There is much to love about Brian De Palma. The highly praised and iconic filmmaker has brought us some of the best psychological thrillers in history including Sisters (1973), Carrie (1978), Dressed to Kill (1980), Blow Out (1981) and classic action films like Scarface (1983), and Mission: Impossible (1996). While some of his current films like The Black Dahlia (2006) and Passion (2012) did not fare well with audiences, De Palma still remains one of the best directors of our time with his unique and artistic eye for cinematography and his voyeuristic and envelope-pushing genre varieties.
In particular, De Palma is fascinated by the idea of sexuality and strong female characters which is apparent in his film, Dressed to Kill. Dressed to Kill is definitely one of my favorite De Palma films, feeling extraordinarily relevant and timeless considering the year it was made. The clothing, technology, and scenery may be dated, but themes of unfulfilled sexuality and transgendered/transsexual identifiers remain ever significant.
Besides employing noteworthy topics of discussion, De Palma creates distinct and memorable characters for a murder mystery. Unlikely comrades join forces to uncover a bizarre murder. Kate (played by the sexy Angie Dickinson) has an unfulfilled sex life with her husband, of which she discusses with her therapist (played by Michael Caine). Unable to endure temptation, she gives in to a one-night stand with a stranger that ends in a devastating ending. Upon leaving, she is brutally murdered by what seems to be a man dressed as a woman; an assailant with a blonde wig and a razor blade, creating a lovely scene of bright red splatter. This scene comes as a shock to those who haven’t seen the movie because the movie definitely leads you to believe she is the main character, much like the unexpected kill of Janet Leigh in Psycho (1960) half way through the film. The murder is witnessed by a high-end prostitute named Liz (Nancy Allen). She joins forces with Kate’s nerdy son, Peter, to investigate the murder when Liz becomes the next target.
I can’t help but be reminded of the Dario Argento film, Tenebre (1982), when I watch Dressed to Kill. Tenebre is much bloodier and gorier than Dressed to Kill with its X-rating and copious amount nudity and multiple murder scenes, but both cater to a psychosexual nature. Argento is more misogynistic in his approach, while De Palma hails female sexuality and all its power. The ending is thrilling and creepy, leaving us with one last scare, and generating a gift of a film.
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