Dressed to Kill

Dressed to Kill (Brian De Palma, 1980)

It centers on the murder of a housewife and an investigation involving a young prostitute who witnessed the murder, the victim’s teenaged son and her psychiatrist.

Not admitting that Brian De Palma uses aesthetics and masters the thriller genre would be a crime. But not admitting that he literally stole Alfred Hitchcock’s screenplay of Psycho and even his way to shoot his film would be an even bigger crime. However, this crime is stylized and quite entertaining. Playing with the conventions of the thriller and using many tricks of the old master aforementioned without any restraint, De Palma gives a sexy reinterpretation of Hitchcock’s classic film.

Opening with Kate Miller (Angie Dickinson) showering and fantasising on a man, shot much like the overture of Carrie with Sissy Spacek showering and actually enjoying herself a little too much, De Palma’s signature of highly sexual women gets us into his own world. His vision of films that is parallel with reality much like a Quentin Tarantino of his time assuming that it is his way of seeing reality or better by transforming it and telling it his own particular way. Then the long shot of Kate stalking and being stalk by the stranger she will eventually sleep with is a masterful scene of chase without dialogues shot with superb camera movements.  

Like Psycho, the central character that we’ve been following for almost half of the film is brutally murdered by a disguised mysterious woman. Starting there, the young prostitute Liz (Nancy Allen) and Kate’s son Peter (Keith Gordon) embarks on their own investigation on the murder.

However, after we remove the influence of Alfred Hitchcock in Dressed to Kill, there’s not much, except De Palma’s over the top aesthetics of slow motions and long panoramic shots. And let’s not forget his vision of an erotic thriller directly out of a teen boy’s wet dream. Sure it’s arousing and it may help understand how the men’s desires work but it once again uses women as sexy props more than actual actors of this story. The characters are a little too boldly drawn and the Madonna and the Whore complex is once again scratched but not fully touched. Something that Martin Scorsese used to be better at with his films.

Even if Quentin Tarantino often praised De Palma’s work, and you all know how I admire QT’s films, I think that De Palma never has been able to make genuine films while being inspired by his masters. His admiration for his influences is too palpable and once you see it you can not, not see it. It is a nice cult film that for sure is well executed but it wasn’t original and satisfactory enough for me to actually want to multiple viewings with it.

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