Dressed to Kill (1980)

Directed by Brian De Palma


When I was little and we were watching a movie, if a scene came up that was maybe a little too risqué for a child my parents would say, “Bub… go to the closet!” (Oh the irony.) It really meant just to cover my eyes, but of course I wouldn’t do a great job of it, and sometimes I’d see a little something and think, “What’s the big deal?”

I remember us starting Dressed to Kill and having to “go to the closet” several times in just the first 10–15 minutes or so, then they stopped the video altogether and we never finished, although I did later catch my brother looking at the shower scene again (he would also get very close to the TV when the Prell shampoo commercials with the lady showering came on and press his face to the screen to try and see if he could look down into the TV and see her boobs). This of course piqued my interest greatly and made this forbidden film one I would later seek out the moment I turned 18 and could rent it myself.

Brian De Palma mastered the art of suspense with many of his early films. He also mastered the art of sneaking soft-core porn into his occasionally above average Thrillers (taking it to a near meta level with his problematic 1984 film Body Double). Dressed to Kill begins with a three-minute pornographic take on the shower scene from Psycho featuring actor Angie Dickinson working up a lather (paying extra close attention to her breasts and vagina, of course), then being raped in front of her husband by a phantom assailant, and finally cuts to said husband using her to get off while she struggles underneath him. I’m sure you can see why a lot of people hold issue with the film. It continues to face accusations of misogyny and transphobia to this day.

My teenage brain of course didn’t put any of that together. Watching it today, it’s impossible to ignore the aforementioned issues, but rather than ignore it or cast it aside, I think we can consider it a benchmark to see just how far we’ve come in such a short time. Like so many movies from decades past, its warts are on full, unabashed display, but does that make it a bad film? I’d love to hear what you think.

— B

My rating: 8/10

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