Writer-director Brian De Palma maintains a measured yet fevered pitch from start to finish with this bloody thriller, a taut psycho-sexual chiller is a razor-sharp tale of passion, madness and murder. Fashionable Manhattan therapist Dr. Robert Elliott (Caine) faces the most terrifying moment of his life, when a psychotic killer begins attacking the women (Dickinson and Allen) in his life with a straight razor stolen from his office.
Desperate to find the murderer before anyone else is hurt, Elliott is soon drawn into a dark and disturbing world of chilling desires. As the doctor edges closer to the terrible truth, he finds himself lost in a provocative and deadly maze of obsession, deviance and deceit where the most harmless erotic fantasies can become the most deadly sexual nightmares.
Some movie critics condemned De Palma as a Hickcock wannabe. To condemn Dressed to Kill as a Hitchcock rip-off is to miss the sheer enjoyment of Brian De Palma’s delirious 1980 thriller. Hitchcockian homages run rampant through most of De Palma’s earlier films, and this one’s chock-full of visual quotes, mostly cribbed from Vertigo and Psycho. But De Palma’s indulgent depravity transcends simple mimicry to assume a vitality all its own.
It’s smothered in thickly atmospheric obsessions with sex, dread, paranoia, and voyeurism, not to mention a heavy dose of Psycho-like psychobabble about a wannabe transsexual who’s compelled to slash up any attractive female who reminds him–the horror!–that he’s still very much a man.
Angie Dickinson plays the sexually unsatisfied, fortysomething wife who’s the killer’s first target, relaying her sexual fantasies to her psychiatrist (Michael Caine) before actually living one of them out after the film’s celebrated cat-and-mouse sequence in a Manhattan art museum.
The focus then switches to a murder witness (De Palma’s then-girlfriend Nancy Allen) and Dickinson’s grieving whiz-kid son (Keith Gordon), who attempt to solve the murder while staying one step ahead (or so they think) of the crude detective (Dennis Franz) assigned to the case.
Propelled by Pino Donaggio’s lush and stimulating score, De Palma’s visuals provide seductive counterpoint to his brashly candid dialogue, and the plot conceals its own implausibility with morbid thrills and intoxicating suspense. If you’re not laughing at De Palma’s shameless audacity, you’re sure to be on the edge of your seat.
Character to watch: Michael Caine as Doctor Robert Elliott.
Journal your answers to the following questions after you watch the movie.
- How does this particular character’s journey compare with yours?
- Did the character develop certain characteristics during the movie that you have or that you would like to have? If so, what are those characteristics?
- What obstacles did this character face? What was his or her biggest challenge?
- What would you have done differently if you had been in the same position as the character?
- Is this character the type of person you would be friends with? Why or why not?