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)

Silent Rage

Usually, when there’s a gruff sheriff in town, he’s doin’ battle against cattle rustlers, restless natives, or rounding up a posse to exact revenge on stagecoach bandits. In Silent Rage, Chuck Norris (Sheriff Dan) seems to have wandered off the set of a Rory Calhoun movie and into a world of Re-Animator/The Brain that Wouldn’t Die.

Mental patient John Kirby is in standoff with police after axe-murdering his landlady. He’s pumped full of head and taken to a hospital, where twisted attending physicians fill his veins with an experimental serum, bringing him back from death’s door. Unfortunately for all concerned, a revivified Kirby is back to his evil ways, a near-unstoppable killing machine terrorizing Texas townsfolk. When will these weird syringe experimental serum developers ever learn their lesson?

Sheriff Dan, alongside reluctant and doughy Deputy Charlie (Stephen Furst of Animal House) team up to track down the psycho and take him out more permanently.

To pad the run-time, a noticeably relaxed Norris, hot on the heels of playing a Frisco narcotics cop (An Eye for an Eye) has to fight off dirtnik bikers who assail him in the local diner for ordering “hot tea.” He makes quick work of the 1%ers, with a bar biker beat-down worthy of A Bronx Tale. All the while, he’s reconciling with an ex (that staple of action films), romancing the paramour with whom he’d parted ways six years earlier (such is the allure of Chuck Norris, especially in protracted and extremely odd lovemaking hammock montages).

If you hadn’t already guessed, Silent Rage is a movie that doesn’t know what the heck it wants to be: biker exploitation or stalk-n-slash horror, as a near-dead antagonist is depleting the population of this already-small Texas burg.

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun. Chuck, the human meme-generator, is not one to be trifled with. And here, the fists and the feet fly, albeit not enough.

*** (out of 5)

[Check out our podcast discussion of Silent Rage on the Really Awful Movies Podcast]