Dressed to Kill

Year: 1980
Production Co: Filmways Pictures
Director: Brian De Palma
Writer: Brian De Palma
Cast: Michael Caine, Angie Dickinson, Nancy Allen, Dennis Franz, Keith Gordon
Hard to believe this is the same director who gave us the gangster genre's second most iconic character in Scarface, the soul-searching Vietnam drama Casualties of War, the noir thriller Black Dahlia and the experimental, YouTube-inspired Redacted.

Although given the above list and the rest of his ouvre, it's not that surprising De Palma bought us one of the trashiest murder/sex thrillers of the 80s and 90s, not quite as well known as Fatal Attaraction and Basic Instinct but cut from the same gaudy cloth.

What is surprising for De Palma is that he followed so many conventions, no matter how unexpected. Just one is the dispatching of the lead character so early on, not seen since Psycho (and it's to Hitchcock this film owes a huge debt). Another is the hooker who turns into the heroine but the strongest is the design and cinematography, all Adrian Lyne-esque neon, shadows and flashes of lightning coming through thin Venetian blinds.

If you don't know the big twist (and no, Angie Dickinson's adulterous high society New York wife falling victim to the killer so early on isn't it), you'll probably guess it before long, if not from the contrived plot than by a careful study of the killers's sunglasses-clad face when you have the movie on pause.

After Kate (Dickinson) sees her therapist Elliott (Caine) she follows an alluring stranger from a New York museum to his apartment for an afternoon of infidelity. Returning upstairs when she realises she's left her wedding rign behind, she's attacked by a tall, blonde woman with a black leather coat, dark glasses and a razor who slices poor Kate up in the elevator.

Expensive call girl Liz (Allen) is leaving the apartment of a client and witnesses the killing, just getting away with her life and now a target. Kate's nerdy but clever son Peter (Gordon, fresh from playing Arnie in Christine) teams up with her as they go behind the back of the boorish cop (Franz) to try and crack the case. It's in Dr Elliott's roms late one night as Liz attempts a desperate search of his papers for a clue that we see the shocking final reveal.

The last five minutes are completely redundant and the whole thing is hammily staged for trashy dramatic effect, but it's a milestone in the maturing profile of the thriller and an early progenitor to much more extreme examples like Showgirls.

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