Dressed to Kill (1980 film)

Dressed to Kill is a 1980 American neo-noir slasher film written and directed by Brian De Palma. Starring Michael Caine, Angie Dickinson, Nancy Allen, and Keith Gordon, the film depicts the events leading up to the murder of a New York City housewife (Dickinson) before following a prostitute (Allen) who witnesses the crime. It contains several direct references to Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 film Psycho, such as a man dressing as a woman to commit murders, significant shower scenes, and the murder of the female lead early in the picture.

Dressed to Kill
Dressed to kill.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byBrian De Palma
Produced byGeorge Litto
Written byBrian De Palma
Music byPino Donaggio
CinematographyRalf D. Bode
Edited byGerald B. Greenberg
  • Cinema 77
  • Film Group
Distributed byFilmways Pictures
Release date
‹See TfM›
  • July 25, 1980 (1980-07-25)[1]
Running time
104 minutes[2]
CountryUnited States
Budget$6.5 million[3]
Box office$31.9 million[3]

Released in the summer of 1980, Dressed to Kill was a box office hit in the United States, grossing over $30 million. It received largely favorable reviews, and critic David Denby of New York Magazine proclaimed it "the first great American movie of the '80s."[4] Angie Dickinson won the Saturn Award for Best Actress for her performance. Nancy Allen received both a Golden Globe Award nomination for New Star of the Year,[5] as well as an inaugural first-year Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Actress (a distinction that she shared in 1980 with Neil Diamond who also received both a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor in The Jazz Singer and won the Worst Actor Razzie Award for the same role). Caine also stood out for his double role of the healing, reserved psychiatrist and the psychiatrist's murdering, gender-role conflicted alter ego.


Kate Miller is a sexually frustrated housewife who is in therapy with New York City psychiatrist Dr. Robert Elliott. During an appointment, Kate attempts to seduce him, but Elliott rejects her advances. Kate goes to the Metropolitan Museum of Art where 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 go to his apartment and have sex.

Hours later, Kate awakens and decides to discreetly leave while the man, Warren Lockman, is asleep. Kate sits at his desk to leave him a note and finds a document indicating that Warren has contracted a sexually transmitted disease. Shocked, she leaves the apartment. In her haste, she forgets her wedding ring on the nightstand, and she returns to retrieve it. The elevator doors open on the figure of a tall, blond woman in dark sunglasses wielding a straight razor. Kate is violently stabbed to death in the elevator. A high-priced call girl, Liz Blake, happens upon the body. She catches a glimpse of the killer in the elevator's convex mirror, and subsequently becomes both the prime suspect and the killer's next target.

Dr. Elliott receives a bizarre message on his answering machine 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 sex reassignment surgery. Elliott tries to convince Dr. Levy, the patient's new doctor, that Bobbi is a danger to herself and others.

Police Detective Marino is skeptical about Liz's story, partly because of her profession, so Liz joins forces with Kate's revenge-minded son Peter to find the killer. Peter, an inventor, uses a series of homemade listening devices and time-lapse cameras to track patients leaving Elliott's office. They catch Bobbi on camera, and soon Liz is being stalked by a tall blonde in sunglasses. Several attempts are subsequently made on Liz's life. One, in the New York City Subway, is thwarted by Peter, who sprays Bobbi with homemade Mace.

Liz and Peter scheme to learn Bobbi's birth name by getting inside Dr. Elliott's office. Liz baits the therapist by stripping to lingerie and coming on to him, distracting him long enough to make a brief exit and look through his appointment book. Peter is watching through the window when a blonde pulls him away. When Liz returns, a blonde with a razor confronts her; the blonde outside shoots and wounds the blonde inside, and the wig falls off, revealing the razor-wielding blonde as Dr. Elliott/Bobbi. The blonde who shot Bobbi is actually a female police officer, revealing herself to be the blonde who has been trailing Liz.

