A mysterious, tall, blonde woman, wearing sunglasses murders one of a psychiatrist's patients, and now she's after the prostitute who witnessed it.
Contemporary moviegoers aren't likely to find much of anything in Brian De Palma's 'Dressed to Kill' shocking or even all that original, what with years of desensitizing material already readily available, but there was once a time when the plot and the outrageous final reveal were the subject of public outrage and fiery debate. Both the film and its director were seen as misogynist and satisfying violent fantasies against women. Sadly, as is often the case with well-made movies, the controversy surrounding the 1980 mystery thriller overshadowed its true genius.
Granted, the film does depict people from one point of view, and the violent attacks are directed at female characters, but none of it ever seems purposefully hateful or particularly anti-feminist. All the characters appear to come with certain unsatisfied desires which lead them towards some rather hazardous paths. Angie Dickinson's Katie Miller makes it known from the beginning she feels sexually unfulfilled by her marriage, so her thirst for physical pleasure places her in an unfortunate, and somewhat tragically funny circumstance. (Here, I'm referring to the letter she finds in the drawer.) We first meet Nancy Allen's Liz Blake talking about stock investments, which conceals her actual profession. And so on.
More to the point, the film isn't really about generating controversial shocks, including the aspects certain groups have already touched on, and guessing the ending does little to ruin what is actually at stake. On the contrary, 'Dressed to Kill' can, and definitely should, be appreciated for its intended visual impact and camera expertise, a blatant style over substance type of motion picture. Essentially, this is Brian De Palma displaying his technical skills and a masterful exercise in the Hitchcockian formula, especially in respect to a movie's inherent predisposition towards voyeurism. Most apparent is Dickinson in an homage-like role to Janet Leigh, only the idea is pushed further and stylishly exploited for all its worth.
De Palma exploring the voyeur angle can be clearly seen in the movie's opening fantasy segment where audiences are clued in to the very private and intimate thoughts of Dickinson's frustrated housewife. Later, De Palme expands on this by showing her describe her dissatisfaction to her psychotherapist, Dr. Robert Elliott (Michael Caine). It's an impressive procedure as it is both deliberately misleading and creative since the camera continues to follow the character to a museum, arguably one of the movie's most visually striking scenes. Ripe with allusions — the painting of a gorilla in a suggestive pose being a personal favorite — the sequence has two strangers stalking each other, which is in reference to how the camera and the audience also follows Dickinson around, associating our gaze similarly to that of the actual killer.
The major premise of the script, written by De Palma, is a twisted tale of murder and mystery, but beneath that is a filmmaker attempting to entertain while equally celebrating the craft, particularly the Hitchcock style of suspense. The split-screen technique makes the film look more interesting and appealing, yet in De Palma's capable hands, it becomes a motif that reflects the split personalities and the secret alternate lives of his characters. 'Dressed to Kill' is not likely to shock audiences as it once did during its initial theatrical run, but it remains an excellent mystery feature that is ultimately more about style and craftsmanship than anything else. It's one of De Palma's finer works.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
20th Century Fox and MGM Home Entertainment release 'Dressed to Kill' onto Blu-ray as the unrated 105-minute version of the film. The Region Free, BD50 disc comes inside a blue eco-keepcase and once in the player, goes straight to the movie without a main menu or previews.
Photographed in soft focus with the use of diffusion filters, 'Dressed to Kill' looks as it should, or the best that could be expected to look on Blu-ray. The 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (2.35:1) comes with a dreamy haze and purposefully blurry appearance.
Due to the intentional cinematography, contrast is noticeably affected and far from accurate, limiting dynamic range and causing highlights to flare slightly. Still, there was a clear attempt to compensate contrast levels at the time of filming, allowing for plenty of clarity and detailed visibility, which this high-def transfer beautifully captures. Definition and resolution are excellent, revealing lots of background information with good precision and clean, distinct lines in the foreground. Blacks are true and very deep with strong shadow delineation, and colors are as bold as can be, given the deliberate look of the film, with bright, natural saturation in the primaries.
The heavily-stylized images are presented very well here, making this the best video presentation of Brian De Palma's classic thriller.
Unfortunately, not everything about 'Dressed to Kill' has been remastered while keeping to its original production design, as this DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack does the movie a bit of a disservice.
Engineers have seen fit to alter the original monaural recording by adding a good deal of rear activity, which isn't all bad in itself. The problem is with the levels of discreteness as specific sounds, like voices, car traffic and birds chirping, feel quite loud and localized. It's a rather weak attempt at creating an immersive soundfield, one that only ends up coming off as artificial and somewhat distracting. Thankfully, the rest of the lossless mix provides a more satisfying aural experience with a welcoming front soundstage. Atmospherics are better delivered across all three channels with excellent, fluid channel separation and precise, lucid dialogue reproduction. Dynamics and acoustics are very stable and well-balanced while the lower-frequencies provide good amount of depth and weight.
The high-rez presentation is strong for the most part and makes the alterations wholly unnecessary.
Fox and MGM port over the same assortment of bonus features for this Blu-ray edition of 'Dressed to Kill.'
While not as shocking or controversial as it was during its initial theatrical run, 'Dressed to Kill' remains a highly stylish and impressively well-crafted mystery thriller from Brian De Palma. With strong performances by Michael Caine, Angie Dickinson, and Nancy Allen, the film is also a great study in composition and the Hitchcockian approach to suspense, making it a worthwhile watch more than 30 years later. The Blu-ray arrives with excellent video and a good audio presentation, though some of it feels rather artificial. Supplements are the same as previous releases, but it's a small collection. Fans will be happy to replace their DVD with this Blu-ray, and others will want to check this out.