Dressed to Kill (1980):

It starts out dreamy-teasing, über-milf Angie Dickinson naked and soapy, lost in the steam of her morning shower until a stranger grabs her from behind -- and she wakes up to hubby's humdrum pounding. Brian De Palma's art-house giallo thriller exhumes the sexualized subtext of his earlier films and smears it on the surface, though cinematic promiscuity is hardly without accompanying dread; and Eros and Thanatos interest the director in equal portions. Two passages are, in Hitchcock-speak, "pure cinema" -- first, a Steadicam waltz through the art gallery labyrinth tracks Dickinson picking up a swarthy dude in playboy shades for some afternoon delight, panties dropped in the cab ride to the hotel. The second sequence is awash in death, no less elaborately ejaculatory -- the heroine exits in a hurry after spotting a VD report in lover-boy's drawer, though De Palma the moralist shows himself moments later with Dickinson, slashed to ribbons in the elevator, stretching out her hand to pass the moral baton on to call-girl Nancy Allen, sole witness to the massacre. De Palma's exercises in delirium dissolve on the screen, with at least one master-class in voyeurism that foreshadows the self-reflexivity of Body Double, Femme Fatale: Allen, Mrs. De Palma, dons garters and stockings and coos "You wanna fuck me?" to the camera, scored to Pino Donaggio's thunderstorm fondue. The same scene traces Michael Caine's morph from dapper psychiatrist to killer tranny, a Psycho bit, right down to flat Psycho explanation afterwards at the police station. The summation of the film's split psyches (one composition splinters the screen into four visual planes, Caine in his apartment, Allen dollying up in hers, the same transsexual in both via a talk-show on the telly), Caine's cross-dressing slasher is as much a transgressor against the phallocentric gender-neatness of society as the women, yet with impulses straitjacketed into castration. De Palma ultimately completes the circle, hooker left in the bourgeois bed for a mirroring reverie, the camera pulling away as in Carrie, both horrified and ecstatic. Cinematography by Ralf Bode. With Keith Gordon, Dennis Franz, and David Margulies.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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