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Dressed to Kill: The Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review

Dressed to Kill (1980) movie poster Dressed to Kill

Theatrical Release: July 25, 1980 / Running Time: 105 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated (Theatrical Cut: R)

Writer/Director: Brian De Palma

Cast: Michael Caine (Doctor Robert Elliott), Angie Dickinson (Kate Miller), Nancy Allen (Liz Blake), Keith Gordon (Peter Miller), Dennis Franz (Detective Marino), David Marguiles (Dr. Levy), Ken Baker (Warren Lockman), Susanna Clemm (Betty Luce), Brandon Maggart (Cleveland Sam), Amalie Collier (Cleaning Woman)

Buy Dressed to Kill from Amazon.com: Criterion Blu-ray • Criterion DVD • MGM Blu-ray • MGM DVD • Instant Video

Brian De Palma hasn't had a well-received film since the first Mission: Impossible opened nineteen years ago. Despite recent struggles (his last two films played in 15 theaters or less domestically),
for a while De Palma was considered a master filmmaker. Most would agree the director's creative peak ended with Mission: Impossible and that it began no sooner than 1973's Sisters. In those twenty-some years, De Palma made Carrie, Scarface, The Untouchables and Casualties of War. In addition to those highs and the notorious low The Bonfire of the Vanities, De Palma impressed Quentin Tarantino and other future filmmakers with his stylish thrillers. Three of them have ended up in The Criterion Collection, most recently 1980's Dressed to Kill.

Whether you classify it as a love letter or a knock-off, Dressed to Kill feels like an outrageous direct response to Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. The film would open in US theaters three months after Hitchcock left this Earth, demonstrating quickly that the Master of Suspense's work would give him immortality, a fact that feels no less true thirty-five years later.

Unrelated to Basil Rathbone's 1946 Sherlock Holmes movie of the same name, Dressed opens strangely enough with an attempt to one-up Psycho's most famous and iconic scene. Whereas Janet Leigh's heroine merely showered at the Bates Motel before meeting her end, Dressed's protagonist Kate Miller (Angie Dickinson, just two years past her four-season stint as the star of NBC's "Police Woman") erotically washes her breasts and privates, both of which are on display, while nearby a shaving man pays her no notice. Kate is grabbed and raped in the midst of her cleaning and while that is just a fantasy, her other problems don't disappear when she wakes up.

A mysterious blonde woman in sunglasses clings to a straight razor in an elevator where she's just committed murder.

Conscious, Kate is still the sexually unfulfilled, middle-aged wife of a man who "stinks in bed", as she tells her psychiatrist Dr. Elliott (Michael Caine). Just like Marion Crane, though, Kate Miller is not long for this world. Since the shower fantasy did not do her in, De Palma has the character killed off abruptly by the 35-minute mark with an elevator stabbing recalling Psycho's stairway murder. A blonde woman in sunglasses and a black trench coat ends Miller with a straight edge razor. The only witness to the crime is Miss Elizabeth Blake (Nancy Allen), a high-class prostitute who happened to be in the same building with an out-of-town john.

Dr. Elliott seems to know about the murder and be covering for its perpetrator. The shrink's stolen razor was the lethal weapon and a distraught pre-op transsexual patient basically takes credit for both the theft and the killing. This information would appear to be of use to Detective Marino (Dennis Franz), the cop leading the investigation, but it is not volunteered. Instead Marino pressures Blake to get answers, doubting her account and claiming she is his prime suspect.

While Blake continues to be pursued by the deadly mysterious blonde, she finds an ally in Peter Miller (Keith Gordon), the science nerd teenaged son Kate has left behind. Playing detective, Peter sets up a Super 8 camera to take stills of those entering and exiting the Doctor's office, hoping it will put him on the path to finding his mother's killer.

Sir Michael Caine plays Dr. Robert Bennett, a shrink with a connection to the murder at the center of "Dressed to Kill."

As you start to suspect, this highly dated but arresting mystery heads for reveals resembling those of Psycho.
For not wanting to spoil either this or Psycho (even though what are the odds you're reading this review before you've seen Psycho?!), I won't say any more, but as in every other area De Palma takes the twist even further. There's even a final shower scene that plays out differently.

