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review added: 9/5/01



Dressed to Kill
Special Edition - 1980 (2001) - MGM

review by Greg Suarez of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Dressed to Kill: Special Edition Film Rating: C-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/A-/A

Specs and Features

105 mins, R & NR versions via seamless branching, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 54:01, in chapter 8), Amaray keep case packaging, The Making of Dressed to Kill documentary, A Film Comparison: The 3 Versions of Dressed to Kill featurette, Slashing Dressed to Kill featurette, Dressed to Kill: An Appreciation by Keith Gordon featurette, animated photo gallery, advertising gallery (including ad slicks, international posters, poster concepts, and lobby cards), theatrical trailer, animated film-themed menu screens with sound effects and music, scene access (16 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 and mono), French (DD mono), subtitles: French and Spanish, Closed Captioned

Dressed to Kill is Brian De Palma's erotic psychological thriller that caused quite a stir with audiences, censors and critics for its graphic mixture of sex and violence. When the film was released in 1980, De Palma was criticized as being a woman-hating misogynist by some, a Hitchcock plagiarizer by others and a visual filmmaking genius by those who admired the film. I can't share the opinions of the former two groups, but I feel that De Palma crafted a beautiful symphonic film, while his creative use of the camera also allowed him to simultaneously construct some truly terrifying and disturbing imagery. But when it comes to storytelling, Dressed to Kill left me feeling naked.

Before we get into the synopsis of Dressed to Kill, note that for this DVD, MGM provides both the R-rated theatrical cut and the slightly more explicit unrated extended cut of the film via seamless branching. Kudos are in order for MGM for making the effort to include both versions. That said, the uncut version, while the more effective of the two, is only approximately 30 seconds longer than the R-rated version. And if you're the type of person that would be offended by the unrated version, the R-rated version is not so different that it would suddenly make the film palatable. What you get with the unrated version is a bit more nudity in the opening shower scene (below the waist), and a few more explicit slashes with the killer's straight razor. Each added shot lasts for a matter of seconds.

Dressed to Kill is cut into two distinct (yet still interrelated) parts, with the first part segueing into the second with a brutal murder, and only then thrusting the film into the realm of suspense/thriller. The first 30-40 minutes of the film focuses on the sexual frustration and curiosity of Kate Miller (Angie Dickinson). Kate suffers a miserable sex life with her husband and reveals to her psychiatrist, Dr. Elliott (Michael Caine), that she would like to break free from her sexual repression. After propositioning Dr. Elliott unsuccessfully, Kate ventures into the streets of New York looking for someone who can serve as a quick one night stand to satiate her sexual frustration. Following a lengthy game of cat and mouse with a mysterious stranger in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Kate and the stranger hook up back at his place for an afternoon of unbridled mattress spring testing. After leaving her mysterious mate, Kate is brutally murdered in the building's elevator by a strange blonde woman with a straight razor. Witnessing the crime, and catching a quick glimpse of the killer, is high priced call girl Liz Blake (Nancy Allen). We soon learn that the murder could potentially be pinned on Liz by Detective Marino (Dennis Franz, playing another in a long series of New York cops), and that the blonde murderess is out to kill Liz, the only witness to Kate's murder. So begins the suspense. Liz must not only elude this blonde menace that is actively pursuing her, but also discover her identity so Liz can clear her own name, proving that she didn't murder Kate. Both Liz and Marino suspect that the blonde killer is a patient of Dr. Elliott's, and that the key to solving the mystery lies in Elliott's office. Can Liz discover the truth before it's too late?

