Dressed to Kill

With two marquee stars dispatched by cross-dressers wielding knives in close quarters, the Psycho parallels are obvious.

Dressed to Kill has a denouement that was obvious too, but critics brushed it aside, as De Palma demonstrated as he often does, that visual style can carry the day and more than make up for a lot of flaws (he’s a bit like Argento in that respect).

Kate (Angie Dickinson) is frustrated by her two-pump chump of a hubby. In a protracted therapy session with psychiatrist Dr. Elliott (Michael Caine) she propositions him, only to be rejected.

At New York City’s Met, she connects with a mysterious stranger, in an elaborate labyrinthine courtship through the museums’ many galleries, eventually hooking up with him in a yellow cab and going back to his place. In the morning, the suitor’s bolted, and she follows suit shortly thereafter, but there’s a mysterious figure with a switch blade waiting in the condo elevator.

A high-priced call girl (Robocop’s Nancy Allan) who happens upon the vicious murder scene (one of the best he’s ever filmed, according to the director). Despite lacking a motive, she becomes the first and obvious suspect, when she’s fingered by cleaning staff. And that’s where the real fun begins.

Marino (Dennis Franz, in the first of one of seemingly countless cop roles he’s done throughout the decades) is the wise-ass NYPD investigator. And the son of the deceased, a crack engineering whiz-cum-inventor, features prominently.

De Palma is at his “Hitchiest” here, with themes of voyeurism, two-timing, and blurring moral distinctions (and in a sense, toward the end, Hitchcock was becoming more like De Palma, especially with Frenzy, as censorship eased in his native Britain).

There are few directors audacious enough to film pivotal scenes without dialogue for 20-25 minutes at a time, or to bait the audience with heavy character investment when a lead is not long for this world.

***3/4 (out of 5)

Death Ship

Isn’t the captain supposed to go down with the ship?

Not here. He survives, and according to the poster, “would be better off dead” for doing so. Death Ship, needless to say, is a weird disaster film / supernatural horror-hybrid that is set on the high seas (and by the looks of the insane premise, “high” being the operative word).

A sweaty George Kennedy plays Ashland, a bored cruise ship captain whose vessel collides with a mysterious rusted brown freighter. His takes on water, and disappears quickly, leaving but a handful of survivors on a raft. They float about for a bit before coming upon the rust-bucket boat in question, now anchored, and they hop aboard.

They go exploring, only to discover that the ship in uninhabited. It’s always a delight to see a bunch of people poking about on an abandoned vessel, which we have not seen since the wacky 90s Italian horror, Creature from the Abyss, aka, Plankton).

There’s a ghost in the machine, however, and one of the passengers (Saul Rubinek, the Daphne love interest from Frasier) is hoisted by a crane and dunked/keelhauled to his demise.

The survivors realize that something is seriously amiss and they really haven’t been rescued at all.

You see, the titular ship has been totally abandoned and is just drifting around as if it’s been possessed by some nefarious spirit. Spoiler alert: It friggin’ has.

Even though Death Ship isn’t a slasher, and is as far removed from the likes of Friday the 13th or Halloween as you can get despite coming out during the Golden Era of horror, it still manages to succeed because like those films, there’s a solid understanding that place matters.

***1/2

[Check out our podcast discussion of Death Ship!]