Though it recalls a film made twenty years earlier, Dressed to Kill pushes the envelope as Psycho had a generation before. Earning an R rating, rather than the more restrictive X, was a battle for De Palma, which is why two cuts of the film -- an R-rated one and an unrated one -- exist to this day. Criterion, of course, provides the latter, which according to Wikipedia runs 30 seconds longer and contains more blood in the elevator scene, more pubic hair in the shower opening, and some racier dialogue in a later doctor's office scene. (A bonus feature takes the practically unprecedented effort to confirm.)

Subjected to a mix of raves and razzes, Dressed to Kill tied for fifth place in the progressive New York Film Critics Circle Awards' Best Film category. The same group placed De Palma fourth in the running for Best Director. Nancy Allen was nominated for Female New Star of the Year at the Golden Globes, an honor she would lose to Tess' Nastassja Kinski. Allen would also be one of three people nominated for "Worst" awards at the very first Razzies. She would "lose" Worst Actress there too, while De Palma and Caine were also spared the infamy of becoming the first Worst Director and Worst Actor selections. The only award Dressed did win was for Angie Dickinson as Best Actress at the genre-honoring Saturn Awards, which classified this as horror and bestowed three additional nominations upon it.

Arriving three weeks later than intended after a picture issue was cleared up, Dressed to Kill claims spine number 770 in Criterion's now-available separate Blu-ray and DVD editions.

Dressed to Kill: The Criterion Collection Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.35:1 Widescreen
1.0 LPCM Mono (English)
Subtitles: English
Extras Not Subtitled; Not Closed Captioned
Suggested Retail Price: $39.95
Release Date: September 8, 2015
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Clear Keepcase
Also available as 2-disc DVD ($29.95 SRP), MGM Blu-ray (September 6, 2001), MGM DVD (August 28, 2001), and Amazon Instant Video


Criterion's Dressed to Kill Blu-ray and DVD editions were originally supposed to reach stores in late August. Apparently, the release was hindered by a rare mastering error, which delayed it three weeks. You would hope that the delay would be enough time for Criterion to produce the high standards we all expect from them. Alas, this is not one of their finest Blu-ray presentations. The 2.35:1 presentation frequently shows age and wrestles with focus issues. The element is clean, but grainy and never as sharp as you'd like a 1980 movie to be. The LPCM monaural soundtrack musters no real complaints, as it presents the film's often sparse dialogue crisply and clearly throughout.

Director Brian De Palma reflects on "Dressed to Kill" with Noah Baumbach in this new interview. Turning 65 in 2015, Nancy Allen revisits her first leading role in this new interview for Criterion.


Criterion's full slate of HD-encoded Blu-ray extras begins with a section of newly-taped interviews. "A Lost Art: Brian De Palma" (19:25) sits down the director with Noah Baumbach to discuss the movie, its influences, and the other films he made in this era.

Next, "Characterization and Choreography: Nancy Allen" (16:11) allows the actress to reflect on her first leading role, her casting, her co-stars, and her relationship with De Palma, her husband at the time.

"More Than Money: George Litto" (12:02) lets Litto discuss in detail producing three De Palma thrillers: Obsession, Blow Out, and Dressed to Kill, each of which is excerpted here.

Victoria Lynn Johnson, 1978's Penthouse Pet of the Year, recalls the work of a body double. Angie Dickinson, the star Johnson stood in for, discusses the movie in the 2001 documentary "The Making of 'Dressed to Kill.'"

"Pino Donaggio" (15:41) lets the film's composer speak in his native Italian, with English subtitles translating his remarks, about his work with De Palma on this and other thrillers.

Demonstrating just how committed they are to cinema, Criterion even gives us "Body Double: Victoria Lynn Johnson" (8:42), an interview with the 1978 Penthouse Pet of the Year whose body stood in for Dickinson's
in the film's opening shower scene. She recalls the quick, professional way in which she was cast, what the job entailed (dying her pubic hair blonde), and how her work made the Baby Boomer Edition of Trivial Pursuit.

"The Art of the Sell: Stephen Sayadian" (10:15) interviews perhaps the only remaining person of interest: Dressed to Kill poster art designer Sayadian, who explains he transitioned to movie posters from parody ads for sex toys in Hustler and the philosophies that shaped his studio's one-sheets.

