DirectorBrian De Palma
Release Date(s)1980 (October 25, 2022)
Studio(s)Filmways Pictures/MGM (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: A-
One of the most controversial filmmakers of his generation, Brian De Palma was still riding high from the success of Carrie four years prior when Dressed to Kill was released in the summer of 1980. It was immediately met with backlash from protesters who accused it of sexism and transphobia and critics who dismissed as nothing more than a ripoff of Alfred Hitchcock’s work. Despite all of the negative reception, the film was a box office success, further cementing De Palma’s legacy as not just a master of suspense, but a master filmmaker as well.
Dissatisfied housewife Kate (Angie Dickinson) considers the displeasures of her life and marriage with her psychiatrist, Dr. Elliott (Michael Caine). A day later, she has an unplanned rendezvous with a total stranger, and on her way out of his apartment building, she’s murdered by a blonde woman in sunglasses wielding a straight razor. Liz (Nancy Allen), a call girl who was working in the building at the time, witnesses her murder and becomes a potential suspect for Detective Marino (Dennis Franz). Kate’s teen-aged son, Peter (Keith Gordon), grows impatient with the police and begins spying on Dr. Elliott’s patients, believing that one of them is the woman who murdered his mother. Meanwhile, Liz tries to help the police and prove her innocence, but when the blonde woman begins following her too, she realizes that she may be her next victim.
For the uninitiated, Dressed to Kill may prove to be an unrewarding suspense thriller, in so much as it’s a slow burn piece that takes its time, slowly examining individual moments of violence and developing its characters. It’s also a very frank film in terms of language and nudity, and the major violent set piece is quite bloody, but very effective. Performances are solid from all involved, though it should be noticed that Nancy Allen unjustifiably received a Golden Raspberry award for her work in the film. Like many erotic-laden thrillers, it’s also a very sexy film, one that mixes with its use of violence a little more than might have been comfortable for the MPAA at the time. As such, several cuts were made to the film, only to be restored years later in an unrated version, which has since become the standard viewing experience going forward.
Meanwhile, it wasn’t end of controversy for Brian De Palma, who would go on to other heated battles over films like Scarface and The Bonfire of the Vanities, but what’s on display in Dressed to Kill—controversial or otherwise—is a filmmaker at the top of his game, producing a slick, well-made piece of work that can be just as sleazy as it can artistic.
Dressed to Kill was shot by cinematographer Ralf D. Bode on 35 mm film using Panavision cameras and lenses, finished photochemically, and presented in the aspect ratio of 2.35:1. Kino Lorber Studio Classics debuts the 4K Ultra HD release of the unrated version of the film from a new 4K scan of the original camera negative, which was finished as a 4K Digital Intermediate, and graded for high dynamic range (HDR10 and Dolby Vision options are included). The initial announcement of this title indicated that Brian De Palma would be supervising the HDR grade, but he ultimately chose not to participate. Nevertheless, it’s a vast improvement over the Criterion Blu-ray restoration, which looked flat with color grade issues, despite actually having the approval of De Palma. It’s extremely clean with a solid, refined grain structure and much tighter detail. The bit rate is high, getting the most out of the images. The color palette leans more toward the grade prepared for the previous MGM Blu-ray with additional improvements, particularly for whites which appear less cool or green (depending on the scene) and more natural. Flesh tones are also less pale, while blood has more of a crimson appearance, as opposed to older releases in which it looked candy-coated. The HDR grades bring out the finer nuances of the palette, deepening blacks and improving overall contrast. In short, the picture quality surpasses all others and will be the definitive presentation going forward. It’s clean, organic, and, in a word, gorgeous.
Audio options are included in English 5.1 and 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio with optional subtitles in English SDH. This appears to be the previous 5.1 track from MGM’s Blu-ray release of the film, along with the original theatrical mono track in two channels (the Criterion Blu-ray offered a single channel mono LPCM track). The disc defaults to the original mono, and it’s definitely the better option of the two. The 5.1 has an oddly thin quality to it that doesn’t offer much of a boost for the various elements, whereas the original theatrical mix is just fine. Dialogue exchanges are front and center with excellent support for sound effects and Pino Donaggio’s score.
