Thursday, October 20, 2011

Dressed to Kill Blu-ray Review

Kate Miller (Angie Dickinson, “Police Woman”) is a sexually-repressed housewife who seeks treatment from Dr. Robert Elliott (two-time Academy Award-winner Michael Caine, Hannah and Her Sisters, The Cider House Rules).  While secretly leaving a hotel after a one-night affair, Kate is mysteriously murdered by a tall blonde woman wearing sunglasses.  The only witness is a high-priced call girl, Liz (Nancy Allen in a Golden Globe-nominated performance), who becomes the killer’s next target.  With the help of Kate’s grown son, Peter (Keith Gordon, A Midnight Clear), Liz discovers that the murderer is connected to Dr. Elliott, and the pair come face-to-face with a shocking surprise.  Written and directed by critically-acclaimed filmmaker Brian De Palma (Scarface, The Untouchables), Dressed To Kill is a dark, psychological crime thriller with twists and turns around every corner.

Film (3 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

Dressed to Kill is Brian De Palma’s homage to Alfred Hitchcock but where Hitchcock’s shower scene in Psycho left a lot to the imagination (both nudity and violence wise), De Palma shows no restraint and shows the viewers full frontal nudity along with an attack.  By opening the movie in this fashion, De Palma seems to be gleefully trying to one-up the master, while at the same time turning the viewers into voyeurs.  While Kate Miller (Angie Dickinson) washes herself rather throroughly in the shower while fantasizing as she is accompanied by Pino Donaggio’s lush score, she is suddenly grabbed from behind.  Fortunately it’s just a dark sexual fantasy for the sexually frustrated Kate who feigns enjoyment during sex with her husband.  Their marriage is over as far as Kate is concerned but her husband doesnt’ seem to realize that or pay much attention to her.
When Kate goes to her therapist Dr. Elliott (Michael Caine) and complains about her marriage, he points out that she has never told her husband how she feels and that she is venting her anger at him  instead of her husband.  Kate asks Elliott if he finds her attractive and if he wants to sleep with her to which he declines saying that his marriage is too important to him to jeopardize it.  Elliott.  Feeling dejected, Kate returns home unsatisfied and lonely.  Not everything is bad in Kate’s life however, as her son from her first marriage Peter (Keith Gordon) is a brilliant young man who spends all of his time building new gadgets.  Kate is very proud of her son and warns him not to overdo it and she heads to the Metropolitan Museum to view the art-work.  While viewing the paintings, Kate herself becomes a voyeur as she observes people coming and going in the museu.  In a much too long sequence with no dialogue, we watch her as she watches others making all of us complicit even more.  Kate eventually notices a man in sunglasses that she takes a fancy to and she follows him all over the museum until she eventually goes home with him.
After sleeping with him, Kate tries to sneak out but in the process of leaving him a note, she discovers a medical letter informing that states that the man has contracted a venereal disease.  Horrified and overwhelmed by shame, Kate quickly leaves and enters the elevator only to realize that she has left her wedding ring in the man’s apartment. As she returns to the man’s floor the elevator doors open to expose a blond woman standing there with a razor in hand who brutally attacks Kate.  This attack was witnessed by a high class prositute Liz Blake (Nancy Allen) who had been about to enter the elevator when the doors open to reveal a bloody Kate begging for help.  Liz sees the killer in the safety mirror in the elevator but before she can try to help Kate, it’s too late and the doors close.
With a killer aware that she saw what happened, Liz goes to the police to get help and protection and is met by a sarcastic cop named Marino (a very funny Dennis Franz) who isn’t happy about the entire case.  He tells Liz that she is his prime suspect and that she better find the client she was with when she witnessed the attack or he would lock her up.  Marino also talks to Elliott and tries to get information from him but Elliott refuses to divulge much, citing doctor-patient confidentiality.  When Liz is released, it’s only a matter of time before the killer begins to stalk her with a razor.  With Liz on the run with no apparent help from the cops, only Kate’s son Peter is willing to help her as he wants revenge for the death of his mother.  Peter sets up a time lapse camera to film Dr. Elliott’s patients coming and going which eventually captures the blond killer leaving the office.  Realizing that if they could get their hands on the appointment book that they could learn the identity of the killer, Liz and Peter concoct a dangerous plan to infiltrate the doctor’s office.  Liz goes to see Dr. Elliott to try to seduce him in order to see his appointment book while Peter watches from outside.  What they don’t realize is that the killer is a lot closer than they think…
Dresssed to Kill comes dangerously close to copying Psycho but the visual flair DePalma employs manages to keep this his own.  Despite that, this movie is almost a beat for beat remake of Pyscho with only some surface details changed.  If you are going stealing from someone DePalma is at least smart enough to steal from one of the best. This movie is an interesting blend of Hitchcockian shots combined with De Palma’s trademark excess.  While most director’s would show the attraction between Kate and the stranger at the museum, De Palma turns it into an epic ten minute silent tour de force with a constantly moving camera that’s technically brilliant but completely unnecessary. Ironically, it’s when he’s copying Hitchcock that the film works best.  De Palma is a talented filmmaker who needs strong material to ground him enough to get his best work like The Untouchables.  When left unchecked, his tendency towards excess can destabilize a movie much like what happened in Scarface three years after this film.
The actors all do a fine job and it’s always nice to see one of my favorite actors Michael Caine in anything.  Here, he has a role that requires a lot more from him than it would suggest and as always he’s up to the task.  Angie Dickinson portrays a sympathetic figure despite her adultery and her bond to her son feels true and filled with love. Keith Gordon also does an admirable job as the brilliant and angry son, a role that generally thankless and annoying in most movies.  Nancy Allen seems a little miscast (being married to DePalma probably didn’t hurt) but she offers an acceptable performance.  Dennis Franz almost steals the show as the funny and sarcastic Marino.  It’s a role that Franz has played many time before and after this, but he’s so good at it that it’s always great to see.  He’s like a breath of fresh air in this movie and his scenes with Caine are a lot of fun to watch.  Although this movie isn’t perfect, you have to admire De Palma’s willingness to steal from the master and try to improve upon it.  The fact that he has the balls to try that on his own terms makes him worthy of respect even if I would have preferred something entirely original.

Video (3 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

For a movie full of soft focus shots and filmed in the eighties, this look just about as good as you’d expect.  This 1080p (2.40:1) transfer looks grainy and soft which has been reportedly been the case with DePalma’s other movies made during this period.  This is probably the best this movie is going to look due to the artisitic choices made at the time of filming and the film stock used for the movie.  Colors are decent and there’s some nice detail shown here and there.  Black levels are acceptable as as flesh tones which appear natural and consistent.  Fans of the movie can take heart that this Blu-ray does look better than the previous DVD release but they shouldn’t expect a miracululous transformation.

Audio (4 out of 5 stars) 

Dressed To Kill’s DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio audio track fares a lot better than its video quality counterpart.  This new re-engineered track adds a lot of immersion to the movie with some great use of all of the channels.  Dialogue is clear and easy to understand and the music by Pino Donaggio sounds great.  The sound effects are also effective whether it’s a razor slashing flesh, a subway whooshing by, a shower, or the sounds of the city at night.  While purists may complain at the lack of a lossless original mono track, I think this mix sounded great, especially considering its age.

Special Features (3 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

These are the same extras that were ported over from the previous Special Edition DVD release.  All of them are sadly in standard definition except for the film’s trailer.
  • The Making of a Thriller Documentary – The highlight of the extras and a substantial over forty minute look back at the movie with most of the film’s cast and crew with the exception of Michael Caine.  There’s a lot of good info in here with highlights being the discussion about Angie Dickinson’s body double for the shower scene, the film’s violence, and we learn that De Palma originally planned to start the movie with a shocking alternate opening that I won’t spoil for those who haven’t seen the movie.
  • A Film Comparison – The 3 Versions of Dressed to Kill – A look at the differences between the unrated, R-rated, and network TV versions of the opening shower scene,  Kate’s death, and Liz’s attempt to seduce Dr. Elliott.
  • Slashing Dressed to Kill – The film garnered quite a bit of nororiety with it’s subject matter and graphic scenes and we hear from De Palma and cast memeber Nancy Allen and Keith Gordon talk about what was done to avoid being labeled an X-rating.
  • Dressed to Kill: An Appreciation by Keith Gordon - Gordon talks about his appreciation of the film and of working with De Palma.
  • Photo Gallery
  • Original Theatrical Trailer

Final Thoughts (3 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

This is a fun, sleazy, vouyeuristic thriller that showcases the best and worst of Brian De Palma’s directorial tendencies.  As usual, he does nothing small which can work beautifully or make the final result so over the top that it becomes campy.  In this instance, De Palma toes the line between camp and over the top thriller, and manages to not cross over into unintentional hilarity which he failed to do with Scarface.  Filled with good actors and a plot that took many by surprise, Dressed to Kill works as a nice homage to Hitchcock with an extra does of nudity and violence.
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