Elliott is arrested and placed in an insane asylum. Dr. Levy explains later to Liz that Elliott wanted to be a woman, but their male side would not allow them to go through with the operation. Whenever a woman sexually aroused Elliott, Bobbi, representing the unstable, female side of the doctor's personality, became threatened to the point that she finally became murderous. When Dr. Levy realized this through his last conversation with Elliott, he called the police on the spot, who then, with his help, did their duty.

In a final sequence, Elliott escapes from the asylum and slashes Liz's throat in a bloody act of vengeance. She wakes up screaming, Peter rushing to her side, realizing that it was just a nightmare.



The nude body in the opening scene, taking place in a shower, was not that of Angie Dickinson, but of 1977 Penthouse Pet of the Year model Victoria Lynn Johnson.[6] De Palma originally wanted Norwegian actress Liv Ullmann to play Kate Miller, but she declined because of the violence. The role then went to Angie Dickinson. Sean Connery was offered the role of Robert Elliot and was enthusiastic about it, but declined on account of previous commitments.[7] Connery later worked with De Palma on the 1987 Oscar-winning adaptation of The Untouchables. De Palma called the elevator killing the best murder scene he has ever done.[8]


Box officeEdit

Dressed to Kill premiered in Los Angeles and New York City on July 25, 1980.[1] The film grossed $3,416,000 in its opening weekend from 591 theatres and improved its gross the following weekend with $3,640,000 from 596 theatres.[9] It grossed a total of $31.9 million at the U.S. box office, and was the 21st highest-grossing film of the year.[3]

Critical responseEdit

Dressed to Kill currently holds an 80% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 49 reviews, with an average rating of 6.52/10. The consensus states, "With arresting visuals and an engrossingly lurid mystery, Dressed to Kill stylishly encapsulates writer-director Brian De Palma's signature strengths."[10]

Roger Ebert awarded the film three stars out of four, stating "the museum sequence is brilliant" and adding: "Dressed to Kill is an exercise in style, not narrative; it would rather look and feel like a thriller than make sense, but DePalma has so much fun with the conventions of the thriller that we forgive him and go along."[11] Gene Siskel also gave it three stars out of four, writing that there were scenes "that are as exciting and as stylish as any ever put on film. Unfortunately, a good chunk of the film is a whodunit, and its mystery is so easy to solve that we merely end up watching the film's visual pyrotechnics at a distance, never getting all that involved."[12] Vincent Canby of The New York Times] called the film "witty, romantic," and "very funny, which helps to defuse the effect of the graphically photographed violence. In addition, the film is, in its own inside-out way, peculiarly moral." His review added that "The performers are excellent, especially Miss Dickinson."[13] Variety declared "Despite some major structural weaknesses, the cannily manipulated combination of mystery, gore and kinky sex adds up to a slick commercial package that stands to draw some rich blood money." [14] David Denby of New York Magazine proclaimed the film "the first great American movie of the '80s."[4]

Sheila Benson of the Los Angeles Times wrote "The brilliance of Dressed to Kill is apparent within seconds of its opening gliding shot; it is a sustained work of terror—elegant, sensual, erotic, bloody, a directorial tour de force."[15] Pauline Kael of The New Yorker stated of De Palma that "his timing is so great that when he wants you to feel something he gets you every time. His thriller technique, constantly refined, has become insidious, jewelled. It's hardly possible to find a point at which you could tear yourself away from this picture."[16] Gary Arnold of The Washington Post wrote, "This elegant new murder thriller promises to revive the lagging summer box office and enhance De Palma's reputation as the most exciting and distinctive manipulator of suspense since Alfred Hitchcock."[17] In his movie guide, Leonard Maltin gave the film 3 1/2 stars out of four, calling it a "High-tension melodrama", and stating "De Palma works on viewers' emotions, not logic, and maintains a fever pitch from start to finish." He also praised Pino Donaggio's "chilling music score."[18]

John Simon of the National Review, after taking note of the two-page advertisements full of superlatives in The New York Times, wrote "What Dressed to Kill dispenses liberally, however, is sophomoric soft-core pornography, vulgar manipulation of the emotions for mere sensation, salacious but inept dialogue that is a cross between comic-strip Freudianism and sniggering double entendres, and a plot line so full of holes to be at best a dotted line".[19]


