Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Michael Caine, Angie Dickinson, Nancy Allen, Keith Gordon, Dennis Franz
Director: Brian De Palma
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Mono, French Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: MGM/UA
Features: See Review
Length: 105 Minutes
Release Date: August 28, 2001

Film ***1/2  (Both Rated and Unrated Versions)

Brian De Palma’s Dressed to Kill was one of the first movies ever to cause controversy in the last place any filmmaker would want to receive any; the MPAA. De Palma was forced to cut a lot of material out of the film to simply avoid an X rating, which today is known as the infamous NC-17, a threat De Palma would face three years later with perhaps his most graphically violent film to date, Scarface. It infuriated De Palma in a big way, because he felt he created a very effective film, and one intended to be frighteningly violent and sexually erotic. Although an unrated version has been available in Europe for quite sometime now, it has now arrived to the States in this DVD release, offering an even more explicit viewing of what I found to already be a chilling movie experience.

Having been consistently compared to Alfred Hitchcock ever since his first movie, Sisters, in 1973, Dressed to Kill is clearly De Palma’s homage to Master Hitchcock’s Psycho, but with a much more explicit overtone. The movie, as a result is a very chilling ride, filled with non stop twists and turns as De Palma fills this presentation with countless tricks which strike you and pull you onto a path you weren’t expecting at all.

The film opens, on a steamy note I might add, with the introduction of Kate Miller (Angie Dickinson), a very attractive middle-aged woman who, in a downtrodden marriage, is still much a sexually active woman. Feeling not so fulfilled at home, she goes to psychiatrist Dr. Elliott (Michael Caine) for help on the issue. She even questions if he would consider sleeping with her, which he would if it weren’t for the love he has for his wife. Following that session, she goes to a downtown museum, where she sees numerous couples displaying affection, and she herself pursues a man eying her all the way to a sexual encounter in the backseat of a taxi. It then leads to the stranger’s apartment, after which Kate flees nervously into the elevator, but realizing she has forgotten her wedding band, she goes to retrieve it, but is suddenly murdered when returning to the floor.

What follows is a rather intriguing whodunit, as the only witness to the murder is a prostitute named Liz (Nancy Allen), who is then soon labeled the chief suspect, as well as the next target for the vicious killer. Liz soon encounters Kate’s grieving son, Pete (Keith Gordon), a computer genius whose expertise in that field allows him to maneuver through a real murder mystery, as he intends to help catch the killer responsible.

Brian De Palma’s landmark use of the camera has played a big part in my love for his movies, or any movie for that matter. His fantastic use of the split-screen is used once again in a sequence that shows both Dr. Elliott and Liz simultaneously while a TV interview between Phil Donahue and a transsexual is heard in both scenes. Also, Dressed to Kill illustrates how De Palma can take an basic scene an turn it into something unique and beyond, such as in a police interrogation scene which seems to capture almost every character’s points of view in each single edit.

I must note that if you’re squeamish in anyway, Dressed to Kill may not be the best thing to watch. Aside from being sexually explicit and graphically violent, the film also delves into even more darker areas, most especially that of transsexuals. I remember upon my first viewing of the film years ago, I was somewhat shaken by some of the so-called forbidden areas of life that were tackled in this movie, but as an admirer of Mr. De Palma’s, I’ve come to appreciate Dressed to Kill for what it is.

Video **1/2

As I’ve come to realize, many of De Palma’s earlier films haven’t faired very well as far as video transfers go, such as Obsession and Sisters, and while MGM’s transfer for Dressed to Kill doesn’t rank as low as those two other movies, it certainly isn’t as impressive as other transfers such as The Untouchables, and most recently, Blow Out, which was released by the same studio. There are two versions included, a rated and an unrated, and I have thus far only viewed the unrated version, but my guess is the rated version isn’t much different. Anamorphic, at least, and capable of at times looking well in the format for a movie released in 1980, the disc still has instances of noticeable grain and softness.

Audio ***

A rather dynamic use of audio is given to us by MGM, who applies a rather impressive 5.1 Dolby Digital audio track, which perfectly enhances the tension and terror that is captured in most of Brian De Palma’s films. Most notable is the suspenseful music score by early De Palma regular Pino Donaggio. The sound quality on Dressed to Kill is ironclad proof that MGM is capable of delivering quality sound to an impressive number of early releases.

Features ****

A superbly loaded Special Edition disc, which I have the pleasure of mentioning will give you a lot more bang for your buck, as the disc is priced under $20. Aside from including a steamy unrated edition of the movie, there is also a 45-minute Documentary/Retrospective on the making of the movie, which features interviews with Brian De Palma, Angie Dickinson, Nancy Allen, Keith Gordon, Dennis Franz, and producer George Litto. Also featured are three more intriguing featurettes, a 3-way breakdown of scenes from the unrated, rated, and network TV editions (if you could imagine that!). There is also another documentary titled “Slashing Dressed to Kill” which offers some insight into what De Palma had to go through in order to garner an R rating, and an appreciation by co-star Keith Gordon. Also included is an animated photo gallery, and a trailer.


Thoroughly chilling to the bone, and outstandingly stylish, Dressed to Kill is a top notch thriller that demonstrates Brian De Palma’s talent not just for breathtaking filmmaking, but scary material as well.