Episode 007 Transcript

VA 007 American Giallo: Part 1



Gala: On this episode of the Video Archives podcast [sound of convenience store door opening], we have a customer: Eli Roth, director of Hostel and Cabin Fever, joins Quentin and Rodger in the store today for a special two part event: American Giallo. Join Roger, Quentin and Eli as they give us the masterclass; discussing the origins of Giallo and the rules that the genre must follow. First up is Brian De Palma’s Dressed to Kill: a mysterious, tall, blond woman wearing sunglasses, murders one of a psychiatrist’s patients and now she’s after the prostitute who witnessed it.


Quentin, Roger and Eli talk about how the villainous Bobbi affected them, discuss the controversy surrounding the film and reveal to us how the story changed from script to screen. Second, we’ll take a look at the crime scene through Herve Kirchner’s Eyes of Laura Mars: a famous fashion photographer develops a disturbing ability to see through the eyes of a killer. We’ll be talking about strange plot devices, have Quentin read excerpts from interviews that shed light on the true history of the film and listen to how Eli Roth would have rewritten the end. All of this and more on Part one of American Giallo. I’m Gala Avary, and joining us now here is Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avary.


Quentin: Thank you, Gala. This is another edition of the Video Archives podcast. I’m your co-host, Quentin Tarantino.


Roger: And I’m Roger Avary.


Quentin: And today we are joined at Video Archives by a customer.


Eli: Yes. Hi, I’m Eli Roth.


Quentin: Eli Roth, the director of Cabin Fever is here. Horror aficionado, horror expert and the guru behind History of Horror. So, truly, one of the most known horror experts in the world. Tonight, we’re doing something different that we haven’t done before yet, which is a theme episode. Now, I’ve kind of put the kibosh, for the most part, on theme episodes because they’re just so easy to do. I like when there’s a randomness to the choosing of the movies, and I like the idea that I can change my mind at the last minute or something happens in one episode and then we’re like, “Oh, hey, let’s do another Samantha Eggar movie because we like Samantha Eggar,” I like that kind of flow. I like a moveable feast aspect to it.


However, I decided to save our first theme episode for when Eli would join us. It’s the concept of American giallos. Now, first, let me describe (well, all of us will describe) what an official giallo is: it is a series of films that came out of Italy, starting for the most part (officially, actually) in 1970 with Dario Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. Now, there were a few precursor movies to this, especially some of Mario Baba’s movies.


Eli: Yeah, The Girl Who Knew Too Much.


Quentin: Yeah. I call that one Evil Eye. I like the title better, and I like the American dub better than the Italian version. It’s got jokes of the Italian version doesn’t have. So while there were precursors, the genre kicked into full gear after the success of The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. One of the things, Roger, we were talking about earlier when we were discussing what a giallo is, you were asking, “Okay, well, wait a minute. A lot of these films were kind of Psycho rip offs. Is Psycho a giallo?”


Roger: I mean, we often think of Dario Argento in that way. He was actually called the Italian Hitchcock. Especially on the heels of Crystal Plumage.


Quentin: But there’s a reason for that. One: actually, I don’t think Psycho is a giallo. However, they did so many Psycho rip offs that eventually they became a subgenre unto themselves. But one of the reasons why they called Argento the Italian Hitchcock, is because the way they sold The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, because they sold it very much like, “not since Psycho.” They sold it as a “not since Psycho” shocker, except the difference is it’s 1970. So, almost like Repulsion, it has more elicit thrills.


Eli: The level of violence you were allowed to do in those films, and they they credit Pasolini for pushing the censors; with all of his films, the censors sort of gave up. So by the time the directors came, around moving over from spaghetti westerns into the giallos. giallo, for people that don’t know, literally means ‘yellow’ in Italian. There was a company called Mondadori, in 1929, that started publishing these crime novels; and they all had the same kind of cover, which was a yellow cover with a circle in like, if you ever seen the Porno Holocaust poster that’s kind of the look.


Quentin: Yeah, yeah, yeah.


Eli: It’s a riff on that. It’s a very yellow color with a circle, and in the circle is a picture of the main murder from the story.


Quentin: Almost like the Warner Brothers box, where it has the back and then there is the image graphic it in the middle of that.

Eli: Yeah, so that’s what it was. So people were very used to reading them. Then in the late fifties in Germany, the crime films started and they were a massive hit in Italy and they always had an international star.


Quentin: And again, based on the literary novels of Edgar Wallace. So they’re all based on Old World pulpy stuff.


