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)

Raising Cain

With his affinity for odd angles, maybe Brian De Palma could’ve been a billiards champ. Here, he brings those gradients and kicks his Hitchcock aspirations into high gear with a largely forgotten, though underrated 90s thriller, Raising Cain.

John Lithgow plays multiple roles (and multiple personalities), as unhinged child psychologist Dr. Carter Nix, who is skirting regulation and probity trying to procure kid subjects for his unethical research project.

De Palma is a filmmaker smart enough run another subplot counter to that one, and here Nix is being cuckolded by his oncologist wife, Jenny (who in audacious fashion, hooks up with the widower of a woman she’d been treating for cancer — with make-out sessions on her bed too, while she’s falling in and out of consciousness!).

De Palma is also savvy enough not to delve into details about exactly what kind of child research the maniacal doc is up to.

Genre fans will get a kick out of Gregg Henry (Body Double/Slither/Guardians of the Galaxy) as a cop hot on Nix’s tail, and to a lesser extent Gabrielle Carteris (“ON”drea from Beverly Hills 90210). Lithgow is as per usual, really darn good. Later, he’ll explore the role of a devious sociopath living the veneer of a doting suburban dad as Dexter’s top competition, The Trinity Killer (a bit like real-life Kansas butcher, BTK).

While Raising Cain doesn’t hold up entirely, marred by 90s Lifetime Movie histrionics, you can’t help but be impressed by the narrative vision. The obvious nods to Psycho are forgivable too.

Of note, a much more coherent fan-cut made its way onto the Blu-Ray, and amazingly, De Palma admitted it adhered much more to his initial vision than the muddled mess of the original release. The Raising Cain re-cut is, to say the least, “a dramatically different viewing experience.”

***1/4 (out of 5)

[For a more in-depth discussion about Brian De Palma, check out the Really Awful Movies Podcast discussion of Raising Cain]