The doors are open at the Video Archives Podcast, and for the first time, we have a customer!
Eli Roth, director of Hostel and Cabin Fever and one of the Inglourious Basterds, joins Quentin and Roger for a two part Video Archives event, all about American giallo films. This week we’re releasing the first half of this discussion, where the crew slice open Brian De Palma’s Dressed To Kill, then take a close look at the movie that got Irvin Kershner the Empire Strikes Back gig, Eyes Of Laura Mars! I’ve got VHS boxes, some further reading and more on today’s Counter Talk, so let’s get started…
Dressed To Kill, the marquee film of this American Giallo series, is an impeccably crafted thriller that Quentin, Roger and Eli had a blast rewatching together. The film has always been controversial in director Brian De Palma’s canon, but over time, the reasons for the controversy have changed. Most of the stir at the time of Dressed To Kill’s release concerned Nancy Allen’s call girl character Liz Blake, but in the modern era, it’s impossible not to think about the psychopathic Bobbi in the context of trans rights and trans representation in film. From Anthony Perkins’ dual-identity role in Psycho (a film practically remade in Dressed To Kill, as Quentin points out) to Ted Levine’s Buffalo Bill in The Silence of The Lambs, there’s a long history of gender-fluid serial killers on screen, a history that many trans people worry paints them as freakish or dangerous.
As Gala referenced on the episode, there’s been some excellent queer and trans writing about Dressed To Kill, particularly around its 40th anniversary in 2020. I really enjoyed this piece from Jessica Crets, on the (possibly) unintentional empathy De Palma brings to Bobbi. This conversation between two trans film writers praises De Palma’s craft while critiquing the film’s twist, comparing it to the far goofier Sleepaway Camp. And this piece from Justin McDevitt appreciates how De Palma draws a distinction between trans people writ large and Bobbi in particular. I’d also recommend this 2015 retrospective from Keith Phipps, placing Bobbi in the context of other horror films with trans (or debatably trans) characters. It’s truly rewarding to dig into the ongoing discussion around Dressed To Kill, from a master filmmaker whose work still inspires intense debate 40 years later.
The original Video Archives Dressed To Kill tape is a classic early Warner Home Video – like most of these releases, it features a thick graphic border surrounding a movie still, and an essay-style description on the back: