Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Blu-ray Review: DRESSED TO KILL (1980)

Label: Arrow Video
Region Code:
Rating: Cert. 18
Duration: 105 Minutes 
Audio: English English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, English LPCM 2.0 with Optional SDH Subtitles 
Video: 1080p Widescreen (2.35:1) 
Cast: Michael Caine, Angie Dickinson, Nancy Allen
Director: Brian De Palma

Brian De Palma's psycho-sexual thriller Dressed To Kill (1980) starts off with a wonderfully lurid shower scene slash dream sequence wherein Kate Miller (Angie Dickinson) fantasizes about being raped in the shower, anythings better that the hum drum drilling she gets from her husband I guess, even rape. She vents her sexual frustration to her psychiatrist Dr. Elliot (Michael Caine). Afterward she proceeds to the museum where she is seduced by stranger, after a fun game of cat and mouse and a seductive Isotoner Glove scene she winds up in the back of a cab where the handsome stranger nibbles on her kitty before they end up back at his apartment where she discovers a nasty post-coital surprise, her new lover is infected with an STD... shit. Wracked with regret she flees the apartment only to be slashed to pieces by a blonde woman in the elevator with a razor blade, she dies bleeding on the floor, it's a phenomenal sequence and the terror is palpable, you can almost taste the blood on your lips. A pricey call girl named Liz (Nancy Allen, Blow Out) discovers her blood-spattered corpse and nearly falls prey to the killer herself whom she glimpses in a mirror.

In the aftermath the woman's despondent son Peter (Keith Gordon, Christine) teams-up with the only witness to his mother's murder, kind heated hooker Liz,  to sleuth the identity of the killer which he believes to be another one of Dr. Elliot's patient. Their investigation leading up to a crazed, sexually frustrated finale that will either leave you in a state of shock or have you in stitches from laughter, possibly a little bit of both. 

De Palma is clearly riffing on Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) here and to great effect in my opinion, Angie Dickinson's premature death in the elevator smacks of Janet Leigh premature departure, it's just amped-up to the nth degree with sex and violence and I loved it. In fine slasher tradition she has illicit sex and must die, but you feel a great amount of empathy for the woman, she's not a slut, just an unhappy woman with desires that are not being met at home, and when she steps outside the bounds of her passionless marriage, just this once,  she's not only exposed to an STD but is shredded with a razor you definitely feel for her, quite a bit. 

The suspect is a patient of Elliot's named Bobbi, a transgender person who taunts the psychiatrist for stopping their sessions before the doc would approve a gender reassignment surgery. On the case is Det. Marino, De Palma regular Dennis Franz, who only half-heatedly suspects that Liz might be the culprit, despite the fact that Liz is attacked by "Bobbi" in the subway, only surviving when Peter comes out of nowhere to save the day with a can of mace to the face, apparently he followed the attacker from Dr. Elliots office. 

The team-up with Liza and Peter works well, Peter using his science skills to create a series of listening devices and cameras to identify his mother's killer is fun, Liz using her God-given sexuality to seduce information from the doc, her seduction scene is simply pant-swelling as she's decked out in black lingerie and garter belts, mmm, I love it when she tells the doc "because of the size that cock in your pants I don't think you're so married", to which he protests, well that's just a dead giveaway right there. 

The ending is a bit of a shocker, one I that struck me quite dumb when I first saw this on VHS many years ago, what a fun thriller. While the elevator sequence is straight-up slasher territory this is not a slasher, but it's definitely a psycho-sexual thriller with some slasher-esque tendencies, a bit like an Dario Argento Giallo film, I've always thought that De Palma must be a fan of Dario Argento, think a lot of similarity there, at least in their meticulous nature and superb cinematography, and the misogynists accusations thrown at both.  Dressed To Kill  is fun stuff but there's only one death n the entire film, just don't come into this expecting a blood bath, it's a bit campy a I find a lot of De Palma's films are and it's a terrific riff on some familiar Hitchcock themes. 

Blu-ray: Brian De Palma's Dressed To Kill (1980) comes to region-b locked Blu-ray from Arrow Video in it's original 2.35:1 aspect ratio with an MPEG-4 AVC encode with strong color-reproduction, a nice layer of natural fine film grain and some decent clarity, it's definitely on par with the 2011 region-a MGM disc, perhaps a bit brighter, too. The cinematography features a lot of soft-focus, so there's a fuzzy dreamy quality to the film, which perhaps does not translate into the most sharply pristine use of the 108op format but it looks very nice, way better than my standard-def DVD. 

Audio options include an English language DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0 LPCM with optional English SDH subtitles. Purists will appreciate the inclusion of the mono track which is clear and natural with no problems whatsoever but in my opinion it's the 5.1 which opens up things with effects and score spilling into the surrounds, felt like I was in that steamy shower with Angie Dickinson at one point, not raping her though, of course. Pino Donaggio's score benefits the most from the 5,1, it's a great score and just might be his best for De Palma but I tend to think that every time I watched Body Double (1984) and Blow Out (1981)

Onto the extensive assortment special features we get every extra from the 2011 MGM Blu-ray beginning with the interview Symphony of Fear (17:36) with producer George Litto who, speaks about working with De Palma, production locations, working with Samuel Arkoff and American International Pictures, he clearly enjoys reminiscing about his time working on the De Palma.

There's the fantastic The Making of a Thriller (43:53) documentary featuring interviews with Brian De Palma, George Litto, Dennis Franz, Nancy Allen, Angie Dickinson among others, it's an entertaining doc covering with some great insights from Angie Dickinson about he shower scene, the cab sex scene and working with Michael Caine who was apparently quite a riot on set. Also interesting is hearing DePalma and others defend against the Hitchcock Psycho (1960) comparisons, which in this film are quite unavoidable, c'mon man just admit it, you love ripping off Hitchcock and that's okay, it's great stuff, if you're gonna steal  steal from the best! 

Also ported over from the MGM edition is the Unrated, R-Rated ad TV-Rated Comparison (5:14) featurette which I love, this split screen comparison of the various cuts of the film is fascinating to me. Arrow previously included a very similar featurette for there Blu-ray of Mario Bava's Black Sabbath (1963). A lot of it's graphic and steamy shower scenes and the slasheriffic elevator death sequence, the sanitized TV version is pretty funny, this film was up for an x rating at one point, just fascinating stuff. 

Slashing Dressed To Kill (9:49) is another great watch about De Palma's struggle with the MPAA to avoid the dreaded x-rating, the director was quite livid at the idea of having to castrate film, accused of misogyny he vented his frustration to the press at the time. The last of the extras ported over from the MG edition include a Theatrical Trailer (2:10) and a Animated Photo Gallery featuring 20 behind-the-scenes shots. 

Onto the newly produced  Fiction Factory extras we begin with Dressed In White (29:53), an interview with star Angie Dickinson who is quite proud of her role in the, fondly recalling DePalma's meticulously precise style of direction, the taxi sex sequence, the museum shoot, and the infamous shower scene featuring a Playboy Playmate body double, she also defends the film against the Hitchcock rip-off accusations. of course. 

Dressed In Purple (23:04) is an interview with star Nancy Allen who was married to De Palma at the time offers insight into the script writing process and casting the film, working with Michael Caine and Keith Gordon, meeting Dario Argento and her views on the accusations of misogyny, mentioning that in hindsight it's perhaps not the nicest film to women, the interviews with Nancy Allen are always pretty great, particularly in relation to DePalma's films, a man who cast his wife as a whore more than once, reminds me a bit of the Dario Argento / Daria Nicolodi dynamic.

The last of the new extras is Lessons in Filmaking (30:45), an interview with co-star Keith Gordon (John Carpenter's Christine)  who remembers the film as a seminal experience, an important film and an intelligent thriller. Gordon clearly admires De Palma who was quite the inspiration on the future director, also taking an obligatory moment to defend the director against the Hitchcock comparisons. 

What a great set of extras, I think that Arrow's series of De Palma Blu-rays are some of the best titles of the year, this is great stuff on par and beyond their North American counterparts, these are essential releases. Would have loved a new De Palma interview or commentary, perhaps an interview with Michael Caine on one of his better films from a weird period in his career, I am quite sure it's not for lack of Arrow and Fiction Factory trying. If you have not gone region-free yet you need to do so and Arrow's De Palma Blu-rays are a great place to start your collection. 

I was not sent the retail version of the film so I cannot comment on the artwork or booklet but it can only get better, this a fantastic Blu-ray and any De Palma fan needs to own it. 

Special Features:
-High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of the feature
-Optional original uncompressed LPCM Mono 2.0 Audio and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround Sound
-Optional English SDH subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
-Symphony of Fear (17:36)
-Dressed in White (29:53)

-Dressed in Purple (23:04)
-Lessons in Filmmaking (30:45)
-The Making of a Thriller  (43:53)
-Unrated, R-Rated, and TV-Rated Comparison Featurette (5:14)
-Slashing Dressed to Kill 

-Original Theatrical Trailer (2:10)
-Gallery of 20 behind-the-scenes shots
-Reversible sleeve with original and newly commissioned artwork by Nathanel Marsh
-Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic and author Maitland McDonagh, illustrated with original archive stills and promotional material

Verdict: Dressed To Kill (1980) is a wonderful psycho-sexual thriller, it's pulpy and has a few slasher tendencies, plus it's loaded with De Palma's trademark style... and a lot of borrowed Hitchcock motifs, and that's just fine by me not a problem at all. This is great stuff with a just the right amount of camp to it, a top-notch thriller and Arrow's region-b locked Blu-ray is the definitive Blu-ray edition, great stuff from top to bottom. 4.5 Outta 5 

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