Montreal Film Journal


Brian De Palma is truly a great filmmaker. Whether you enjoy his work or hate his guts, you got to admit that he's at least brilliant at crafting impressive set pieces. What I love with De Palma is how he constantly explores the same themes but always tries to find new exciting way to do so. Yet De Palma is possibly one of the most underrated directors. The two main criticisms he gets is that he's obsessed with style but shortchanges on character development and that he rips off Alfred Hitchcock big time. You know what? Both these allegations are true, but so what? I personally think that character development is fine but not essential in a film. Cinema is really about creating effect with the use of image and sound, and that's what De Palma does: he's a master at manipulating the audience. As for Hitchcock's influence, it sure is obvious but I think that it's actually a cool thing. Yes, De Palma often sets up scenes inspired by classic Hitchcock moments, but what's fun is to see how he twist them around and take them someplace new.

"Dressed to Kill" is pure De Palma. This time, he's channeling mostly "Psycho" but also "Vertigo" and his own "Carrie". Angie Dickinson stars as a bored middle age housewife married to a dull, unexciting man who can't even love her properly. She has a teenage son who's some kind of a techno geek, spending his spare time building electronic stuff. Dickinson visits her shrink (Michael Caine), and then she goes to the museum where she stares at a painting (that's the "Vertigo" part). She meets an attractive man and in a compelling and surprising cat-and-mouse pursuit, they flirt through the museum. And then... well, I shouldn't say much more if I don't want to ruin it for you guys. Let's just say that the film is packed with plot twists, shameless nudity and blood. And after a particularly gruesome murder, two other characters are brought in: a shady police detective and a street-wise cool prostitute who witnessed the crime, played by Dennis Franz and Nancy Allen (who were both in De Palma's "Blow Out").

"Dressed to Kill" is a somewhat exploitative, shallow picture but it's nonetheless a near perfect movie-movie. De Palma's direction is sharp and effective, and his visual style is as compelling as ever. There's one of his signature split-screen sequences, shower scenes, tense chases and confrontations, and much more. The cast is good, especially Angie Dickinson in a very physical performance and Michael Caine, wonderfully restrained. At the risk of being sacrilegious, I'll say that I actually had more fun watching De Palma's film than the film it rips off the most, "Psycho". I believe that this kind of not-that-plausible, voyeuristic shocker is better when it's an assumed exercise in style that doesn't take itself too seriously... "Dressed to Kill" is not De Palma's best film, but it's certainly a film to see.