The Best Psychological Thriller Since “Wait Until Dark” Is “Dressed to Kill”

Dressed to Kill – 4 Stars (Excellent)

“Dressed to Kill” is the most horrific psychological thriller I have seen since “Wait Until Dark” with Audrey Hepburn as a recently blinded woman who is terrorized by a trio of thugs while they search for a heroin-stuffed doll they believe is in her apartment.

Dressed to Kill is just as tense and scary and adds the taut elements of a steamy shower scene as the female lead Kate Miller (played by none other than Angie Dickinson) pleasures herself, a sex scene in a taxi cab that is so hot and so ahead of its time that it almost explodes the vehicle, and a razor-slitting murder scene in an elevator that is beyond graphic.

This is one disturbing film involving an unhappy, undersexed wife, an anonymous lover, a psychiatrist, a psychopath, a stalker and a serial killer, not to mention female nudity, erotica, vulgarity and transsexualism.

The DVD version that I rented from Netflix had the traditional version and the uncut version; I opted for the uncut version. Despite all of its horrific elements, Dressed to Kill is an excellent production (as least the uncut version) as a psychological thriller because all of the aforementioned horror scenes actually add to the story line and as such are not sensational enough to grab attention away from the unfolding drama.

We can thank Brian De Palma for that. De Palma both wrote and directed this film with stunning results, his murder mystery is right up there with the best of the best. So many writer/director efforts result in terrible films. The film was released in 1980, 32 years ago.

In the movie, Kate Miller (Angie Dickinson), a middle-aged, sexually frustrated housewife, has a fantasy taking a shower and later that day complains to her psychiatrist Dr. Robert Elliott (Michael Caine) about her husband’s pathetic performance in bed.

Kate goes to a museum and encounters a strange man (Ken Baker) who she ends up with in a taxicab on the way to his apartment for more sex. While there she discovers the man has a sexually transmitted disease and she bolts, only to return when she realizes she has taken off and forgotten her wedding ring.

After returning to the elevator she is brutally slashed to death by a tall blond woman wearing dark glasses. A high-priced call girl (Nancy Allen) is the only witness to the murder and becomes the slasher’s next target. She is rescued by Kate’s son Peter (Keith Gordon) who enlists her help in the scary business of solving his mother’s murder.

Dressed to Kill is loaded with clever writing and clues that go right by you on first viewing. I seldom watch dramas anymore because I have seen enough in my lifetime and so many action adventure, natural disaster and drama films today are absolutely ridiculous in premise and presentation.

Fans of Angie Dickinson will be heartened to know that a body double was used in the shower scene in the film. It could just as easily have been Angie. Two years after making Dressed to Kill, when she was 50 and yet to undergo any surgery, a panel of Hollywood designers and make-up artists in 1982 ranked her first in a list of Best Female Star Bodies.

Angie said that the taxicab scene was filmed on location in New York, where several gawkers observed the scene and shouted, “Right on, Police Woman” (referring to her previous TV role as Sgt. “Pepper” Anderson in the crime drama “Police Woman”).

The sex and violence in this film make it a terrible choice for viewing by anyone except adults, and then only adults who can handle these topics without being terribly impacted. This limits the film’s popularity and resulted in virtually no awards for the film-making effort.

As a murder mystery I would rate Dressed to Kill as excellent and a very, very scary film.

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