DRESSED TO KILL (1980) Reviews of Brian De Palma’s ‘Psycho’ US Giallo slasher

New! Visitor ratings! Click on a star to indicate your rating of this movie!


Dressed to Kill is a 1980 American horror-thriller feature film written and directed by Brian De Palma  (Scarface; Phantom of the ParadiseCarrie, The Fury). The plot focuses on the murder of a housewife and an investigation involving a young prostitute who witnessed the murder, the victim’s teenaged son and her psychiatrist.

The original music score was composed by Pino Donaggio (Tourist Trap; Don’t Look Now).

The movie stars Michael Caine (Jaws: The Revenge; The Hand), Angie Dickinson, Nancy Allen and Keith Gordon.


Brian De Palma originally wanted the Norwegian actress Liv Ullmann to play Kate Miller, but she declined because of the violence in the scenario. The role then went to Angie Dickinson. Sean Connery was offered the role of Robert Elliot and was enthusiastic about it but apparently declined on account of previously acquired commitments.

Kate Miller (Angie Dickinson) is a frustrated housewife who is in therapy with New York City psychiatrist Doctor Robert Elliott (Michael Caine). During an appointment, Kate attempts to seduce him, but Elliott rejects her advances.

Kate visits the Metropolitan Museum. In a ten-minute sequence entirely without dialogue, she has an unexpected flirtation with a mysterious stranger. Kate and the stranger “stalk” each other through the museum until they finally wind up outside, where Kate joins him in a taxi. They begin to have intercourse and continue at his apartment, unaware that Kate has left her underwear on the floor of the cab.


Hours later, Kate awakens and, thoroughly satisfied with her evening, decides to discreetly leave while the man, Warren Lockman, is asleep. Kate sits at his desk to leave Warren a note and finds a document indicating that he has contracted a sexually transmitted disease. Mortified, she leaves the apartment. But in her haste, she has left her wedding ring on the stranger’s nightstand, so she returns to retrieve it.

dressed to kill

The elevator doors open on the figure of a tall, blonde woman in dark sunglasses wielding a straight razor, and Kate is slashed to death in the elevator. A high-priced call girl, Liz Blake, happens upon the body. She catches a glimpse of the killer, therefore becoming both the prime suspect and the killer’s next target.


Doctor Elliott receives a bizarre answering machine message from “Bobbi,” a transgender patient. Bobbi taunts the psychiatrist for breaking off their therapy sessions, apparently because Elliott refuses to sign the necessary papers for Bobbi to get a sex change operation. Elliott tries to convince Doctor Levy, the patient’s new doctor, that Bobbi is a danger to herself and others…


Buy Criterion Collection Blu-ray from Amazon.com

  • New, restored 4K digital transfer of director Brian De Palma’s preferred unrated version, approved by the director, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • New conversation between De Palma and filmmaker Noah Baumbach
  • New interviews with actor Nancy Allen, producer George Litto, composer Pino Donaggio, shower-scene body double Victoria Lynn Johnson, and poster photographic art director Stephen Sayadian
  • New profile of cinematographer Ralf Bode, featuring filmmaker Michael Apted
  • The Making of “Dressed to Kill,” a 2001 documentary featuring De Palma
  • Interview with actor-director Keith Gordon from 2001
  • Video pieces from 2001 about the different versions of the film and the cuts made to avoid an X rating
  • Gallery of storyboards by De Palma
  • Trailer
  • An essay by critic Michael Koresky



A work of great beauty and horror, this is unlike pretty much any other American thriller – it’s as close as US filmmakers ever came to the style of Dario Argento’s early movies, in fact. That it still seems as provocative as ever over three decades later is tribute to its power. And so it’s good that Arrow’s new uncut Blu-ray features excellent extras – a thorough ‘making of documentary’, interviews with Allen, Dickinson and Gordon, a look at the cuts made to secure a R-rating and more. An essential package for an essential film.
David Flint, MOVIES and MANIA

