Brian de Palma’s work always has gigantic quotation marks about. He doesn’t tell stories; he makes “cinema.” His larger-than-life, garishly coloured style is best suited to big movies, stories of sex, violence and oversized emotions.
On paper, his style seems perfectly suited to the lurid psychosexual thriller-cum-horror movie Dressed to Kill. There are some thrilling scenes here – an extended, wordless flirtation between two strangers in an art gallery, or a frantic, bloody elevator confrontation – that could only come from de Palma. But that paper – the script – contains a story that’s at best an incoherent homage and at worst actively offensive.
Dressed to Kill primarily functions as a Hitchcock pastiche without the restrictions of the Hays code (read: overt violence, sex and nudity). The aforementioned art gallery scene is straight out of Vertigo, the climax steals liberally from Rear Window, and the majority of the narrative is based on Psycho: suspenseful shower scenes, a blonde protagonist murdered in the first act, a multiple-personality murderer, even a tedious psychological elucidation. Mix that up with some transphobia, racism and almost wowser-ish fear of sex and you get a final product where the vivid de Palma style can’t make up for a rubbish story.