Dressed to Kill on 4K Ultra HD sits in a black amaray case alongside a Blu-ray containing bonus materials only. The insert features the original theatrical artwork on the front and an alternate poster on the reverse. Everything is housed in a slipcover with the original theatrical artwork. The following extras are included:
DISC ONE: FILM (UHD)
- Audio Commentary with Maitland McDonagh
DISC TWO: EXTRAS (BD)
- Strictly Business with Nancy Allen (HD – 17:27)
- Killer Frames with Fred Caruso (HD – 8:14)
- An Imitation of Life with Keith Gordon (HD – 14:16)
- Symphony of Fear: George Litto on Dressed to Kill (SD – 17:37)
- Dressed in White: Angie Dickinson on Dressed to Kill (SD – 29:54)
- Dressed in Purple: Nancy Allen on Dressed to Kill (SD – 23:05)
- Lessons in Filmmaking: Keith Gordon on Dressed to Kill (SD – 30:46)
- The Making of Dressed to Kill (SD – 43:51)
- Slashing Dressed to Kill (SD – 9:50)
- Unrated/R-Rated/TV-Rated Comparison (SD – 5:14)
- Dressed to Kill: An Appreciation by Keith Gordon (SD – 6:06)
- 1980 Archival Audio Interview with Michael Caine (HD – 4:50)
- 1980 Archival Audio Interview with Angie Dickinson (HD – 3:31)
- 1980 Archival Audio Interview with Nancy Allen (HD – 14:31)
- Radio Spots (HD – 6 in all – 4:05)
- TV Spots (Upscaled SD – 3 in all – 1:22)
- Teaser Trailer (HD – :54)
- Theatrical Trailer (HD – 2:12)
- Play Misty for Me Trailer (HD – 1:53)
- And Soon the Darkness Trailer (SD – 2:45)
- Eyes of Laura Mars Trailer (HD – 3:34)
- Happy Birthday to Me Trailer (HD – 1:17)
- Not for Publication Trailer (SD – 1:50)
The extras are a mix of everything from the MGM Blu-ray and DVD, the Arrow Video Region B Blu-ray, and the Carlotta Films Region B Blu-ray releases, plus a few new things. The new audio commentary features author and film critic Maitland McDonagh, who offers her own personal take on the film while also discussing its controversies and its relationship to Hitchcock. She takes a few pauses here and there, but keeps the track running relatively smooth. Three new interviews, produced by Heather Buckley, are also included: one with Nancy Allen, associate producer and production manager Fred Caruso, and Keith Gordon, all of which are frank and honest discussions about the film and its aftermath. Next are several interviews from 2012, directed by Robert Fischer, featuring producer George Litto, Angie Dickinson, Nancy Allen, and Keith Gordon, all of whom go very in depth about their experiences making the film. Carried over from MGM’s releases are Laurent Bouzereau’s excellent DVD-era extras, including The Making of Dressed to Kill, Slashing Dressed to Kill, and An Appreciation by Keith Gordon—all documenting the making of the film and the controversies that came in its wake, as well as Keith Gordon’s take on the material. Participants include De Palma, George Litto, Angie Dickinson, Keith Gordon, Nancy Allen, Dennis Franz, and editor Jerry Greenberg. There’s also a brief side-by-side comparison of the different versions of the film. Newly-included are three vintage audio interviews with Michael Caine, Angie Dickinson, and Nancy Allen, which were recorded during promotion for the film. Last is a series of radio spots, TV spots, trailers, and trailers for other films released by Kino Lorber.
Many of the extras created for the Criterion Collection Blu-ray release didn’t carry over, including A Lost Art: Brian De Palma, a conversation between Brian De Palma and Noah Baumbach; Characterization and Choreography, an interview with Nancy Allen; More Than Money, an interview with George Litto; an interview with Pino Donaggio; Body Double, an interview with body double Victoria Lynn Johnson; The Art of the Sell, an interview with poster photographic art director Stephen Sayadian; the Defying Categories: Ralf Bode featurette; and a storyboard gallery. Not carried over from the original MGM Blu-ray release is an animated photo gallery, and missing from the MGM Special Edition DVD is an advertising gallery.
Many consider Dressed to Kill to be one of De Palma’s finest achievements, while others recoil at its content. No matter which way you swing, Kino’s 4K Ultra HD presentation tops them all and includes an impressive array of extras. For fans, this is an easy upgrade, although hanging onto that Criterion Blu-ray for those exclusive extras might be in your interest too. Highly recommended.
- Tim Salmons