Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Golden Title: Dressed to Kill (1980)

Dressed to Kill (1980)
Rating: *****
Starring: Michael Caine, Angie Dickinson, Nancy Allen

A Hitchcockian thriller courtesy of Brian De Palma, Dressed to Kill is one of the few titles to be bashed and burned by the uprising uptight uproars of a morally frightened public during its time of release. Quite a stir for a film that only featured a few brutal murders...

A steamy opening has us watching one married and showering Kate Miller passionately caressing herself with a soft sponge and soap water in the morning. This lengthy visage is soon interrupted when her husband forced himself to her, much to her dissatisfaction and disgust.

A murder still most squeamish for me
Apparently, Kate hasn't been happy for a while and is resorting to visiting one Dr. Robert Elliot (Michael Caine), a psychiatrist, trying to find some meaning to her life.When one of her sessions with Elliot proved to be stale, Kate decided to visit the city's art gallery and allowed herself be stalked and seduced by a tall dark man, with eyes hidden behind a set of shades. After a brief stalk-and-tease through the maze-like gallery, Kate finds herself love-playing with the man later that evening in his apartment, discovering to her horror afterwards that her dream lover was diagnosed with a venereal disease. Further distraught, Kate left the apartment in tears only to be attacked and slashed to ribbons by a blonde woman armed with a razor.

The aftermath of this crime was witnessed by one Liz Blake, a call girl who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time when she unwittingly saw the killer staring back at her. Liz is eventually brought in for questioning, but fears that her own unfortunate chance with the blonde woman might have set herself as the next target for the killer. With no help from sarcastic cops, Liz's only hope lies on Kate's nerdy son, Peter Miller, who's also on the trail to discover the truth behind his mother's murder.

Often labeled as a "slasher", Dressed to Kill is least of that and more of another Americanized Giallo, Italian murder mysteries that became monumental influences to the slasher sub-genre. Often a times, the film did dip into the bodycount territory as sharp razors are wielded with mad intent, stalked and chased victims ran through the toughest spots such as elevator chambers and night trains in a gang-littered public! But unlike slasher films, Dressed to Kill focuses more on the narrative mystery on why Kate was murdered and who committed it, a plot more akin to mainstream thrillers than exploitative dead teen films.

Very Giallo indeed, Bobby
We eventually find out that the killer goes by the name Bobby and they're somehow involved with Dr. Elliot; the killer's unseen introduction not only thickened the plot but was also the source of the movie's then public outcry: you see, Bobby is a transsexual, a mentally unstable one that seemingly snapped after Elliot refused to sign papers that would have allowed their sex change operation. This homophobia-inducing depiction, intertwined with the movie's stab on the popular (and controversial) slasher element of sex-means-death formulation proved to be quite difficult to swallow by many, especially by feminists who saw Kate's murder as a form of punishment for being unfaithful. There's a bit of truth to that, as shit storm upon shit storm seems to pile up on her, strangely starting with an unsatisfying marriage, contracting a horrible disease like a slap on the wrist, and eventually getting brutally murdered by a deranged cross-dressing transsexual. It's hard to ignore that this woman might be pushed around a bit much and it is upsetting, but the resulting catharsis is just too impressive to dislike.

The production of the film is admirable if anything; the acting is stellar (with Golden Globe winner Angie Dickinson as our ill-fated Kate Miller even winning a Saturn award in her role), the scoring is hauntingly beautiful with a right mix of emotion, majesty and depth thanks to our maestro Pino Donaggio, and there's a lot of great camera works and lighting that really remind me of works by Dario Argento or Mario Bava. Direction is filled with development and strays little from the story, despite seemingly littered with sleaze and downtown grittiness that are commonly found tackled in cheap exploitation movies.

the famous split-screen action!
Unfortunately, the revelation felt a bit too drawn out and it lost most of its effectiveness by the time we get to know who did it. The only thing I can say about it, without spoiling much, was that it took a stab on recreating the twist reveal in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, minus the shock. Not a big drawback as it was a reasonably explained reveal and the last jump scare was pretty good.

Perhaps one of the best slasher-influenced thrillers of its decade, on which rides upon on its own controversial reputation; whether you hate it or love it, Dressed to Kill is undeniably one of De Palma's best work and, for the right audience, it's the an must-see for all fans of bodycount films!

1 female slashed to death with razor
1 female strangled (dream)
1 female had her throat cut with razor (dream)
Total: 3

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