Wednesday, 1 September 2010


I am continuing my thing of watching films that i own but have never seen, for this one i went with Brian De Palma's 1980 psycho-sexual PSYCO homage...DRESSED TO KILL...


There's something about Brian De Palma that i can't quite put my finger on. His cinematic output is unquestionably outstanding but he has that something that separates him from other thriller directors. With Dressed To Kill he's employed different techniques to ramp up the tension such as lengthy scenes with zero dialogue and this just adds to the suspence. I think that with this De Palma should be considered as the modern Hitchcock as his films, although at times, graphic in their depiction of violence and sex, achieve alot of the same tense, suspenseful feelings one gets from Hitch's films....

The plot follows Angie Dickenson's Kate Miller, a sexually repressed wife and mother who picks up a man in an art Gallery one afternoon and has an afternoon of unbelievable pleasure. While leaving she is attacked and brutally murdered in a lift by a blonde woman brandishing a straight edged razor. The body is found by escort Liz Blake (Nancy Allan). At the police station, Kate Miller's psychiatrist Dr. Robert Elliot (Michael Caine) is called to the station and asked questions about Kate as he was the last one to see her before her death. Also at the station is Kate's son Peter Miller (Keith Gordon), a technical wiz who uses a device to over hear the police detective questioning Dr.Elliot. Peter thinks something is awry and starts filming the people coming in and out of Elliot'd office. After Liz is tailed by the killer on a train she is saved by Peter and the two work together to track down the killer. 

MICHAEL CAINE as Dr. Robert Elliot
For me some of Caine's most memorable roles came from his parts in late 70s and early 80s films, and Dressed To Kill give him his most outlandish role so far. In the duel Role of Dr. Elliot and the Killer, Bobbi, Caine is a force to be reckoned with, His presence only elevates the film. As Dr. Elliot he has to try hard to surpress his urge to kill as he becomes aroused. He is a transsexual and his male side and his female side are at war. When he gets aroused Bobbi emerges and the wig, the female clothes and the hate comes to the front. Brian De Palma doesn't hint at any of this until the final explanation. Caine plays Elliot in a normal way. He's neither slimey, sleazy or violent. But has some deep rooted problems that eventually make themselves physically evident. 

Angie Dickinson was reluctant at first to play the part of Kate Miller, as she was primarily know as Police woman and was clean cut, With Miller, the character was sexually frustrated and Dickinson had to do a few daring scenes such as the back of the taxi scene where she has sex, in a highly charged erotic scene. This was very different from what she was used to although she played Big Bad Mama for Roger Corman and bared her flesh in that, Dressed to Kill leant more towards the pleasure and act of sex and the horrific outcome, where as in Big Bad Mama, her character was basically trash and would sleep with anyone. The Psycho similarities are more evident in her character as she is horrifically killed off 30 minutes in, a lot like
Janet Leigh in the Hitchcock film. All due respect to Dickinson, making the transition from respected tv actress in the Police Woman series to a character like Kate Miller...

NANCY ALLAN as Liz Blake
I'd seen Nancy Allan in films such as The Philadelphia Experiment and RoboCop, and always thought she was a good actress, Dressed To Kill only confirms this. Her role as put upon Call Girl Liz Blake is the soul of the film for me. Her explanation of her dream, as told to Michael Caine while dressed in sexy black lingerie is erotic and sexually explicit but doesn't veer in to pornographic, and it takes some guts to do that in front of someone as highly regarded as Sir Michael. she is sadly missed from our screens. She should make a comeback.

KEITH GORDON as Peter Miller
I'd only seen one other film with Keith Gordon in and that was John Carpenter's Christine. He was good in that and he's good in this as the technical wizard son of Angie Dickinson, who takes it upon himself to solve her murder.

Brian De Palma's use of split screen and lengthy scenes with no dialogue add a huge amount of tension to the film. One silent scene in particular stands out, that being the art Gallery scene where Angie is trying to entice a man into hooking up with her, she follows him around and then he follows her, then she follows him and vice versa and it's all set to an amazing score by Pino Donaggio. This kind of film shows that De Palma was a master at what he did, it's just a shame that he's lost that edge in recent years with films such as the awful Femme Fatale, Snake Eyes and the very anti De Palma Sci-fier Mission To Mars. He's also a brilliant writer and like Paul Schrader has a fascination with the Seedier side of life. It's abit of a shame that he's more known for his Gangster films than his 'horror' thrillers, with films like Scarface, The Untouchables and Carlito's way. I would love him to come back with an original horror thriller and show the new kids on the block how to rank up tension and make a film scary without having to resort to full blown gore.

Pino Donaggio's score for Dressed to Kill is outstanding, utilizing horns, strings and wood instruments and arranging them in a way that give each scene a atmospheric tone. Like i have said about the Museum scene,  it's only enhanced by the music as it get's bigger and bigger with each turn of a corner making the viewer believe something is going to happen just as she finds the man. The marriage of film and music go hand in hand in this and makes the film better for it.

Dressed To Kill is an atmospheric, tense film with stand out performances by all and a great score that had me glued to the screen for its entire runtime. Studio films these days don't seem to be able to do that and you have to look to smaller independent features for it. The most recent film i can think of that comes close to a tense, atmospheric tone is the British film Exam. Dressed To Kill is brilliant film and one i will be recommending to everyone i know...

FILM: 9/10

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