31 Nights Of GIALLOWEEN: Dressed to Kill (1980)

I was wondering to myself if tonight's GIALLOWEEN selection truly qualifies as a giallo...mostly because, well...it's not Italian. Though, the director is of Italian descent. So, does that count??

The film I am referring to is, of course Brian De Palma's Dressed to Kill  from 1980. It is a beautiful film full of so much goddamn style and, God, Pino Donaggio's soundtrack is to die for. Such a rich film...and probably my favorite De Palma effort, when it all comes down to it. There's just so, so much going for it that it is a literal treat for the senses. But, is it a giallo? I would often ask myself this question whenever Dressed to Kill  is brought into discussion. I mean...there's just so much in it that screams GIALLO. The style of it, the music, the basic plot, the twist ending...even the look of the killer and use of the weapon beckons to the old Italian genre. And, yet...is the only thing keeping it from being a true giallo its production location? I have to mention...that most of the neo-gialli being made today are not Italian productions. They are bleeding with the giallo DNA all over them...so, why do they get to be called "giallo" while erotic thrillers like Dressed to Kill  are regulated to...well, erotic thrillers. Often, I see the film Pieces  being referred to as giallo before this one....which is freakin' crazy.

The film opens with Angie Dickinson's Kate Miller taking a steamy erotic bath. This scene is pure Brian De Palma. It's sleazy...yet beautiful in one moment. All of the hallmark cinematography beats, provided by Ralf D. Bode, are there. As a matter of fact...if you could single out the opening shower scene from Carrie  and this one in Dressed to Kill...there would be absolutely no issue in distinguishing that it is the same filmmaker. De Palma is often a creature of habit...it just so happens that he is a supremely talented creature. Anyway, Kate is showering...and, man, does Dickinson have a luscious body. Oh, wait...that's a body double, huh? Yup...that's actually Penthouse Pet of the Year Victoria Lynn showering all seductively in that scene. Sorry Angie. 

So, Kate is introduced as an extremely sexually frustrated individual who yearns more for carnal excitement rather than her husband's mundane techniques. She wants to be thrilled and swept off of her feet by strangers in the night...thus initiating an elaborately gorgeous tracking shot, that only De Palma can do so well, with a cat-and-mouth sequence through an art museum. It is altogether tense and thrilling as we see Kate being chased by a stranger...then, herself, becoming the chaser that climaxes outside of the museum with the stranger luring Kate into his cab with her lost Isotoner in his hand. The music and cinematography works harmoniously in this sequence and sets us up nicely for the frenetic show yet to come in the next scene. 

Kate wakes up in stranger's apartment and decides to snoop thru his stuff, only to come to the conclusion that Mr. Stranger has a cornucopia of STD's. Absolutely gutted, Kate hurries off into the hallways of the apartment building only to be met with another stranger, this time the not-so-kind breed, dressed in black and waiting to kill her in the elevator. What makes De Palma one of the greats is that he is able to balance, both calm and serene moments with chaos and death so goddamn seamlessly. It makes for a rather jarring experience, especially with Donaggio's music matching all of those beats with expert precision. Seriously, this is one of those films that works wonderfully as a tutorial of how to pace a film with music and cinematography. Can't talk about that enough.

Anyway, Kate's murder is somewhat witnessed by a high-priced call girl named Liz Blake, played by De Palma's wife at the time...a young and lovely Nancy Allen. Eventually, Detective Marino (the always awesome Dennis Franz) has second thoughts about Liz's account of the murder and pegs her as a possible suspect. Of course that's just his way of making her do all the work for him, as Liz works together with Kate's revenge-fueled son, Peter (Keith Gordon) to solve the murder and snag the true suspect. Oh...and did I mention that Michael Caine shows up playing Kate's former psychiatrist and lends an important piece to this murder mystery? Get all that? Good...because there's enough red herring's in this one to call it giallo. 

In the end, the film doesn't really hide the true identity of the killer very well, although...I will mention that I was much younger when I first watched Dressed to Kill  and I feel like I was less savvy with these films...so, I didn't realize who the character of "Bobbi" was until it was all pieced together. Watching the film again tonight just made me realize how kind of easy it was to see everything telegraphed. Especially with Caine's disregard for good acting in the film.

Still, Dressed to Kill  is an extraordinary feast for the eyes and ears all throughout its running time. This is a film that is dripping with giallo in every scene, my friends. While some have called De Palma a blatant Hitchcock wannabe, I see him more as a filmmaker adept at creative narratives through sound and site and Dressed to Kill  is a signature film of his. While you could mess around with the film on DVD or streaming outlets online...you can do no better than to get your hands on the recently released Criterion Collection Blu-ray of the film. The transfer is stunning beyond words and it is packed with extras that will keep you busy for days. 

Thanks for reading,

Peter Neal