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Dressed to Kill: Special Edition

Brian De Palma may have started his career directing comedies, but he's an unambiguous student of Alfred Hitchcock — the Hitch-flick has been his modus operandi since his first hit, 1973's Sisters. But then again, alongside such notable colleagues as Martin Scorsese, George Lucas, and Steven Spielberg, De Palma was one of the first of the "film school" filmmakers — directors who learned their craft from watching movies, and who made no attempt to hide their influences. Lucas has been filming under the influence of Kurosawa for much of his career, and De Palma has surveyed such predecessors as the Odessa Steps sequence from Eisenstein's Potemkin and Dassin's silent heist in Rififi. And with 1980's Dressed to Kill he pays homage to Psycho, much as in 1976's Obsession he did to Vertigo. Angie Dickinson stars in Dressed to Kill in the Janet Leigh-esque role as Kate Miller, a lonely mother trying to deal with her frustrations because her husband doesn't take care of her (cough) needs, and while her shrink Dr. Robert Elliott (Michael Caine) tells her to address the issue with her husband, all she wants is a good shagging — no questions asked. Once she gets what she needs from a man with VD (in a bravura dialogue-free sequence through an art museum) , Kate is murdered by a mysterious woman. And then the woman drops her incriminating razor-blade at the feet of Liz Blake (Nancy Allen), an uptown prostitute who's only interested in the stock market. Brought in by the police for questioning, Liz meets Kate's science-geek son Peter (Keith Gordon), who figures — after eavesdropping on Dr. Elliott's interrogation — that the killer must be one of the doctor's patients. Peter photographs Elliott's clientele and shows Liz his findings, but both realize that the killer is now after her, while the cops want to toss Liz in the klink unless she leads them to the killer.

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Dressed to Kill's various borrowings from Psycho include (but are not limited to) the killing of the lead early in the piece, the killer's "trick" identity and subsequent explanation, and much of the music (Pino Donaggio's score has a strong Bernard Herman flavor) — making it easy to dismiss De Palma as a rip-off artist better at mimicry than developing his own voice. But — and this is a big but — such does not acknowledge the tremendous talent it takes to do what De Palma does here, and does well. Skeptical? Compare Dressed to Kill to Gus Van Sant's 1998's remake of Psycho. Where Van Sant tried to completely copy a Hitchcockian masterwork, winding up with less-than-inspired results, De Palma employs the "riffing" of a great jazz musician. And like John Coltrane's version of My Favorite Things, De Palma never planned on a remake, but instead took a feel and a form to interpret for himself. Though heavily indebted to Hitchcock, De Palma has tricks of his own, and one must admire the craft of taking old ideas and reinventing them anew — Dressed to Kill is thrilling, and at times ingenious. De Palma has a surgeon's precision at wringing optimal pleasure out of the film's most suspenseful moments, and he really understands how entertaining it is to observe people in peril. MGM's Dressed to Kill: Special Edition is presented in anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) in two versions: the original R-rated theatrical release, and the uncut European rendition (adding different angles and a couple more graphic seconds to the running time). The audio has been effectively remastered in Dolby Digital 5.1, but for purists the original mono soundtrack has also been included. Bonuses include a 45-minute documentary (featuring interviews with De Palma, producer George Litto, Allen, Dickinson, Gordon, Allen, and Dennis Franz, among others) and three featurettes — a comparison of the R, unrated, and TV versions of the film; a look at how much trouble the film earned with the MPAA; and a retrospective by Keith Gordon (as he also did on Jaws 2). Also on board are the theatrical trailer and two still galleries covering on-set shots and promotional materials. Keep-case.

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