Dressed to Kill (1980)

dressed to kill poster 1980 movie de palma
8.0 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting: 6/10
Visuals: 9/10

Nice directing, Angie Dickenson sequence

Nancy Allen, weak story

Movie Info

Movie Name:  Dressed to Kill

Studio:  Cinema 77/Film Group

Genre(s):  Mystery/Suspense/Horror/Drama

Release Date(s):  July 25, 1980

MPAA Rating:  R

dressed to kill angie dickinson murdered elevator

Tough way to learn the lesson that cheating is wrong…

Kate Miller (Angie Dickinson) is bored with her life. She fantasizes about sex, and her husband generally isn’t part of that fantasy. When her son Peter (Keith Gordon) is unable to go with her to the art museum, she meets a man for an unplanned afternoon of sex. Heading home, the unthinkable happens, and now Kate’s son and a young prostitute named Liz Blake (Nancy Allen) are looking for answers.  Kate’s psychiatrist Dr. Robert Elliott (Michael Caine) might hold the answers they are seeking but finding the truth could lead to death!

Directed by Brian De Palma, Dressed to Kill is a psychological thriller.  The film was released to mixed reviews but has become a cult classic.  Following De Palma’s Home Movies (also released in 1980), the film received Razzie nominations for Worst Actor (Caine), Worst Actress (Allen), and Worst Director (De Palma).  The film also received some controversy for using body doubles for the nude scenes since many viewers were led to believe they were going to see then popular Angie Dickinson nude.  This controversy led De Palma to make Body Double in 1984.  The Criterion Collection released a remastered version of the film (Criterion #770).

dressed to kill dennis franz keith gordon michael caine

Andy Sipowicz…the early years

I can’t imagine why anyone would give De Palma a Razzie for Dressed to Kill because he is what makes the movie work. It feels like a very Hitchcock movie (in fact it borrows heavily from Psycho both in story outline and plot themes). The whole sequence in the museum is masterful. I love the picture in picture, the long period lacking dialogue and the visuals it inspires. The rest of the movie doesn’t quite live up to the whole thirty minute opening sequence, but it still is entertaining.

I admit that Nancy Allen is quite awful as Liz. She delivers her lines like some cardboard cutout. It is laughably bad which makes it strange that the Golden Globes tapped her as an up-and-coming star for that movie (despite already appearing in a major role in Carrie). Michael Caine also is pretty cheesy in the movie but both Angie Dickinson and Keith Gordon are great.  The movie also features an early appearance by Dennis Franz as Detective Marino.

The movie also stirred up controversy over their portrayal over transsexuals. De Palma had wanted to make Cruising (which also received criticism) and kept some of the story aspects. The movie kind of trivializes the whole idea and uses it as a source to just propel the story. Unlike Psycho, the movie doesn’t do as good of job establishing the ideas it presents (besides a brief Phil Donahue clip).

dressed to kill ending michael caine nancy allen

Don’t kill me because I’m a bad actress.

De Palma found the successful shock ending of Carrie so good that he put it in Dressed to Kill (the movie also opens with a shower scene like Carrie to bookend the movie and give it a similar feel). It isn’t as successful here and seems a bit wasted especially since they did it at the bathroom scare at the beginning also. After the big ending, there is a tacked on fifteen minutes that could have been used in the original story portion for more development.  I am amazed that the very end is almost virtually the same shot as Carrie’s end (this time Allen gets the scare).

I am the first to admit that Dressed to Kill has problems, but the movie overall is entertaining and that overrides the problems. Be warned that it does have a lot of nudity, and it is considered a sexual thriller…something that De Palma helps the movie relish in.   The story does have some jumps and scares and is a great surprise slasher flick. If you’ve never seen it, check out Dressed to Kill.  De Palma followed Dressed to Kill with Blow Out in 1981.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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