Eli: Yeah. There was a writer named Sherman Enco that was the big one that they loved, but it was Ernesto Castelli- Basically, they were crime novels where you had to figure out who the killer was and it’s a guessing game for the audience to see if they can figure it out before the main character. But that’s how it began until Argento changed the game in 1970.


Quentin: But I don’t think the game changed that much, other than the murder scenes got more graphic and they became more showpieces. The English artist that the giallos are connected at the hip to is not Hitchcock, it’s Agatha Christie.


Eli: Yeah, definitely. Yeah.


Quentin: They’re all jumping off, basically, from Ten Little Indians.

Eli: Yeah, it’s kind of when Mario Bava turns to color for The Whip and the Body and Blood and Black Lace; that’s when you start to see the camerawork and the killer coming from the shadows and the killer all dressed in black, in black leather gloves. Then Fulci does one, he credits Sweet Body of Deborah for being the first giallo, he thinks, where you’re guessing and looking at the bodies.


Quentin: I don’t really agree with that.


Eli: I know, but this was from Fulci.


Quentin: Yeah, I don’t agree with that. I really almost don’t think any- Even the Umberto Lenz/Carol Baker movies even qualify as giallo. They’re, like, jet age chic. They’re not even murder mysteries.


Eli: They’re not, no, but it’s really one on top of the other. This was Fulci’s attempt to do one but what happened in 1970 was that suddenly the plot becomes incidental and it’s all about, like you said, murder. They become like musical numbers and they’re so over the top, and he doesn’t worry about logic. That crazy puppet in Deep Red; his producers and brother and everyone tried to talk him out of doing it. He had Carlo Rambaldi building it. He just basically is like, “You’re entering my nightmare and I’m in control here and you’re going to like it.” So The Bird with the Crystal Plumage was so insane with the violence that after that there were certain things; like the black gloves, the fetishistic close ups of the killer’s gloves, and penetrating with blades. The other thing that Argento did was his use of music; the other scores were more traditional, but the way he used the Morricone music, the soundtrack is so almost insane and over-the-top that it really punctuates the quiet moments.


Quentin: Let’s go through the templates. Basically they all start as big murder mysteries as opposed to, say, slashers. They’re big murder mysteries with usually a whole cast of European characters. Almost to the man (not every single one of them, but I would say about 80% of them), you don’t know who the killer is. They don’t all have to have black gloves, but most of them have black gloves. You’re introduced to a whole cast of characters, most of them which will turn out to be victims, but definitely suspicious characters that one will turn out to be the killer. How suspicious they are is almost comical. Everybody could literally be the killer, and everybody has reason to be the killer. The murder sequences, like you were saying, are all Omen-like set pieces.


Then I would say the last big giant thing, even though there’s a few other aspects about them like the music, finally there comes a resolution of why the killer is doing what the killer is doing which is usually told by the killer as he’s facing the last final girl or final guy. It usually has something to do with their past and it is so fucking preposterous that you cannot believe that this is the reason that the whole movie is going on. And the crazier and the more preposterous, the better.


Eli: Yeah.


Roger: There’s one other element, and I think it’s connected to this constant discussion of how stylized and how over-the-top the cinema tends to be in this, and that’s that we are entering a nightmare scape always, it seems. Pino Donaggio’s music for Brian De Palma really accentuates that feeling. You feel the longing of traveling through a nightmare. The way the way these movies tend to be shot: the hyper stylization and how things go red all the time.


Quentin: I would add to what you’re saying, especially when it comes to the Italian ones, the very Italian-ness of them, their connection to opera.


Eli: They’re operatic, yeah.


Roger: It’s opera.


Eli: They’re not in reality. Also, one thing that Argento innovated on was he used humor, and in the German crimi movies there was comic relief. So Argento will have a weird character-


Roger: German crime movies.


Eli: Yeah the crime movies.


Quentin: There’s the same Eddie Ardant character who’s always- And then there’s his comical sidekick.


Eli: So that was the thing that they did in the German crime films that aren’t in those sixties movies. Argento, he’ll have like, “Oh, that’s the crazy painter,” or, “This is the pimp.” Then often that person will wind up being the killer. You’re like, “This person’s too funny.” Even in Torso, the guy’s bringing the food in the milk bottles. There’s always a character, but they also have a lot of POVs. Mario Bava, with Bay of Blood, really innovates the handheld P.O.V.. That sort of killer POV, that anyone can be a killer, that anyone can jump out at any time and often it’s the boyfriend; that was all innovated by the giallos.


One of the main complaints I heard as a kid was that people would go, “But they’re not scary. The music’s too weird. Why is everything dubbed?” What they don’t realize was that these movies were shot in Italy and because of Mussolini, they weren’t allowed to do synced sound. You had to have a censor with you and they just got used to the dubbing. It’s just part of the esthetic. It’s like when you listen to a vinyl.


Roger: It gives a dreamlike detachment to everything. In fact, I would say Argento kind of lost it a little when he started doing synced sound.


Eli: When you see them with a dreamlike quality and the goblin music, you have to think you’re entering a nightmare and it’s not all going to feel like an American movie. Once you can, as you would say, embrace the esthetic of an old low budget movie, suddenly you really open yourself up to enjoying the whole experience. So for people that haven’t seen giallos, they’re not going to be scary the way American slasher films are. But the imagery is so horrific, it just stays with you forever.


Roger: Perhaps that’s by design because by having it be super stylized, it allows you to distance yourself from reality. You mentioned The Omen earlier, that it’s Omen-like, and I would actually say it’s not Omen-like. The thing that makes Omen effective is that it’s that those murders, though they are set pieces, are treated almost like verité. Everything that happens, even when the maid jumps out of the window and is hung, it’s shot like they’re capturing footage. Whereas in an Italian giallo, everything is like [makes high pitched noise] and there’s it goes crazy all of a sudden.

Quentin: Well, okay. It’s hard for people to remember now, but when you first saw The Omen at the theaters when it came out, you didn’t know Damien was the Antichrist. You’re figuring that out. There’s a whole mystery going on that you’re figuring out right along with Gregory Peck, because they’re not saying that, per se, in the TV spot. Eventually they did, but not at first.


Roger: You think somebody might be trying to kill the child.


Quentin: Yeah, you don’t really know what’s up with this little fucking kid. Then you go through the whole mystery with Gregory Peck and you figure it out. Now by the time they do Omen 2, we already know Damien’s the Antichrist. It’s William Holden who’s the stupid one who doesn’t know it, and we wait for him to figure it out. So basically, most of the movie is people figuring out who Damien is and then dying in a big murder set piece. That’s what I meant, where the murder set pieces are integral to the structure of the story.


Roger: And that may be true with Omen 2. It’s just that Richard Donner shoots The Omen almost with realism. The only scene that strikes me as not being realistic and almost bordering on hammer is the scene in the graveyard with the dogs. Suddenly you feel like you’re on a set on the moors.


Eli: But there’s another thing in giallo that’s going to tie into what we’re saying today; which is that there’s often something- You have to make one leap of precognition. There’ll be one fantastical element, not always, but in The Psychic or in Four Flies on Gray Velvet, there’s something like a technology that doesn’t exist or you just have to buy that person having visions. So that was something they tried to do.


Quentin: We have to buy the idea that the face of the murderer is implanted on the eyeball of the murderer victim.


Roger:  As their last image in life.

Eli: And once you can get past that, you can really enjoy the slow-motion decapitation.


Quentin: and it can be lifted from the eyeball of the victim.


Roger: I feel like that technology is possible. It strikes me as realistic.


Quentin: Well, oddly enough, though, when they have modern day serial killer movies and the serial killer fucks up and actually touches the eyeball and now you can get a half print from the eyeball; that always reminds me of this.


Roger: I feel like that film is actually more sensical than Eyes of Laura Mars‘ whole thing, which we will get to later.


Quentin: I don’t believe the eyeball thing, but it actually makes more sense. I kind of wish that were true.


Gala: In giallo films, is the straight razor the weapon of choice?


Eli: Well, it started with that. It was a stiletto or a straight razor, but actually-


Quentin: The answer is yes, but I think other things can be used; a meat cleaver, an axe, whatever.

Roger: Everything is fetishized: the weapons are fetishized, the eyeglasses are fetishized, the raincoat is fetishized. Everything is.


Quentin: I would say 60 to 70% of the time, it’s usually (at least in the first half of the giallo) a straight razor. Then at a certain point they get bored with that and then all of a sudden it would become an axe.


Eli: Argento really innovated on that: where it would be the knife or the axe, then it’s in the bathtub and then the chain and the piece of glass. I mean, they just get crazier and crazier.


Roger: Whatever it is, it glints light.


Eli: Yes.


Quentin: Yeah, but one of the things about it though is that as they went on, the murder scenes got to be bigger and bigger and bigger. So it was like, “Oh, well, it’s boring to slice somebody up. Now we have to boil them alive.”


Eli: It’s also from- We should just before we dive into it, mention that just people have context for after 1970, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage was such a big hit between that. In 1975, when Argento made Deep Red, there were close to 100 giallo films made. So this was a massive, massive wave. There were more movies than Netflix makes.


