Saturday, October 22, 2005

Day 22: Dressed to Kill

Voice of Bobbi: Don't make me be a bad girl again!

This movie has the distinction of being the first one mentioned on this blog during which I fell asleep. It’s not entirely the movie’s fault, I was pretty tired, but I dosed for a moment during a protracted ten or fifteen minute denouement that was just excruciating to sit through. Before watching Brian De Palma’s Dressed to Kill, I’d heard jokes made at De Palma’s expense about how he aped Hitchcock. Having never seen a movie where he does so, I never quite got the joke. I get it now. This is, essentially, a remake of Psycho with nothing new to add but explicit nudity and violence. You’ve got the same cross-dressing killer, the same “twist” where you learn a character you’ve been following the whole movie is said killer, the same slashing strings that mimic the killing you’re seeing, and the same Puritanical violent reaction to a fear of sexuality. Hell, the movie even carries over the worst part of Psycho, the stupid and nearly unforgivable psychologist scene at the end. This isn’t an unenjoyable movie to watch, the technical stuff is confident and artful, but it’s a waste of time.

For the record, I was only asleep for a few seconds. After the killer is disposed of and we get the unfortunate and questionable psychoanalytic analysis of why this guy was acting the way he was, there are a couple of unnecessary scenes in which characters chat about what they’ll do now that all of this is behind them. Then, as if whoring out the fun and scary ending to his version of Carrie, De Palma inflicts upon us a lengthy sequence in which Nancy Allen showers, hears a noise, and is attacked by the killer we thought was dead. Then she wakes up. I was asleep for a bit during the showering because at this point, there’s absolutely no reason to be watching the movie anymore. The story is over and the sequence adds nothing to the film but a cheap shock, one that any astute viewer should see coming from miles away.

Another ridiculous scene has Angie Dickinson, playing a sexually frustrated housewife, pursuing a man through an art museum. She’s interested in having a fling with him because her husband is bad in bed. There’s a great tracking shot through the museum and some Herrmannesque music plays. At first, it’s refreshing because this is a scene of conflicting emotions played silently. It’s clear that Dickinson wants to seduce this man, but isn’t sure it’s the right thing to do. But the scene continues, there are complications, and soon, Dickinson has given up on any hope of a fling but is still pursuing the man because he has a glove of hers that she wants back. As she follows him through the art museum, there’s a question of why she doesn’t just call out to the man so she can get the glove. The sequence has gone from kind-of cool to plain annoying because the craft of the movie (following Dickenson through the museum in a tracking shot that looks neat) begins to intrude on the characters. I guess she probably didn’t speak up because the music from the movie was playing too loudly and he wouldn’t have been able to hear her. I don’t really know, but it was infuriating to watch.

I’m not sure why this film exists. Psycho is a perfectly fine movie in its own right. It’s not like this movie is just borrowing elements from Psycho to tell its own story… that I can at least try to get behind. This is thematically the exact same story with a different plot as window dressing. I suppose one could argue that this movie puts Psycho into the modern age, changing the setting from a rural environment of isolation to an urban one and upping the sexual quotient to be more explicit. But if that’s true, then why is Nancy Allen’s prostitute character so old fashioned? She’s like a 15-year-old’s conception of a prostitute, a woman who’s sexually available but for whom the sex trade is as simple and consequence-free as sending a greeting card. What’s more, if you’re going to try and update Psycho, why align yourself with the simplistic and improbable psychological explanation from the original movie? Why give an explanation at all since it’s just going to read as simplistic and improbable? Am I being unfair in comparing this movie to Psycho rather than just judging it on its own merits? I don’t think so. The movie brazenly invites the comparison and fails to live up to its predecessor every step of the way. There are new layers to find in the story and different perspectives to examine, but all this does is give us the exact same perspective with only minor variations on the theme. Yawn.

Edit on 2/17/10: 4 and 1/2 years later, I find myself regretting the comments made about the pursuit through the museum. In all this time, I haven't stopped thinking of that sequence. I now think it's gorgeous filmmaking that should be applauded for its bravura. Hitchcock-inspired or no, it is exquisite. One of the benefits of doing all this in bloggy form is the ability to come back here now and say, quite publicly, that I think I was wrong.


Redphi5h said...

DePalma is so hot and cold. When he uses Hitchcockian techniques I cringe. I guess you haven't seen Body Double. It sounds very similar to the movie you described. Whereas Hitchcock invented his techniques intuitively, DePalma apes them. It leaves you cold. And the psychoanalytic bases are silly as well. I was interested, though, in the glove. Sounds like a McGuffin, don't you think?

Van Sant said...

Yeah, I mean who would ever in their right mind do a remake of Psycho. Total waste of time... Unless it was shot for shot, and filmed in the same number of days.... I think we have something here, get me Vince Vaughn™ on the phone... Stat.

Ash Karreau said...

I like to see DePalma's movies as sort of subtle parodies of Hitchcock, born of admiration. I feel as if he inflates Hitchcock's techniques and themes to the point where they become almost ludicrous, a line that Hitchcock himself crossed a few too many times.

Anonymous said...

I'm not expert, of course, but it looks like you've got the movie wrong. To me the movie felt like it was a hilarious take on "Psycho." I mean, there was never any real doubt that Caine would turn out to be the killer.

And I burst out laughing at the way the final "explanation" scene. The way the scene starts and the words make it plain that it was just a parody and nothing more.

And that Dickenson scene at the museum was so beautiful to watch. The fact that she did not call out is just a quirk of her character. Not everyone does enitrely logical things all the time. But that added tension - not altogether a bad thing, no?

Anyway, this isn't a movie to take seriously. And as long as you don't do that, it's a very, very enjoyable movie - as a lot of Brian De Palma movies are.

Tamara the Reader said...

I wanted to read the review as it was the first movie I saw with my ex-husband back when I was a stupid naive Jehovah's Witness who never should have been in that theatre in Montreal watching that clearly sexually explicit and violent movie in the first place! It was graphic beyond for me! The shower thing left me permanently leary of showers. Bubble bath please, please here I come! Next...