When a woman is murdered after a one night stand, her son, psychiatrist, and the only witness become embroiled in an unusual game of cat and mouse. For a director who always enjoyed paying homage to Hitchcock, Dressed to Kill is arguably Brian De Palma’s greatest ode to the Maestro. A classic MacGuffin followed by the inevitable genre switch, voyeurism, a mesmerising murder sequence, and two blond female leads, Dressed to Kill is laced with touches old Hitch would’ve been proud of. Throw in some of De Palma’s penchant for deep perspective, split screen, and perfectly lit tracking sequences knitted together with precision editing and you have one seriously slick thriller on your hands. As is typical with his films, the story takes second place to the set pieces and while the story does make for a fine thriller in its own right, it’s certainly elevated by De Palma’s style.
Angie Dickinson gives a somewhat shockingly sensual but nonetheless excellent performance as the married woman searching for something else. Michael Caine is terrific as the psychiatrist while Keith Gordon adds another interesting portrayal of a slightly atypical teen to his acting catalogue. De Palma regular Nancy Allen is equally good as the prostitute who witnessed the murder and it’s nice to see her play a relatively straight character as opposed to a ditsy red-head or malevolent teen villain. Overall, Dressed to Kill is a movie fan’s delight shaped into a top notch thriller. Watch it from either point of view and you won’t be disappointed.
Rating: The Good – 78 Genre: Thriller Duration: 107 mins Director: Brian De Palma Stars: John Travolta, Nancy Allen, John Lithgow
If Brian De Palma’s 1981 movie was made today by someone like Quentin Tarantino, it would be hailed as a masterpiece which defines the fresh playfulness of the modern cinematic era….and rightly so. However, this just goes to show how ahead of his time De Palma actually was (or how slow mainstream cinema was in catching up). John Travolta stars as a B-movie sound man who while out one night recording stock sounds, ends up recording a car accident from which he rescues a young woman (Nancy Allen). When he tells the police that the accident sounded like it was preceded by a gun shot he gets told to keep it quiet and when he tries to go about proving it with his recording he inadvertently puts the girl’s life in danger.
Blow Out opens with a delicious film-within-a-film vignette as Travolta and his on-screen director are watching the dailies of their latest slasher film – which is so well lit and staged that you wouldn’t mind seeing the full feature! This sets a tone to the movie that persists throughout as Travolta uses the tools of movie making to elucidate the crime that De Palma’s movie is built around. This gives the entire movie a kind of through-the-looking-glass feel as everything seems overtly cinematic and otherworldly. The lighting and production design are vividly captured and De Palma’s striking use of staging even in the quieter, more insignificant moments seems conspicuously relevant to the movie’s vibe. The characters too, in particular Allen’s ditsy female lead and John Lithgow’s creepy assassin, feel purposefully overblown.
As is typical with De Palma, there are a host of dazzling set pieces (arguably more here than in any of his other movies) the best of which surely being that ingeniously crafted night-time sound recording scene. Travolta is in top form and his relationship with Allen’s character is believable and interesting yet much different to the malevolent pairing they shared in Carrie. Lithgow is equally entertaining in a peculiar sort of way.
Blow Out is a movie-lover’s delight and required viewing for anyone who enjoys intelligent cinema. It’s dark, it’s suspenseful, and like all De Palma’s great work, it’s wonderfully dramatic.
Rating: The Good – 83.7 Genre: Science Fiction, Action, Satire Duration: 102 mins Director: Paul Verhoeven Stars: Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, Kurtwood Smith, Ronny Cox
You have to admire directors who have a clear unmistakable and atypical style. It indicates a level of control and finesse that separate themselves from the mainstream line-towers who movie execs tend to favour. Carpenter, Cronenberg, Mann, DePalma, Kubrick are some such directors and so is Paul Verhoeven – even if his hallmarks are slightly more overt than the aforementioned. His signature trilogy comprise Starship Troopers, Total Recall, and RoboCop. Each are as much fun as you can have with a sci-fi and each have their unique strengths. Two of them have silly names but they are Verhoeven’s masterpieces. In fact, Robocop and Starship Troopers are similar in other ways as both play with the social mores of the their time through a mixture of clever story-lines and delicious television newsflashes which act as intermissions to the drama.
RoboCop is exactly what it says on the tin (no pun intended). Detroit police department of the near future gets contracted out to a nefarious company who institute a new security programme by turning a cop killed in the line of duty into a heavily armed and virtually unstoppable cyborg. Peter Weller is a revelation as the titular hero as he transforms from everyman cop to robot. Everything from his walk to the way he speaks seems authentically robotic (startlingly so in fact) and it’s hard to imagine even Schwarzenegger (originally meant for the job) matching his performance (The Terminator required a more subtle portrayal due to the fact that those cyborgs were supposed to look human). Nancy Allen does well as his gutsy partner and Ronny Cox is of course on hand to spit venom at all and sundry. However, even he is outshined in that department by Kurtwood Smith as the truly loathsome Clarence Boddicker.
Basil Poledouris’ score is suitably exhilarating and Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner’s script is daring, witty, sharp, and perfectly structured. Some of the special effects involving the ED 209 are a bit clunky but Rob Bottin’s robosuit is a joy to look at. The star of the show however is undoubtedly Verhoeven as RoboCop is a tight, meticulously crafted, and hugely satisfying satirical sci-fi. Everything from the way RoboCop is finally introduced to the switching from regular perspective to RoboCop’s perspective is done to drive the dramatic tension of the film and it all works a treat. Don’t dismiss because of the title. Watch it and even that will make sense. “I’ll buy that for a dollar.”
Rating: The Good – 90.5 Genre: Horror Duration: 98 mins Director: Brian De Palma Stars: Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, Amy Irving
Brian De Palma brings Stephen King’s horror classic to life with bags of wit and style in this seminal addition to the horror movie genre. From the very opening shot we see that De Palma’s innovative style and penchant for long slow tracking shots are perfectly suited to telling the story of a troubled high school girl who spends her days being bullied in school and her evenings being psychologically abused by her fanatically religious mother. A target for her classmates’ cruelty and a vessel for her mother’s self-delusions, Carrie is about to blow and given that she has recently discovered that she can move objects with her mind, neither is going to want to be around when she does.
Carrie is a case of inspired writing and screen adaptation (kudos Lawrence D. Cohen) being brought to life by a confident young director who was (along with others of his generation) both heavily influenced by the old maestros yet also changing the shape of modern cinema with bold new ideas and innovations. And Carrie is chock-full of both. This film glides along and shifts almost effortlessly in tone from seriously dark and creepy in places to whimsical, carefree, and downright fun in others (just check out that tux-buying scene). Pino Donaggio’s score helps hugely in the latter instances but really comes into its own when Carrie is using her powers.
Sissy Spacek is phenomenally good in the title role given that the two sides to her character’s personality were so disparate. William Katt’s always positive presence brings a ray of sunshine the party and Nancy Allen and John Travolta are excellent together as two of the twisted bullies. Of course Piper Laurie is just plain scary as Carrie’s mother and adds that final touch of class needed to elevate this masterpiece into the high echelons of great cinema.