Kindly, Criterion has licensed a number of the extras from MGM's 2001 DVD. These begin with "The Making of Dressed to Kill" (43:51), a documentary which interviews De Palma, Litto, Angie Dickinson, Keith Gordon, Allen, and Dennis Franz. It packs a good amount of detail in these warm reflections on the production.

Young actor turned director Keith Gordon offers an informed appreciation of "Dressed to Kill." Brian De Palma's crude storyboards plot out the shots intended to comprise a "Dressed to Kill" split-screen sequence.

Next up comes the newly-produced "Defying Categories: Ralf Bode" (10:40), in which director Michael Apted and Bode's brother Peer remember Dressed to Kill's cinematographer, covering both his life and his work.

Also from 2001, "Slashing Dressed to Kill" (9:49) covers the film's ratings battle, with De Palma, Litto, cast members, and editor Jerry Greenberg recalling how cuts had to be made to avoid getting an X rating, as well as the parallels between De Palma and Hitchcock.

Another 2001 piece, "An Appreciation by Keith Gordon" (6:04), has the young actor turned director celebrate the shorts and techniques De Palma uses on the film.

A 50-frame gallery of storyboards shows De Palma's crude doodles plotting out the film's original opening and a split-screen sequence.

Viewers of the unrated cut get a shower scene close-up while the R-rated edit keeps its distance, this comparison shows. A bike ride and a stopwatch share the screen on Criterion's "Dressed to Kill" Blu-ray menu.

Finally, we get the aforementioned Version Comparison (5:14), which runs through the four scenes where the edits diverge. On dialogueless changes, it splits the screen to contrast the unrated cut to the R-rated one and follows up with the 1.33:1 edit used on network television broadcasts.
On dialogue scenes with changes, it compares the two versions back to back. In every case, the unrated cut gets more blood, more flesh, and more profanity, while network TV viewers get virtually none of the above.

Last but not least we get Dressed to Kill's original theatrical trailer (2:10), which bills Brian De Palma as "the master of the macabre" based upon his cited résumé.

The scored menu uses split screens to play clips from different parts of the movie. As always, Criterion authors the disc to allow you to resume anything you were watching and didn't finish as well as to set bookmarks on the film.

That leaves us with one final thing to discuss: a booklet, without which no Criterion release would be complete. Joining the full-color disc inside the clear keepcase is an illustrated companion that folds out to twelve pages. Almost half of those pages go to film and disc credits. The other six go to "The Power of Two", a new essay by author and Criterion staff writer Michael Koresky. It interestingly comments on the film's dichotomies, its relationship to Psycho, its place in the De Palma canon, and its use of shower scenes.

Years before playing Andy Sipowicz on "NYPD Blue", Dennis Franz played Marino, a homicide detective pressuring a witness (Nancy Allen) to help him get answers.


Dressed to Kill stands apart from the blockbusters, sequels, comedies, horror movies, sci-fi and period pieces for which 1980s cinema is best remembered. This Brian De Palma thriller feels older than it is, in part because it is quite dated but also because it clearly recalls Alfred Hitchcock, most explicitly Psycho in story and themes. Appreciation for Hitchcock may actually diminish your view of Dressed, since it borrows from the master without having the same transcendent impact. Absorbing enough, if a bit lurid, this film merits a look.

Criterion's Blu-ray should satisfy fans with its comprehensive mix of new and old bonus features complementing a pretty decent feature presentation. The film isn't good enough to recommend blindly but those fond of it or De Palma's other work from the era probably will not be disappointed.

Buy Dressed to Kill from Amazon.com:
Criterion Blu-ray / Criterion DVD / MGM Blu-ray / MGM DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
Directed by Brian De Palma: Scarface | Keith Gordon: Back to School
Michael Caine: Deathtrap • Stonehearst Asylum • The Muppet Christmas Carol • Now You See Me • Interstellar
Early 1980s on Blu-ray: Thief • The Dogs of War • The Postman Always Rings Twice
Bates Motel: Season 1 • Halloween • I Spit on Your Grave

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Reviewed September 27, 2015.

Text copyright 2015 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1980 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Filmways Pictures, Inc., and 2015 The Criterion Collection, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.