Other reviews:
“Suspense-king Hitchcock is dead. Long live the new King, De Palma.” Forbes, December 22, 1980

Dressed to Kill is about America’s deadly puritanical instincts, levied against women who want to have the type of “lovely afternoon” that Kate seeks out at the Met without repercussions. As horror headed into a decade of slasher movies, which often implied that promiscuous women deserved to be the first ones hacked, De Palma flipped the premise on its head. His women may be marked for death, but they’re framed by a culture where sexuality is a crime.” The Guardian

Dressed to Kill was one of the most derisive films ever to be released in 1980, condemned for being misogynistic, homophobic, a glossy 42nd street (pre-Disneyfication) skin flick, anti-feminist, a post-feminist, pre-AIDS nightmare. Yet, it has also been praised for its stylistic, visual filmmaking and its subversive black humor. A master filmmaker manipulating his audience with dark, politically incorrect twists filled with impure thoughts, deeds, guilty pleasures, illicit sex, and its punishing aftermath.  DePalma lets you have your carnal fun, your dark black laughs but you pay for it violently in the end.” Twenty Four Frames


“Pino Donaggio’s work deserves special mention because it really is one of the best dramatic scores composed for a film of this type. Criticised by those with nothing better to do at the time as being a pale imitation of Bernard Herrman’s score for Psycho, Donaggio’s music actually goes well beyond that. While the scraping strings of Psycho’s shower murder are imitated in the elevator scene, Donaggio underpins them with woodwind to create an effect that, if anything, feels even more violent and over the top, in keeping with the operatic nature of de Palma’s film.” House of Mortal Cinema


Dressed to Kill was released in the UK by Arrow Video on Blu-ray Disc with the following features:

  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of the feature
  • Optional original uncompressed Mono 2.0 Audio and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround Sound
  • Optional English SDH subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Symphony of Fear: Producer George Litto discusses his working relationship with Brian De Palma
  • Dressed in White: Star Angie Dickinson on her role in the film
  • Dressed in Purple: Star Nancy Allen discusses her role in the film
  • Lessons in Filmmaking: Actor Keith Gordon discusses Dressed to Kill
  • The Making of a Thriller A documentary on the making of Dressed to Kill featuring writer-director Brian De Palma, George Litto, stars Angie Dickinson, Nancy Allen, Dennis Franz and more!
  • Unrated, R-Rated, and TV-Rated Comparison Featurette
  • Slashing Dressed to Kill Brian De Palma and stars Nancy Allen and Keith Gordon discuss the changes that had to be made to avoid an X-rating
  • Original Theatrical Gallery
  • Reversible sleeve with original and newly commissioned artwork by Nathaniel Marsh
  • Collector s booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic and author Maitland McDonagh, illustrated with original archive stills and promotional material
  • Buy Blu-ray from Amazon.co.uk



“This compelling thriller was the first movie that, as a teen, made me aware of the art of filmmaking and, by extension, the necessity of film criticism, and it still floors me after all these years. Pino Donaggio’s music score, alternately dreamy and frenzied, is simply wonderful; ditto Gerald Greenberg’s editing and Ralf Bode’s camerawork. The silent cat-and-mouse game set inside a museum is a remarkable sequence, and the elevator scene remains one of the greatest set-pieces in thriller history.” Creative Loafing

dressed to kill french pulsions poster angie dickinson





The title ‘Dressed to Kill’ refers of course to the murderer’s garb and not the victims

Movie timeline:

MOVIES and MANIA provides an aggregated range of film reviews from a wide variety of credited sources, plus our own reviews and ratings, in one handy web location. We are a genuinely independent website and rely solely on the minor income generated by internet ads to stay online and expand. Please support us by not blocking ads. If you do block ads please consider making a small donation to our running costs instead. We'd really appreciate it. Thank you. As an Amazon Associate, the owner occasionally earns a small amount from qualifying linked purchases.