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Brian De Palma
Michael Caine, Angie Dickinson, Nancy Allen, Keith Gordon, Dennis Franz, David Margulies
Writing Credits:
Brian De Palma

Every Nightmare Has A Beginning ... This One Never Ends

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. And 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!

Box Office:
$6.5 million.
Domestic Gross
$31.899 million.

Rated R

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
English LPCM Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 105 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 9/8/2015

• “The Making of Dressed to Kill” Documentary
• “Version Comparison” Featurette
• “Slashing Dressed to Kill” Featurette
• “An Appreciation by Keith Gordon” Featurette
• Trailer
• Interviews
• “Defying Categories: Ralf Bode” Featurette
• Storyboards
• Booklet


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


Dressed To Kill: Criterion Collection [Blu-Ray] (1980)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 4, 2015)

After 1976’s Carrie brought him to a mass audience, filmmaker Brian De Palma enjoyed a pretty good run of decent-sized hits for the next decade or so. 1980’s Dressed to Kill finds him smack in the middle of that period and remains one of his best-received efforts.

Kate Miller (Angie Dickinson) endures an unfulfilling sex life with husband Mike (Fred Weber). She indulges in sexual fantasies, hits on her therapist, Dr. Robert Elliott (Michael Caine), and even flirts with strangers at an art museum.

The latter episode leads to an erotic episode in a cab – and Kate’s murder. When she ends up in an elevator, a mysterious blonde woman boards and slashes Kate to death with a straight razor.

During this fateful ride, the elevator stops long enough for Liz Blake (Nancy Allen) to see the crime as well as snag the murder weapon and become the killer’s possible next target. Another complication? It looks like the slasher’s a transgender patient of Dr. Elliott’s and the maniac got the razor from the therapist’s office. This leads the doctor and Liz on a crash course with terror.

Throughout his career, De Palma received criticism as a Wannabe Hitchcock. Some of that seems undeserved, as his filmography features a lot of movies with no connection to Hitchcock at all, but De Palma directed enough flicks in that vein for the appellation to stick.

De Palma never flaunted his Hitchcockian leanings more strongly than with Kill. This isn’t a case of a movie in which a director shows minor influences; the film openly steals from Hitchcock films and themes. De Palma couldn’t have made Kill more Hitchcockian if he’d shaved his head, put on a lot of weight and married a chick named Alma.

Is it good faux Hitchcock? A lot of people think so, but I don’t see it. The movie lifts the Psycho opening in the way it starts down one path before it kills off its presumed lead character.

That worked much better in Psycho, and not just because it was more shocking in 1960. Even when you know what’ll happen to poor Janet Leigh – and virtually every one who sees Psycho knows about the shower scene – the first act still delivers good tension and an interesting experience in its own right. The Marion Crane parts of Psycho don’t work because of the startling payoff at the Bates Motel; they work because they’re done in such an involving manner.

The same can’t be said for the first act of Kill. Indeed, you’ll fear that you’ve accidentally ended up with some cheesy Cinemax soft-core porn film as you watch the Lusts and Desires of Kate Miller. The Really Dull Lusts and Desires of Kate Miller, that is; while Marion Crane’s story offers its own intrigue before she meets her soapy fate, Kate’s delivers a snoozer. Her tales provide little of interest and we don’t really care when she gets all slashed up in the elevator.

Even after that super-slow start, Kill doesn’t manage to provide much excitement or suspense. It comes with a fairly easy to read plot, one that lacks sequences to keep us involved. Liz’s story never turns into anything particularly compelling, and the eventual reveal of the killer does little to thrill or surprise.

De Palma even throws in a psychiatrist to explain the film’s killer, ala the end of Psycho! Kill does create its own ending after that, so at least it doesn’t slavishly replicate the earlier film’s finale. Not that its ending delivers anything to redeem the flick after the prior 90 minutes of tedium.

Derivative though he may be, I’ve liked some of Brian De Palma’s work, and I think he rebounded with 1981’s Blow Out. However, Dressed to Kill/I> just comes across as plastic Hitchcock.

The Disc Grades: Picture B/ Audio B/ Bonus B

Dressed to Kill appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. Though the image showed its age – and photographic choices – the movie usually looked pretty good.

As I noted, I suspect some of my potential complaints stemmed from the original photography. The film opted for a semi-gauzy look at times that left more than a few soft shots.

Despite those cinematographic decisions, the movie mostly offered positive delineation. I couldn’t call it razor sharp, but the film showed appropriate definition and looked pretty distinctive. Jaggies and moiré effects didn’t become a factor, and I noticed no edge haloes. In terms of print flaws, I noticed a couple of small specks but nothing more.

As for the colors, the gauzy look affected those as well. This was a movie with a diffuse look, so don’t expect vibrant hues. Dressed to Kill went with a chilly feel, and it could seem a bit more blue/teal than I’d expect, which made me wonder if the palette had been tampered with to fit modern styles. I’d lean toward “no”, as the teal orientation wasn’t consistent or heavy-handed.

