Dressed To Kill (1980)
Starring: Michael Caine, Angie Dickenson, Nancy Allen, Keith Gordon
Director: Brian De Palma
I'm not positive that this technically counts as a horror movie, and the fact that I'd never even heard of it until recently makes me question whether or not it could be considered a classic. But it was another movie mentioned in Jason Zinoman's Shock Value, and more importantly, it was free on Netflix, so here we are.
Before I go any farther, let me go ahead and roll out a blanket spoiler alert for this segment, because most of what I have to say revolves around the movie's big plot twist. So if you haven't seen it (you've had 31 years to do so) and you don't want the ending to be ruined, proceed not. Thou have been warned.
Now, when I read about this movie in Shock Value, author Jason Zinoman focused on the feelings of loneliness and insecurity that lead Kate Miller (Angie Dickinson) to the bed of a stranger who would apparently go on to murder her. He compares her relationship with her son, Peter (Keith Gordon) with that of Brian De Palma's relationship with his own mother. Peter is forced to become a psuedo-private eye in order to find Kate's killer, and De Palma was forced into a somewhat similar situation, not to find his mother's killer but rather working on her request to catch his father in the act of infidelity.
So when I started the movie, I expected the film to focus on that relationship. Little did I know that most people who have seen the movie probably paid most attention to the fact that not only is Michael Caine the killer, but he's also a a transsexual. Yeah, I didn't see that one coming either. In fact I didn't even know Michael Caine was in the damn movie before I watched it.
But apparently, his character, a therapist named Dr. Richard Elliot, takes the phrase "physician, heal thyself" to a whole new level. His inner conflict over his desire to become a woman drove him to multiple personalities, and the female personality, Bobbi, becomes so angry over his inability to give in to that desire that she kills anyone who engages his male sexual urges.
Caine's character drew a bit of backlash from the gay and transgender community, who chastised the movie for propagating negative stereotypes of gay and I'm going to go ahead and call shenanigans here, however. We don't blame Hannibal Lecter's European descent for his being a cannibal, do we? Just because the Jaws was a shark isn't necessarily why he eats people. Ok, bad example. The point is that true equality means that homosexuals and transsexuals have just as much chance to be fucked up as the rest of us.
Odd tangent on social relations aside, Dressed to Kill works as an entertaining murder mystery mainly because it takes such a ridiculous concept so seriously. This is a movie where a bored, lonely housewife is slashed to death by a pre-op transsexual, only to have her death investigated by her vengeful son working with the hooker who has been falsely accused of the murder. Oh, and it also has Dennis Franz before his transformation into a troll was complete.
Aw, that hair is just hanging on for dear life.
Even with all of this crazy shit going on, the movie never winks at the camera or slips into camp. It treats this bizarre sequence of events seriously enough that I found myself taking it seriously (most of the time). De Palma pulls this off by making his characters either likeable enough (Kate and Peter) or at least interesting enough (Dr. Richards) to become invested in them. That's usually the element that will make or break a horror movie, and Dressed to Kill passed that test. Plus, if nothing else, it adds an extra twist to the Batman movies when you picture Alfred wearing four-inch pumps and a black cocktail dress while Bruce Wayne goes out to fight crime.