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DRESSED TO KILL (1980)

Directed by Brian DePalma

Starring Michael Caine and Angie Dickinson

Despite the fact that he lifted heavily from "Psycho" and the films of Dario Argento, De Palma crafted an excellent, taut, suspenseful horror film with "Dressed to Kill," which measures up to "Carrie" as one of his best thrillers.

The first 20 minutes of the movie, in fact, feature flawless suspense filmmaking, with incredible tension and suspense even though there's no explicit reason we should be worried about any of the characters. A scene in a museum is so well-done, it's hard not to imagine that Hitchcock himself would have directed the scene had he been alive in 1980. "Dressed to Kill" also doesn't exhibit some of the flaws that De Palma let pass in "Carrie" and "Sisters" -- mainly annoying one-dimensional characters and cheesy comedy. It's just about a perfect movie.

Dickinson plays a wealthy New York wife and Caine is her therapist. When a prostitute (played by DePalma's former squeeze, Nancy Allen) witnesses Dickinson being brutally slashed in an elevator by another woman brandishing a razor blade. Like the protagonist in Argento's "Deep Red," who also witnessed a murder, Allen suddenly realizes she needs to do her own detective work if she hopes to save her life. It isn't the only similarity to that movie you'll find here.

Gore, nude scenes featuring a gorgeous body double for Dickinson and terrifying dream sequences helped make this a controversial movie that had to be cut to get an "R" rating. Fortunately, the unrated version is now available, but in some ways the R-cut is better. Because the opening shower scene is steamier in the cut version, it isn't so blatantly obvious that a 20-something body double is being used for the 40-something Dickinson.

All in all, the film is more explicit and ribald than what Hitchcock ever made, and it comes across as the kind of movie he would have made had he been alive in the post-sexual revolution 1980s. Sadly, the success of this film would lead De Palma out of the horror genre. He would go on to focus on  blockbusters like "The Untouchables," "Mission: Impossible" and "Scarface."

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