Sunday, July 29, 2012
Dressed to Kill (1980)
Brian De Palmas controversial thriller might be a bit too mainstream to be included here on the Ninja Dixon blog. The reason why it's here now it's because it's one of my favourite films by De Palma, and that's a hard choice because I love most of what he's done (I tried watch Scarface again recently but had to turn it off because of Al Pacino's shitty acting, but that's a different story and it's better for my safety that I keep quiet about my opinion). Dressed to Kill feels a lot like a Giallo and it's filled with sex and violence. De Palma himself calls it a "dark sexual fantasy", and that's probably the best description of it.
For once I will skip to tell the story, because it's more or less a version of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, with some of the same twists - but a lot bloodier and with more sex. De Palma has always been more European in a sense, but mixed with the American way of doing everything a bit too much. This is a marvellous combination and makes Dressed to Kill maybe the ultimate "erotic thriller" ever made, I mean - you have everything from Dario Argento's stylish murders, Hitchcock's shocks and twists and the tackiness of every American musical ever made. What's even more fascinating is how this is a skin flick, an exploitation movie with big stars and big budget. Full frontal nudity, dirty talk and ultra-violence - something you could only see on
42nd street before
this hit the big screens. It's not a rip-off, it's a homage to everything De
Originally he wanted to do Cruising and the rumour says he even wrote a script based on that story, but when he couldn't get the rights to Gerald Walker's novel he just took some of the ideas and transferred them to this new script. The result became the second most controversial thriller of 1980, of course after William Friedkin's own version of Cruising. But when Friedkin took a more serious route, De Palma made a full-out gory, sex and over-the-top murder mystery instead - and maybe that was for the best. Because in a "dark sexual fantasy" you have a lot more freedom than in a production that is based on extensive research and real locations and people. One similarity between Cruising and Dressed to Kill is that both directors choose to let different actors play the killer, than the "real" killer. These actors also played other roles in both movies. I like this idea, it's clever and maybe some would say it's a cheat. But hey, everything for suspense and tension yeah? The Italians did this every damn day during the seventies. Another fine detail is that its De Palma-veteran William Finley doing the voice of "Bobbi", in just another way to confuse us - and those who's trying to catch the killer.
Dressed to Kill deals with transsexual issues, in a quite negative twist also - but I personally think the cause for the murders lays in something else than the gender of the killer, like in Psycho - schizophrenia, multiple personalities etc. The movie actually features a clip from The Phil Donahue Show, where journalist and transgender person Nancy Hunt talks about being transsexual. It's the only connection to realism in the whole movie. This interview was also the thing the triggered De Palma to write Dressed to Kill. He did a lot of research on transsexualism and became more and more fascinated by the thing called "gender discomfort", which also caused some discomfort among his friends: "I was at a dinner party, and I asked, quite innocently, 'Wouldn't it be terrific to dress up in women's clothes and go out and see how people related to you? And everyone looked at me like I was a lunatic!" Happy for us De Palma did make his movie on the subject, just not very correct and proper.
I'm probably not the only person who thought about this, but have you noticed the interesting connection between Dressed to Kill, Blow Out and Body Double? Except being very European and Hitchcockian thrillers of course. Blow Out starts with a homage to b-slashers, with POV camera and an unknown assassin going into a house and killing a woman in the shower. The end of Dressed to Kill features a similar sequence, but this time a dream and not a movie-in-a-movie, were the killer through POV breaks into a house and kills a woman in the shower. Dressed to Kill didn't only upset the trans-community and the women's right organizations, it also gained negative attention because Angie Dickinson used a body double in the infamous shower scene that starts the movie. Something that's actually very visible and I'm sure De Palma somehow wanted to poke fun at this phenomena - and then he makes a movie called Body Double which ends with a humours scene where they need a body double during the making of a corny horror movie.
The circle is closed and the joke's on Brian De Palma, as usual.