(1980, dir. Brian De Palma)

A controversial erotic thriller from 1980 plays like a campy black comedy in 2017. Who would’ve thought? Dressed to Kill would certainly be problematic if it were released today, as it revels in its male gaze and cheerfully equates transgenderism with homicidal insanity. Nice.

This is a pulpy, blood-soaked thriller, equal parts Halloween and The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. Michael Caine stars as a buttoned-up therapist who may have a homicidal patient, while Nancy Allen plays the high-class hooker who witnesses one of the murders and fears she may be next.

De Palma has long been noted for his “Hitchcockian” style, but, man, the homages here are so pervasive that it almost feels like a loose remake of Psycho. He has an aggressive visual style; the camera work is masterful, and several sequences ascend to pure cinema, ratcheting up tension with imagery and music (the elevator, the museum, the subway).

Unfortunately, the hilarious 80’s fashions can’t help but undercut some of that tension, and the soft, “Glamour Shots” lighting feels dated, to say the least.

The score by Pino Donaggio is brilliant! (See below for an excerpt.)

Overall, it’s hard to take this movie seriously. The story is trashy fun, and there are some truly gripping sequences, but the aesthetic is so dated, the acting so broad, and the politics so passé. I enjoyed myself, but I’d only recommend it to those who know what they’re in for and are willing to embrace it.

Currently streaming on FilmStruck with all the Criterion supplements.

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