Review Date: October 4, 2001
Released by: MGM
Release date: 8/28/2001
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 2.35:1 | 16x9: Yes
Alfred Hitchcock is one of the most influential filmmakers of all time. Countless films have used or advanced ideas that Hitchcock literally invented. Sometimes, these homages are used to create new concepts and ideas, and sometimes they're just imitations. Brian DePalma has run the entire gamut of Hitchcock influence: From inspired homages to near knock-offs. His film Dressed to Kill is practically a remake of Psycho. It's very well done technically however, and still a darn fun one to watch.
Marion Crane, oops, I mean Kate Miller (Angie Dickinson) is middle aged, bored, sexually frustrated, and alienated from her son Peter (Keith Gordon). She even goes as far as to try to seduce her psychologist Dr. Elliott (Michael Caine). An afternoon at an art museum leads her to a mid-day tryst at a strange man's apartment.
Upon leaving the apartment though, she is attacked and savagely murdered in the elevator. The only witness is a call girl, Liz (Nancy Allen), who sees the woman that killed Kate and believes she might be the next target. The police, led by Detective Marino (A pre-NYPD and much thinner Dennis Franz), naturally believe that Liz may be the killer. Dr. Elliott thinks the killer may be "Bobby", an ex-patient who desires a sex-change operation.
With no one else to turn to, Peter and Liz team up to find the killer themselves. They begin a surveillance of Dr. Elliott and his patients. But when they discover what might really be going on in the doctor's office, they just might join Kate in the city morgue.
I had always thought that Body Double was DePalma's biggest Hitchcockian film, but that was only because I never saw Dressed to Kill. This isn't to say Dressed to Kill is a bad film, because it definitely isn't. It's just that it's so similar to several Hitchcock films, you'll have the ending totally figured out less than five minutes into the movie. You couldn't say that with Psycho, could you? And if you're still not sure, check the movie's title (same thing with Body Double).
Still, there are some really inspired scenes. Everyone loves to point out the elevator scene, and while that scene is very well filmed and executed (and quite graphic too!), it's clearly a rehash of the shower scene from Psycho. Not only is the murder itself similar to Marion Crane's demise, it's also the striking concept of killing the main character halfway through the film. The exact same thing was done in Psycho. Plus, the museum bit is too reminiscent of Vertigo for my tastes.
I think the scene that should get a little more respect is the Subway scene. Here is where DePalma shows he can be influenced by Hitchcock without directly copying him. This scene keeps you on the edge of your seat without feeling that you've seen it before. There's a similar effect in DePalma's 1984 film Body Double (which is mostly a combination of Vertigo and Rear Window). In that movie, there is a scene where Craig Wasson is pretending to be a porn producer, but almost loses his cover. I can't think of anything like that in Hitchcock's library, yet it provides the same feel. That's the difference between homage and rip-off.
Other things about Dressed to Kill are worth mentioning. The acting is absolutely top-notch, with every single role played absolutely perfectly. Dennis Franz played mostly over-the-top characters at this point in his career (check him out in Blow Out, also directed by DePalma), but his Detective Marino has an earnestness beneath his gruff exterior. It's this type of acting that has been so highly praised in his performance as Andy Sipowicz on NYPD Blue. Angie Dickinson does great as well, playing against the type of characters she'd been known for up until that point. And this might just be the best performance of Nancy Allen's career.
Dressed to Kill offers up frank sexual discussions that are still a bit taboo today, let alone in 1980. This movie was heavily criticized for it's sexual content, and I can see why. Several scenes were edited to give this movie an R rating, and even then it's quite sexually graphic. On this disc you have the option of the R or the unrated cut. Needless to say, the unrated cut is the more interesting. More on that later.
I'm not sure if I'll watch Dressed to Kill as regularly as I do some of DePalma's other films like Carrie and Blow Out. This film, along with Body Double (incorrectly referred to as DePalma's next film in the liner notes. He made Blow Out and Scarface before Body Double) is so derivative of Hitchcock and I can't get past that very easily. But there are some great moments in this film, and while it's not DePalma's best, it's a good addition to anyone's collection.
Dressed to Kill is presented in it's original 2.35:1 ratio, enhanced for widescreen TVs. I can't imagine seeing this film other than in it's proper aspect ratio; DePalma uses every inch of the screen, especially the sides. As far as the visual quality, that's quite good as well. There's some white speckling, and some major blemishes once or twice, but that is undoubtedly from the print source. Excellent contrast in some of the key scenes as well, like the final confrontation in Dr. Elliott's office. Very well done.
MGM provided a Dolby Digital 5.1 remix. Obviously it was not shown that way originally, so the sound is kept relatively gimmick-free. The main speakers are used primarily for Pino Donaggio's fabulous score, and the dialogue is kept to the center. Surrounds are really only used for thunderclaps near the end of the film. While it's not flashy, it's clear, which is what's most important. The original mono soundtrack is also included for any purists out there.
Like MGM's release of DePalma's Carrie, a running commentary is eschewed in favor of a "docu-commentary", where the principles (DePalma, Dickinson, Allen, Gordon, and Franz) frankly discuss the important scenes in-depth. Laurent Bouzereau, who produced the Carrie documentaries, is responsible for this one as well. It's very informative, and you get to hear Angie Dickinson use the term "beaver shot". This documentary runs about 45 minutes. There's a shorter documentary called "Slashing Dressed to Kill", which involves all the cuts made to the film in order to obtain the R rating, as well as DePalma answering his critics about the excessive Hitchcock influences. He may not believe he was remaking Psycho, but I still think the final product tells otherwise.
One featurette I really enjoyed was a direct comparison of the unrated, R Rated, and television cuts. This was my first time seeing the movie, and I was quite amazed by the graphic nudity in the opening scene, so it wasn't too surprising to see that this was heavily edited. I like that they did the comparison side by side (actually one on top of the other). It's a nice feature I'd like to see on other films.
The last featurette is a short interview with Keith Gordon, where he continues to discuss the film. I'm not really sure why this could not be included in the other two featurettes. And finally, there are the usual collections of stills, lobby cards, promotional material, and the original trailer. Check out some of the unused promotional art that was just as Hitchcock-influenced as the film itself.
Dressed to Kill is a highly enjoyable film, and technically it's fantastic. There are several excellent sequences and it's visually brilliant. The sexual commentary is very well done too. It's major drawback is that the basic plot mechanism is so openly lifted from Alfred Hitchcock. DePalma's fans can look past this, but to me it was still the most glaring facet of Dressed to Kill. The disc itself represents excellent work by MGM, and I do enjoy the style of Bouzereau's documentaries. I can't give it a blanket recommendation, but it's well worth checking out at least once (even for Hitchcock devotees who can pick up on some of the more subtle references).
Movie - B-
Image Quality - A-
Sound - B+
Supplements - A
- Running time - 1 hour 45 minutes
- Unrated and Rated R
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround and Mono
- French Mono
- French and Spanish subtitles
- Documentary including interviews with Brian DePalma, Angie Dickinson, Nancy Allen, Dennis Franz, Keith Gordon, and others
- Unrated, R Rated, and TV Rated comparison featurette
- "Slashing Dressed to Kill" featurette
- An Appreciation by Keith Gordon featurette
- Advertising Gallery
- Original Theatrical Trailer