This week, The Unenthusiastic Critic is dressing down Brian De Palma's controversial suspense thriller Dressed to Kill (1980), starring Angie Dickinson, Michael Caine, Nancy Allen, Keith Gordon, and Dennis Franz.

Released 40 years ago this week, Dressed to Kill was met with fiercely polarized reviews and angry political protests. A meticulously-crafted homage to De Palma's spiritual mentor Alfred Hitchcock, the film features some dazzling shots and some brilliantly executed set pieces. It also features so much graphic nudity and violence that it nearly earned an X-rating, a lot of disturbing racism and misogyny, and a profoundly transphobic plot that's almost too absurd to be offensive.

Join us for Nakea's first viewing of a problematic 40-year-old thriller that aggressively straddles the razor's edge between the ridiculous and the sublime.


0:00: Prologue: from the documentary De Palma. 
00:38: Cultural Osmosis: Pre-Viewing Discussion
16:35: Interlude: Original Trailer
18:36: The Verdict: Post-Viewing Discussion
1:24:29: Outro and Next Week's Movie

Notes and Links

—Movie Reviewed: Dressed to Kill (dir. Brian De Palma, MGM, 1980)
—Prologue from De Palma (dir. Noah Baumbach & Jake Paltrow, Empire Ward Pictures, 2015)
—Links and Sources: "Dressed to Kill: The Power of Two," Michael Koresky, Criterion; "Why I Can’t Love Brian De Palma (Though I’ve Always Wished I Could)," Owen Gleiberman, Variety; Review of Dressed to Kill, Roger Ebert, rogerebert.com; "Is Brian De Palma Derivative or Dazzling? Critics Andrew Sarris and J. Hoberman Duke it Out," Tatiana Craine, Village Voice; "Dressed to Kill protested," Jump Cut;  "Body Talk: Conversations on Transgender Cinema with Caden Gardner," Willow Maclay, Curtsies and Hand Grenades; "On Queens, Dreams, Gays, Garp, and Being Different," Haley Tiresius, TV-TS Tapestry; Review of Dressed to Kill, Pauline Kael, Taking It All In (Holt Rinehart Winston, 1984).
—Find additional episodes, leave a comment, or make a donation to support the podcast at unaffiliatedcritic.com.
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—"Warm Duck Shuffle" by Arne Huseby is licensed under CC BY 3.0.

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4 thoughts on “DRESSED TO KILL (1980)”

  1. You guys missed the scene after Liz gets out of the cab, she thinks she has lost Bobbi, and she actually goes home, and Bobbi is standing there *watching her apartment* — Bobbi and Liz lock eyes for a moment before she runs back to the subway. that's why Bobbi is following her.

    1. Just looked at that part again, and yes, you're right, we missed that, and the confluence of events makes more sense than I gave it credit for. (In our defense, it may be partially De Palma's fault we missed it, since it's not his clearest bit of editing: We never see her enter the subway after leaving the cab, and then there's just a two-second dissolve to suggest she's already ridden the subway and is coming out at home.)

  2. Did Phil Donahue react to the way the film exploited the subject of his show?

    Among the other De Palma films from the period, I took a particular liking to "The Fury." Made after "Carrie" and before "Dressed to Kill," it is very different from both, despite having the supernatural element, and Amy Irving, in common with "Carrie." And because the author of the novel wrote the screenplay, there was less opportunity for De Palma to nurse his obsessions, though they do occasionally turn up. I actually prefer "The Fury" to "Carrie," because I hated the ending of "Carrie" and loved the ending of "The Fury."

    1. I almost listed The Fury among the De Palma films I like, but then I realized I have very little memory of The Fury beyond John Cassavetes with a dead arm. I need to watch that one again. Maybe we'll fit it into a Halloween marathon one of these years.

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