Dressed to Kill (December 31/01)
Brian DePalma has often been accused of ripping off Alfred Hitchcock. Dressed to Kill represents DePalma's most obvious homage to Hitchcock - and one of his most successful movies.
To give away too much of the plot would be criminal, but here it is in a nutshell. Angie Dickinson stars as an unhappy woman stuck in a seemingly loveless marriage. Michael Caine stars as her therapist - whose straight razor was recently used in a brutal murder. Much like Psycho, nothing is what it seems and characters that appear to be permanent are not.
Filled to the brim with DePalma's characteristic visual flair, Dressed to Kill is an amazing film just to look at. With his ethereal, soft-focus atmosphere and floating camerawork, the movie plays out like a dream turned into a nightmare. The film's opening sequence prepares the viewer for its trance-like nature - with Dickinson rudely awakened by a horrifying dream in which she's brutally murdered - and never lets up.
The first third or so of the movie may seem disorienting to someone who's never seen either a Hitchcock or DePalma film before. It doesn't appear to be going anywhere and often comes off as being downright pointless. DePalma devotes this entire first third of the film to Dickinson - we watch, voyeur-style, as she goes about her daily routine. It's a flirtatious trip to a museum that kicks things off, though. There, she playfully engages in a game of cat and mouse with a mysterious man - culminating in an erotic cab ride home. Though it initially seems as though this tall, dark stranger might influence the plot in some way, the film veers a sharp left and throws in the first of many surprises.
The bulk of the movie concerns Michael Caine's efforts to get to the bottom of the mystery surrounding Dickinson. He teams up with a prostitute that may or may not know what happened to her, and the two work to piece together the various clues that exist. Nancy Allen, DePalma's then wife and a staple of his flicks up until their divorce in the mid-80s, plays the hooker as one of those heart-of-gold types. She's good, as is the rest of the cast. And with a movie like this, where nothing is ever quite what it seems, that can't be too easy. Talk about employing a poker face.
Dressed to Kill contains a great deal of impressive thrills and over-the-top slasher antics, but it's DePalma's inventive style and the quality of acting that makes the movie more than just a forgettable horror flick.