"Dressed to Kill" is an intense, dreamy, erotically charged thriller, and clearly another of filmmaker Brian De Palma's homages to the works of Alfred Hitchcock. It manages the neat trick of being fairly classy and rather trashy at the same time, as De Palma brings all of his directing skill to bear. This may not be his best but it's certainly one of his most well known, thanks in no small part to the excellent star trio of Michael Caine, Angie Dickinson, and Nancy Allen; Allen, of course, was married to De Palma at the time.
Caine plays an eminent psychiatrist, Dr. Robert Elliott, and Dickinson portrays Kate Miller, one of his patients who's not getting any sexual fulfillment in her life. Unfortunately, once she is able to experience an afternoon of passion the satisfaction is short lived, as a tall, cold looking blonde woman in sunglasses and trenchcoat slashes her to death with a straight razor. (This has to rank as one of the scariest ever elevator rides captured on film.) A witness on the scene is high priced call girl Liz Blake (Allen), who's accused of the crime after stupidly picking up the murder weapon. So she ends up working with Kate's son Peter (Keith Gordon) to try to identify the woman, who Liz and Peter guess to be another of Elliott's patients.
In the opening minutes of his film De Palma shows you what you're going to be in for, showing Dickinson pleasuring herself in the shower (intercutting shots of Dickinson with those of a body double) until a male stranger materializes behinds her and starts forcing himself on her. The combination of sex and danger is always stressed in this movie; as we will learn our killer has some severe psycho sexual problems. There are some highly memorable sequences, such as an extended seduction taking place inside an art museum, that being followed by a steamy coupling in the back of a cab. Other aspects that make it effective are Jerry Greenberg's editing (this was the man that cut "The French Connection", after all), Ralf Bode's widescreen cinematography, and Pino Donaggio's haunting music.
The actors each get an impressive showcase; both Dickinson and Allen look amazing to boot. Included in the cast are Dennis Franz as the investigating detective, David Margulies as the psychiatrist who explains everything for us in the end in case we didn't already get it, William Finley who does some uncredited voice work, and Brandon Maggart in a brief bit as a john.
Overall, the film has a definite ability to get under one's skin. It's often genuinely spooky and could easily shock more sensitive viewers due to the level of sexual frankness on display. While subtlety may be in short supply, it's hard to deny the ability of "Dressed to Kill" to manipulate us into a state of excitement and expectation.
Eight out of 10.