Black levels seemed to be fairly rich and deep, while shadow detail was usually find; a couple of shots were a smidgen thick, but most demonstrated good clarity. This wasn’t a movie I’d use to demo my big old TV, but I thought it reproduced the film well.

As for the film’s LPCM monaural soundtrack, it held up fairly well. Audio quality worked fine given its age. Music was rich and full, while effects showed reasonable clarity; those elements didn’t have a lot of punch but they seemed pretty accurate. Speech remained acceptably natural and intelligible. The mix offered a good representation of the source.

How does the Criterion edition compare to the Blu-ray from 2011? Audio varied due to use of channels. While the Criterion set came with the original monaural, the 2011 disc provided a 5.1 remix. Both were fine, but I preferred the mono track because it presented the way the movie was originally heard.

In terms of visuals, I’d say it was a wash. Both demonstrated the pros and cons of their source material. The Criterion version might be a little stronger, but I wouldn’t call it a revelation.

The Criterion set mixes old and new extras. The Making of Dressed to Kill goes for 43 minutes, 51 seconds and provides notes from screenwriter/director Brian De Palma, producer George Litto, editor Jerry Greenberg, and actors Angie Dickinson, Nancy Allen, Dennis Franz and Keith Gordon. The show looks at the story and characters, the movie’s roots and development, cast and performances, sets and locations, music, photography and editing, effects, costumes, and thoughts about the final product.

“Making” gives us a tight, informative take on the film. It hits most of the right notes and does so in a concise, enjoyable manner. I wish it’d been a little longer, but I can’t complain, as it delivers a nice overview of the production.

The Blu-ray provides an unrated version of Dressed to Kill, and the next featurette lets us see other permutations – well, parts of them, at least. Version Comparison lasts five minutes, 14 seconds as it alternates between split-screen comparison between the unrated and “R”-rated versions and fullscreen glimpses of the TV cut. (Dialogue scenes compare “R” and unrated on their own.) These are a lot of fun to inspect.

Next comes a featurette called Slashing Dressed to Kill. It runs nine minutes, 49 seconds and includes notes from De Palma, Allen, Gordon, Greenberg, Litto, and Dickinson. We get a look at the changes made for the “R”-rated cut and issues connected to the film’s editing and rating; it also touches on some controversies. This seems a little redundant after the prior two pieces, but it still has some interesting moments. The attempts to defend De Palma’s “borrowing” from Hitchcock seem disingenuous, though; in Kill, he does way more than just use some of the same themes.

For info from an actor, we find the six-minute, four-second An Appreciation by Keith Gordon. In this, the actor conveys his thoughts about aspects of the movie’s technical elements. Though Gordon doesn’t make me like the flick better, I think he throws out some useful insights.

After the film’s trailer, we get extras new to the Criterion release. The Interviews area gives us segments with six participants: director Brian DePallma (19:25), actor Nancy Allen (16:11), producer George Litto (12:02), composer Pino Donaggio (15:41), body double Victoria Lynn Johnson (8:42), and poster photographic art director Stephen Sayadian (10:15). <

Across these, we learn about the film’s place in De Palma’s career as well as its origins and development, story/characters, cast and performances, sound design and music, cast and performances, visual design, De Palma’s working style, advertising and the movie’s reception. All of the interviews offer good information, so expect to learn a lot over all six of them.

Another new piece, Defying Categories looks at the work of cinematographer Ralf Bode. In this 10-minute, 40-second featurette, we get notes from filmmaker Michael Apted and experimental video artist Peer Bode as they discuss the life and career or Ralf Bode. They provide a strong examination of the late cinematographer’s work.

Storyboards offers a stillframe collection. We get 42 storyboards for a few scenes. These might be the worst-drawn storyboards I’ve ever seen, but they’re a fun addition to the package.

The set finishes with a booklet. This 12-page piece includes credits, photos and an essay from critic Michael Koresky. It’s not one of Criterion’s best booklets, but it offers value.

Anyone who wants to brand Brian De Palma as a shameless Hitchcock thief will find ample evidence from 1980's Dressed to Kill. The movie provides a laundry list of elements taken from Hitchcock flicks but never creates its own personality – or much tension or drama. The Blu-ray delivers good picture, audio and supplements. I’m not wild about the film, but I think this becomes a satisfactory Blu-ray.

Consumer footnote: initial runs of the Blu-ray came with a flaw that affected picture quality. The disc reviewed here comes from the subsequent pressing. If you’re concerned that you might accidentally get the wrong one, look at the right column on the back cover. About halfway down, you’ll see a blurb about the version; if it reads “Second Printing”, you’re safe. If it says “First Printing”, you have the old defective Blu-ray. I doubt any of the first printings will actually make it to retailers, but you can use this information if you want to be sure.

To rate this film, visit the original review of DRESSED TO KILL

Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main