Dressed To Kill

Dressed To Kill (1980)
MGM Home Entertainment
Cast: Angie Dickinson, Michael Caine, Keith Gordon, Nancy Allen, Dennis FRanz
Extras: Featurettes, Photo Galleries, Trailer

For director Brian DePalma, the summer of 1980 was a best of times, worst of times. Though he had hit a commercial home run with "Carrie" four years earlier, he subsequently suffered critical misses with "The Fury" and "Home Movies." Undeterred by relentless critical attacks of his work (which only hardened his resolve), DePalma brought forth a visual masterpiece in "Dressed to Kill." Though it would become a film steeped in controversy for its stark sexual, violent, and brooding qualities, it would also become the work that would irrevocably distinguish the director as a gifted filmmaker with an innate talent for "pure cinema" of the finest sort. Now, MGM Home Entertainment presents a high definition version of this erotic thriller on Blu-Ray Disc, celebrating the film as energetically as those who have previously condemned it.

Originally written by DePalma back in 1974, "Dressed to Kill" introduces Kate Miller (Angie Dickinson), a lonely and sexually insecure woman, unhappy in her marriage and uncertain of her own sexual worth. After the usual morning 'wham-bang special' she endures under her husband, Kate turns to her psychiatrist, Dr. Elliott (Michael Caine) for emotional rescue. After Elliott rejects her sexual advances, Kate flees to a local museum for quiet reflection. The afternoon, however, proves intriguing as she suddenly finds herself engaged in an unspoken courting with a mysterious stranger. The flirtatious back-and-forth pursuit ends with Kate acting out her impulsive fantasies with the man, first in a taxicab and later at his apartment.

From there, the film begins to deliver a series of stunning twists and surprises that assaults not only Kate but us, the audience, as well. Without being a spoiler, the story quickly shifts to involve Kate's teenage son Peter (Keith Gordon), a high-class call girl (Nancy Allen), and a surly New York detective (Dennis Franz), all in pursuit of a mysterious strait razor-wielding psychopath on a bloody rampage. 

"Dressed to Kill" is presented as an erotic shocker – an aspiration it achieves easily. Moreover, it's a compelling and disquieting commentary upon the guilt, paranoia, and hypocrisies evident in our culture – originally leveled at 1980's sensibility yet stingingly accurate even today. In it, DePalma holds up a soul-bearing mirror to reveal the deepest fears, phobias, and dangerous preoccupations within many of us. Yet the film was released in the midst of the feminist movement and, due to its visual pursuit and brutality toward women, resulted in the director being branded a misogynist. Audiences, of course, flocked to theaters to see what all the furor was about (you know, the sort of thing studios yearn for today), making "Dressed to Kill" a major commercial hit for DePalma and Samuel Z. Arkoff's now-defunct Filmways Pictures.

With its highly erotic opening sequences featuring Angie Dickinson (TVs 'Police Woman,' mind you) at "play" in the shower, followed by an aggressive lovemaking scene, the viewer is immediately caught off guard yet compelled to look on in voyeuristic fascination. From there, DePalma proceeds to skillfully manipulate the viewer through an array of shocking sequences, visual clues, and even a couple red herrings. At use is a stunning display of split-screen imagery, sweeping crane shots, and one of the best examples of "pure cinema" storytelling (the museum scene) where the actors' movement and expression, intensified by composer Pino Donaggio's evocative score, is the only "dialog" present – a scene which runs a full 10 minutes. From a performance standpoint, the principals all deliver in top-notch fashion (especially Dickinson) and are to be commended.

Technically, the film is breathtaking thanks to DePalma's fluency in the "grammar of film" – a language he acknowledges to Hitchcock. And whether you consider DePalma's work as an homage or hijacking of The Master (a comparison that thoroughly bores DePalma anymore), "Dressed to Kill" delivers inventive visual cues and multiple POV setups that further engage viewers while building levels of suspense that are riveting to the point of near-discomfort. And though some of the graphic effects exhibit the technical limitations of their time, they still deliver a disturbing level of believability today.

MGM Home Entertainment presents "Dressed to Kill" in a 1080p high definition transfer framed at the film's original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. While not a bad transfer overall, the image is a bit grainy at times and shows signs of specks. On the other hand, offering up this film in high definition is, definitely a notable improvement over all of the previous incarnations of the movie. Colors are natural and vibrant, and black levels are deep and solid, rendering even the deepest of shadows without problem.

The DTS 5.1 HD Master Audio track that comes on the disk makes for a great presentation also. Ambient sounds are nicely spread among the channels as is the musical score, providing a full-bodied soundstage. Dialog is always clear and easily understood. The low-end is generally untaxed save for a dramatic thunderstorm. 

The release contains the same bonus materials found on the DVD Special Edition released years ago, such as the 45-minute documentary, "Making of a Thriller," which traces the production through new interviews with DePalma, Dickinson, Allen, Gordon, Franz, and producer George Litto.
Also included are three featurettes: "Slashing Dressed to Kill" explores battles with the MPAA ratings board to avoid a 'X' certification; "A Film Comparison: 3 Versions of Dressed to Kill" provides a clever split-screen analysis of scenes as they appeared in the unrated, R-rated, and television versions; and "Dressed to Kill: An Appreciation by Keith Gordon" in which the actor-turned-filmmaker recounts working on the production.
Beyond these, there are animated photo galleries featuring production stills as well as promotional materials. Wrapping it up is the original theatrical trailer.

Though not a film for the squeamish or easily embarrassed, "Dressed to Kill" is a grand achievement in visual storytelling and precision of execution. Thanks to this stellar special edition from MGM, this oft-maligned work of DePalma's can now be viewed in more holistic manner, offering viewers as much behind-the-scenes education as on-screen shocks.