Now before this review starts looking like one of those Mad Magazine "Nasty Files", let me point out that when it comes to ripping off anybody, including Hitch, De Palma is most certainly the Master of the Macabre. Additionally, De Palma was hardly one to simply create a spoof or direct unauthorized remake. Instead, De Palma took his ideas and evolved them into interesting and unique stories that... well, still felt a lot like Re-Hitch, but good Re-Hitch!
This brings us to Dressed to Kill, one of Brian De Palma's edgiest and deservedly most famous films. While this shocker is still an effective and surprising mystery, the film certainly shows its age in a lot of the dated style and more obvious techniques. On the other hand, regardless of how many years have gone by, Dressed to Kill is no less hot. Hot, hot, hot!
Dressed to Kill doesn't waste any time in that category either. The film begins with our leading lady Kate Miller (Angie Dickinson) taking a seductive shower and fantasizing in her own special way. Of course, we found out later that the amazingly perfect naked body was not that of our "Police Woman" at all, but was that of Victoria Lynn, Penthouse Magazine model (and uniquely qualified for the job).
Regardless of who the lady was from the neck up or down, Kate is far from a happy lady. Her son Peter (Keith Gordon) is a genius who is a little more interested in his inventions and experiments than his mom while her husband Mike (Fred Webster) is almost as good a lover as Mister Furley is a snappy dresser! The reference stands... Three's Company was still on while Dressed to Kill was in theatres!
Anyway, to work on her stress levels, Kate is seeing the esteemed psychiatrist Doctor Robert Elliott (Michael Caine) and, if she's lucky, seeing a strange man she runs into in the museum. That might work.
The Bad News is that these wayward events soon put her in the sights of a serial killer named Bobbi whose voice messages to Dr. Elliott reveal that "she" just might be a transsexual former patient of his with a serious mad-on for chick patients of the good doctor! I guess s/he figures if she can't get her thing cut off, she'll cut somebody else to bits! No pun intended here, but... DICK MOVE!
Things start to go either really right or really wrong for Bobbi when the aftermath of one of her murders is witnessed by a high-end (no pun intended either) hooker named Liz Blake (Nancy Allen, looking mind-blowingly hot) who takes her story (and the murderous straight razor) straight to the cops. The problem for her is that Liz' story of a blonde woman in an elevator sounds an awful lot like Liz Blake herself and thus sleazy detective Marino (Dennis Franz) immediately classifies her as a suspect in Bobbi's crimes!
While Dr. Elliott tells the cops what he can while maintaining doctor/ patient confidentiality and Liz works her beautiful ass off trying to prove her innocence, an unlikely ally joins Liz as an amateur detective. Luckily the kid's a genius and he's... okay, hell, it's Peter, okay? Unluckily for Liz, however, is the fact that while she didn't quite get a perfect look at Bobbi (who was wearing big sunglasses and a distracting wig), Bobbi most certainly got a good look at her and is ready to make her the next victim. The race is on to see whether Bobbi can kill Liz before Liz can catch Bobbi with or without the help of the cops.
And for the viewers, the question is whether or not Bobbi will be caught before the super hot Nancy Allen (who was married to the luckiest director in Hollywood during the making of his famed film) will get completely naked. Say what you want about De Palma, but the man really reclaimed those "Shower Scenes" and made them his own, didn't he?
Like some of the best of Hitchcock, the real key to Dressed to Kill is the suspense, coupled with a heaping helping of identity confusion. This is centered, of course, around the character of our killer Bobbi. De Palma keeps the viewer guessing about who he or she really is. We know that the killer is a pre-operative transsexual who is a transvestite in the meantime and we know the character is insane... but that's about it. We also never truly get a clear picture of Bobbi until the unflinching reveal. She is played by more than one actor (sometimes even an actual woman) all of whom also play another character as well. Therefore we never quite know what we're looking at with Bobbi. Further, Bobbi's voice is given to us by an uncredited William Finley, who is never seen on screen, so we never quite know who we're looking at or hearing when or where. The uncomfortable and uncertain feel to Bobbi works for the mystery and the ultimate resolution as well.
However, while the story is interesting, challenging and surprising, the surprise twist of the climax is one that can be seen a hop, skip and a jump before that revelation finally pops up. That's not to say it's less surprising, but hey, it's known easily enough before De Palma (as both writer and director) seems to have intended it to be. Then again, Dressed to Kill never truly hides what it is, almost daring the audience to figure its secrets out. Additionally, De Palma clearly goes for quite a few shock-value moments and cheap thrills to keep the plot going. Not every plot point in question is even originally his, either. Hitchcock fans will recognize quite a few borrowed elements stuck into Dressed to Kill!
On the other hand, this is no High Anxiety and it's quite clear that De Palma has employed these elements because he loves the movies. It's easy to see how films like these and the elements he continued to evolve in films like Body Double and Blow Out might have introduced Hitchcockian Horror to a new generation. He's no Hitchcock, but he's no travesty either!
The directing, acting and writing are all quite good. Michael Caine is fantastic in his role and Nancy Allen truly helps make this movie what it is. She is incredibly sexy, whether she's dressed to kill or undressed to thrill. Her seductive qualities enhance every scene and she successfully captures the sympathies of the audience. Meanwhile Susanna Clemm and David Margulies do well in their small, yet significant roles.
Dressed to Kill isn't quite perfect, but still manages to pack a creepy, scary and sexy punch in its strange and often imitated (and imitative) thrills. Dressed to Kill remains one of De Palma's best and snags Three and One Half Stars out of Five! This is not your RoboCop's Nancy Allen; this is not your Chrisine's Keith Gordon and this is not Michael Caine as you've seen him. This is, however, the same old Dennis Franz we've seen over and over. Watch this film for Nancy Allen and Victoria Lynn, if nothing else, and see just why you'll want to see them over and over again in the next reel... well... the next shower scene, anyway!
Faced with a Blow-Out over Body Doubles
Who just might be Cross-Dressed to Kill?
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"If I dressed as Decatur and had sex with Nancy Allen, would that be considered a LESBIAN SCENE?"
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