Dressed to Kill is a film that is best viewed without the dialog. If MGM had offered an isolated audio track for Pino Donaggio's brilliant musical score, that would have been the best way to experience this film. Brian De Palma's visual style, and the way the story is told through the camera's eye and characters' actions, is far more interesting than how the story is told through the characters' dialog. This film could have been executed just as well as a silent film, and would probably have been a more eerie and enthralling experience. Unfortunately, the acting in this movie isn't great, and the script doesn't help matters either. Most of the performances are somewhat over-the-top and silly, and the dialog is delivered with too much melodrama. And as interesting as De Palma's camera work and style is in Dressed to Kill, the depth to which he explores and carefully follows the character of Kate around during the first third of the film seems largely unnecessary in the long run, and her scenes drag on too long. There are certain aspects of her character that are important to the film, but too much time is spent dwelling on a character that will disappear fairly quickly in the story. And finally, we have the killer. I imagine that De Palma had a dilemma when it came to disguising the identity of the killer. There are so few characters in this film, that when De Palma is trying very hard to physically hide or obscure the killer's face, the effort inadvertently makes it perfectly clear who the killer really is. And when there are shots of the killer's face that are largely unobstructed, the killer's true identity becomes even clearer. This really hurt the film as a suspense/thriller, because two seconds after seeing the killer, I knew immediately who it was. When all is said and done, I get much more enjoyment from Dressed to Kill viewing it as a beautiful, yet disturbing piece of visual art, rather than a psychological thriller film.

And what better way to accentuate a beautiful piece of filmmaking than with a brand new anamorphic widescreen transfer? MGM presents Dressed to Kill on DVD in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio (16x9 enhanced), and the effort is largely pleasing. For a 20-year-old film, the visuals are clean, with a nice level of detail. The overall picture seems a touch soft and dated, but looks much better than many other films its age that are currently available on DVD. Darker scenes exhibit a bit of murkiness, but still retain acceptable detail. Colors appear mostly accurate, and compression artifacting is never a problem. Fans of this film will definitely be pleased with this transfer.

The brand new Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is marvelous. The audio's age is only given away with some dated-sounding dialog recording, but for the most part, this is an effective and enthralling soundtrack. Donaggio's score is full and smooth, and is distributed throughout the listening environment. Rear channels are used frequently for directional effects and ambiance, such as rainfall and other effects. The film's original mono soundtrack is also accessible on this disc.

MGM has given Dressed to Kill the full-on special edition treatment on DVD, and has packed the disc with some interesting supplements. First is the 45-minute, Laurent Bouzereau-produced documentary, The Making of Dressed to Kill. Most of the cast members, De Palma and producer George Litto speak at length as to how the project came into existence, how it was shot and what it was like to act in such a controversial film. This documentary is very enjoyable and, more importantly, very informative. There are also several shorter featurettes, starting with A Film Comparison: The 3 Versions of Dressed to Kill, which, using split screens, highlights the content differences between the R-rated, unrated and network television versions of the film. This is interesting stuff, especially for those of us who are anti-censorship. Next is a short subject titled Slashing Dressed to Kill, which picks up where the previous featurette left off with interviews with De Palma and members of the cast discussing what was cut, why it was cut and what effect it had on the final film. The last featurette is called Dressed to Kill: An Appreciation by Keith Gordon. Gordon played Kate's son Peter in the film, and he spends a few minutes discussing why he thinks De Palma is such a wonderful filmmaker. I was afraid it was going to be five minutes of flowery admiration, but Gordon not only gives his opinions about De Palma, but also backs them up with good arguments and examples from the film. An animated photo gallery, an advertising gallery (including ad slicks, international posters, poster concepts, and lobby cards) and the film's theatrical trailer conclude the disc's supplements.

While Dressed to Kill is visually both exciting and creative, I found its story, acting and predictability to be a drawback to the film's overall effectiveness as a thriller. Still, long-time fans of this film will be more than pleased with MGM's work with this DVD. The audio and video presentations on this disc are exceptional given the film's age, and the volume and quality of the supplements make the disc even more attractive. This DVD is highly recommended to fans of the film and is definitely worth a rent for the curious.

Greg Suarez
gregsuarez@thedigitalbits.com




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