scene stumbles with a bit of awkwardness it's more noticeable because of how slick and seamless De Palma can be when he wants to be. * * * In Dressed to Kill De Palma also gave us several characters we care about and have an emotional investment in. A lot of this is accomplished due to the charisma actors like Michael Caine, and Angie Dickinson brings to their roles. Angie was very popular as t.v.'s Police Woman at the time, and Michael Caine had not yet comfortably made the transition to character roles. * * * There are long sequences in the film which stand the test of time. It does ask the viewer to be patient and takes it time getting started, but once it does. . . . it's a film that is still effective, and shocking.
Image and Sound This new 2:35.:1 Anamorphic widescreen transfer is a vast improvement on all of the previous editions of the film. The film looks soft. . . because it was shot like many 1970's films were with diffusion filters and lost of smoke. New prints were found and improved for this transfer as previous evidence of picture damage is no longer in evident. Very little grain is noticeable. The colors seem bright without being oversaturated. Black levels perhaps are slightly weak as some details do get lost in the shadow (but that could be do more to how the film was originally shot). The audio has been re-recorded and re-mixed. The dynamic range has been vastly improved. A lot of the dialogue has an obvious loop quality to it and some of the higher notes of the Pino Donaggio soundtrack music in particularly are slightly distorted. The use of surround is very noticeable during the extended climax and the separation among all the channels is balanced well with dialogue and effects. When you compare it with the mono mix you realize how much of an improvement the 5.1 mix truly is. Over-all if you are familiar with previous video or laserdisc versions of this film you will notice a vast improvements. If you are not particularly familiar with previous versions, it is a solid Offering of a stylized and often soft focused type film.
The Extras First you get both the R rated original theatrical version of the film and the un-rated (director's cut) of the film. * * * Several of valuable supplements on this special edition of Dressed to Kill were created by Laurent Bouzerau and are presented in full frame. The longest and most interesting extra feature on the DVD is the 42 minute documentary The Making Of Dressed To Kill. De Palma, Producer George Litto, Nancy Allen (De Palma's ex-wife), Keith Gordon, Dennis Franz and Angie Dickinson all appear in recent interviews to tell interesting stories about the making of the film. Angie once again talks about her reluctance to take the part and how glad she was she appeared in the film. Michael Caine was not among the recent interviews conducted for the documentary but while he is certainly missed this is an excellent documentary which is compromised almost entirely of talking heads and production stills as behind the footage of the production of the film was apparently not available. * * * The short featurette Slashing Dressed to Kill details the controversy caused by the film and we learn about the feminist groups and numerous critics who were very unhappy with the film's sex, violence and perceived attitude. The ratings board originally rated the film X and several cuts had to be made to the film which created a battle between the Motion Picture Producer's Association and De Palma. A battle that got even hotter several years later during Scarface. * * * The X R G comparison of Dressed to Kill shows how the various cuts required to avoid an X rating and then required for the general audience television broadcast drastically affected the tone of the film. We even get to see a few clips in split screen for side by side comparison. This featurette is too short but a very entertaining extra. * * * Keith Gordon put to together an interesting short piece analyzing the film called: Dressed to Kill An Appreciation by Keith Gordon. After covering some technical details and discussing some stylistic decisions, Gordon praises the film as one which shows a mature understanding of deviate sexual / homicidal tendencies. * * * There are two still galleries. One is a five minute animated photo montage that shows stills taken during the production of the film. Accompanying the stills is an excerpt from the classical sounding film score created by Donaggio. * * * Then there is fairly generous collection of stills which show several advertising campaigns for Dressed to Kill from all over the world. * * * The Films original theatrical trailer presented in wide screen is also on the DVD. * * * Included in the DVD is a booklet, which contains some additional production notes. * * *
Commentary None
Final Words:

De Palma hit all the marks he was after with Dressed to Kill. It's a film that works as a suspenseful sexy thriller, and as an homage to Hitchcock. It was as big and controversial a film as Basic Instinct, but is a much better film that still entertains surprises and shocks more than 20 years after it was made. This DVD package is a real bargain for anyone who appreciates this film. Not only has the film finally been given the quality transfer it deserves, but several worthwhile, and worth collecting extra features have been assembled. There's a lot of value in this one.

* * * Christopher Jarmick,is the author of The Glass Cocoon with Serena F. Holder a critically acclaimed, steamy suspense thriller. For information on Author readings/signings or availability of special autographed editions of the novel email: glasscocoon@hotmail for details. * * * Original portions of this review Copyright© Christopher J. Jarmick 2001. The above work is protected by international copyright law. * * *


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August 30, 2001