Kate Miller (Angie Dickinson) is in an unhappy marriage. She is seeing psychiatrist, Dr. Robert Elliott (Michael Caine) about her issues. During their last session Kate makes an attempt to seduce the doctor. Elliott doesn’t take the bait. Later Kate is at the museum when a man begins a slow nonverbal flirtation with her. The flirtation ends up in a sexual dalliance in a cab. The man, Warren Lockman (Ken Baker) thoroughly seduces Kate and takes her back to his seventh-floor apartment.
Hours later Kate is leaving him a note when she discovers that Warren has a medical test result that shows he has a venereal disease. She leaves but then realizes that she left her wedding ring on his night table. She returns to the seventh floor where she is attacked in the elevator by a tall woman wearing oversized sunglasses. The woman slices her with a straight razor. When the elevator door opens again on the ground floor Liz Blake (Nancy Allen), a high-class prostitute, sees the dying woman and gets a glimpse of the woman in sunglasses. The murder case is assigned to the rather crass Detective Marino (Dennis Franz). Marino begins looking at Liz as either a witness or a suspect.
Dr. Elliott receives a cryptic phone message from a transgender former patient named Bobbi. Bobbi is angry at Elliott for refusing to sign off on the gender reassignment surgery that she needs. Bobbi admits to killing Kate and now has his sights set for Liz. As Liz is being stalked by Bobbi, Kate’s son, Peter (Keith Gordon), starts doing some investigating on his own. Peter comes to Liz’s aid when the mysterious killer attacks her on the subway. With Marino not being much help, Peter and Liz then decide to work together to find the killer.
“Dressed To Kill” was released in 1980 and was written and directed by Brian De Palma. It is a crime mystery. Originally the film was rated “X”. De Palma managed to get it reduced to an “R” by making a few cuts.
It takes a long time for anything to happen, but for some reason I didn’t mind. Perhaps it was the Hitchcockian vibe that De Palma infused into the film. The killer is easy to figure out but that’s not really a drawback either. It’s not the reveal that is important but the slow burn. With two shower scenes it’s no wonder that it is compared to Hitchcock’s “Psycho” 1960 all the time.
The film is erotic and raw. The sex and violence are interchangeable and are the main plot devises. The fact that the damsel in distress, played by Allen, is a prostitute adds another layer to the sexual deviancy that motivates the killer. The deviancy isn’t in the transgender identification of the killer but in the conflict she has when confronted with male desires within herself. The film is not without controversy. Between the accusation of misogyny, transgender phobia and pornographic slasher trash it has garnered a lot of buzz.
At the time of the filming, Brian De Palma and Nancy Allen were married. De Palma wrote the role of Liz the prostitute specifically for Allen. I'm not sure what it says about someone's marriage. Allen got a Razzie nomination for Worst performance in the role. De Palma was nominated for worse director.
In Angie Dickinson’s shower scene, a body double was used. The woman who played Dickinson’s body double was Victoria Johnson. A redhead, Johnson dyed her pubic hair blond for the scene.