Brian De Palma Robert Asahina - Essay

Robert Asahina

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

De Palma's latest effort, Dressed to Kill, borrows liberally from his previous films: the "surprise" ending, a shock that turns out to be merely a nightmare, recalls Carrie; the element of voyeurism derives from Hi Mom! and Home Movies. But these are nothing compared to what De Palma steals from Hitchcock. Adding a little nudity and sex, he makes off with more or less everything from Psycho, right down to the shower scene and the psychopathic killer who dresses in women's clothing.

What De Palma leaves behind is Hitchcock's cynical Catholicism. His point of view, as both a writer and a director, is simply amoral; he dispatches his characters in spectacularly gory fashion with no justification other than sheer delight in the kinetic possibilities of killing on screen. The violence in his movies—with the important exception of Carrie—is commited for esthetic reasons alone…. De Palma makes films that are meaninglessly violent….

In Dressed to Kill the blood and gore seem to serve no purpose except to convey the filmmaker's contempt for his audience. The film's gruesome ending is purely gratuitous. Who is getting pleasure out of such violence? It can only be De Palma himself, smirking at his own manipulativeness. Audiences are not annoyed at such violence because it arouses feelings they are afraid to deal with; they are disgusted that they have let their emotions be toyed with so cheaply.

The impression that De Palma is preoccupied with his own filmmaking is borne out as well by the hammy estheticism of Dressed to Kill. Split screens are used throughout the movie. Is this a device to indicate the killer's derangement, or just a cinematic indulgence? Probably the latter….

[It] is the absence of any point to the sex or violence that makes Dressed to Kill truly offensive. (p. 27)

Robert Asahina, "Manipulating the Moviegoer," in The New Leader (© 1980 by the American Labor Conference on International Affairs, Inc.), Vol. LXIII, No. 15, August 11, 1980, pp. 26-7.∗