Two versions of the film exist in North America, an R-rated version and an unrated version. The unrated version is around 30 seconds longer and shows more pubic hair in the shower scene, more blood in the elevator scene (including a close-up shot of the killer slitting Kate's throat), and more explicit dialogue from Liz during the scene in Elliott's office. These scenes were trimmed when the MPAA originally gave the film an X rating.[20]

Home mediaEdit

The film is currently owned by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (successor to Orion Pictures, who bought Filmways and American International Pictures in 1982). The film saw a 1984 VHS release by Warner Home Video, and later another VHS release by Goodtimes under licence from Orion. In 2002, MGM released the film on DVD, including special features. In 2010, MGM released both R-rated and unrated versions on DVD and Blu-ray. The Criterion Collection released a deluxe Blu-ray edition of the film on September 8, 2015.[21]


Award Category Subject Result
Golden Globe Award New Star of the Year – Actress Nancy Allen Nominated
Stinkers Bad Movie Award Worst Actress Nominated
Golden Raspberry Awards Worst Actress Nominated
Worst Actor Michael Caine Nominated
Worst Director Brian De Palma Nominated
Saturn Awards Best Director Nominated
Best Horror Film Nominated
Best Actress Angie Dickinson Won
Best Music Pino Donaggio Nominated
New York Film Critics Circle Awards Best Film 5th place
Best Director Brian De Palma 4th place

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b "Dressed to Kill". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Los Angeles: American Film Institute. Archived from the original on July 8, 2019.
  2. ^ "DRESSED TO KILL (X)". British Board of Film Classification. September 1, 1980. Retrieved March 30, 2012.
  3. ^ a b c "Dressed to Kill (1980)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved July 8, 2019.
  4. ^ a b Knapp 2003, p. 62.
  5. ^ Golden Globes
  6. ^ Interview: Victoria Lynn Johnson. Dressed to Kill (Blu-ray). The Criterion Collection. 2014.
  7. ^ Eila Mell (January 6, 2005). Casting Might-Have-Beens: A Film by Film Directory of Actors Considered for Roles Given to Others. McFarland. p. 76. ISBN 978-1-4766-0976-8.
  8. ^ "Interview with Brian De Palma". The Talks.
  9. ^ "Dressed To Kill Is Showing Its Legs (advertisement)". Variety. August 13, 1980. pp. 34–35. Cite has empty unknown parameter: |1= (help)
  10. ^ Dressed to Kill at Rotten Tomatoes
  11. ^ Ebert, Roger. "Dressed to Kill". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2012-02-05.
  12. ^ Siskel, Gene (July 25, 1980). "De Palma's sharp Dress almost has it all". Chicago Tribune. Section 4 p. 3.
  13. ^ Canby, Vincent (July 25, 1980). "Film: 'Dressed to Kill,' De Palma Mystery:". The New York Times: C10.
  14. ^ "Dressed to Kill". Variety: 18. July 23, 1980.
  15. ^ Benson, Sheila (July 25, 1980). "'Dressed to Kill': The Terror is Stunning". Los Angeles Times. Part VI, p. 1.
  16. ^ Kael, Pauline (August 4, 1980). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker: 68.
  17. ^ Arnold, Gary (July 25, 1980). "Mad for Murder". The Washington Post: C1.
  18. ^ Maltin, Leonard. 2013 Movie Guide. Penguin Books. p. 385. ISBN 978-0-451-23774-3.
  19. ^ Simon, John (1982). Reverse Angle: A Decade of American Film. Crown Publishers Inc. p. 413.
  20. ^ Film Review: Dressed to Kill (1980) – Review 2|HNN
  21. ^ "Dressed to Kill Blu-ray". Amazon. Retrieved July 8, 2019.


  • Knapp, Laurence F. (2003). Interviews: Brian De Palma. Jackson, Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi. ISBN 978-1-578-06516-5.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)

External linksEdit