Quentin: So what we’re doing here, is we’re talking about the American giallo. Well, movies that constitute what an American giallo could be. Now I don’t think any of these movies, even though I think it’s obvious that both Alice, Sweet Alice and Dressed to Kill have seen giallos and are somewhat influenced by them. They weren’t setting out to make an American giallo, that wasn’t their jumping off point but I think they do qualify. I think it’d be interesting to go through the movies, talk about them, and then and we then can even kind of debate about why they qualify. Why does this qualify were Coma doesn’t, and does Coma qualify? Whatever, we can discuss that as we go through. These are the four that I think kind of work unqualified as American giallos.


Roger: These are the ones you pulled from the Archive’s shelves.


Quentin: Yes and I don’t think there’s a lot of other examples of this. I think they always kind of turn into slashers and they always turn into a psychological thriller, or they always turn into a Hitchcockian kind of thriller. These actually- And I was really happy when we watched that. They stayed firmly on the giallo side of the line through the whole movie.


Eli: Especially in the early eighties, when you look at My Bloody Valentine or The Prowler, where you’re trying to guess who the killer is; they don’t feel like giallos. They’re truly slasher movies; there’s one weapon and it’s used over and over. You’re watching them get picked off. But there’s a different style to these movies that make them giallos.


Quentin: No, no, that’s a good example because on the surface, The Prowler seems to have all the same ingredients that Happy Birthday to Me does. Except it doesn’t.

Eli: Yeah.


Clip from trailer for Dressed to Kill: Brian De Palma invites you to a showing of the latest fashion in murder: Dressed to Kill. “Doctor, I am not paranoid. Bobbi has threatened me over the phone, she said she was going to hurt me. My patient was slashed to death and my razor is gone.” “There’s all kinds of ways to get killed in this city. If you’re looking for them.” Dressed to Kill: murder made to order. Rated R now playing in a theater near you, check newspapers for showtimes.


Quentin: So starting off with the first film is Brian De Palma’s Dressed to Kill. This is from the video archive shelf. Not only is it from the Video Archive shelf, its taped to 71 of the earliest tables, so.


Roger: Easily one of the first tapes in the library and in an old, old Warner Brothers box. It’s in one of the paper boxes.

Quentin: Yeah, one of the paper boxes. By the way, one of the best of the Warner paper boxes. So, okay, depending on the video store, Dressed to Kill would be either be under the D section in Horror, or it would be in the D section in Drama, because this was a classy movie and sometimes people would look in the dramas for it. I think we put it in drama.


Roger: Yeah. I always restored it to drama.


Quentin: Yeah, it kept finding its way back.


Eli: What do you mean, you restored it? Putting it back where it properly belongs?


Quentin: He saw it in horror and moved it back.


Roger: That’s what you call a video store term.


Quentin: Yeah. He saw it in horror and thought, “That’s not right.”


Roger: I gotta put this where it belongs.

Quentin: Which is in drama.


Eli: Please restore my movies to the drama section.


Quentin: Okay, so now I’m going to read the synopsis of the story by reading the back of the box. [reading] Brace yourself for the razor edge of suspense! A disturbed woman adrift in steamy sexual fantasies. A New York psychiatrist who seems to have taken on one patient too many. A beautiful call girl caught between the cops and a vicious, razor wielding killer. And the killer herself: a tall, blond, elusive psycho named Bobbi. Dressed to Kill contains all the heart stopping elements of a classic suspense thriller. But writer/director Brian De Palma turns up the heat and takes them one step further to create a masterpiece. Michael Caine stars as the psychiatrist faced with a murderous puzzle: the sudden, hideous slaying of one of his patients with a straight razor stolen from his office. Angie Dickinson delivers a warm and touching performance as the sexually unfulfilled woman who turns to him for help.


Nancy Allen plays the high-priced hooker who opens her elevator doors on the grisly aftermath of Bobbi’s psychotic violence. All the acting, including Keith Gordon’s wonderful portrayal of a brainy teenager turned sleuth, is vivid and superb. Yet Director DePalma manages to steal his own show. Since Hitchcock’s death, De Palma must be ranked our greatest living master of the macabre. His previous films: the sensational Carrie, the moody atmospheric Obsession, the carefully crafted and finely detailed The Fury, have firmly established his originality and strength of vision. Dressed to Kill is his most cool, sophisticated, stylish accomplishment to date. You may recognize echoes of Psycho and of De Palma’s early work, but Dressed to Kill cast its ingredients in a shape and form so compelling you’ll see all the conventions of the horror genre come to renewed unexpected life and scare you half to death.


[no longer reading] And even though this is not explained, as to what this means, on the very bottom of all that it says “uncensored international version.” What that means is the fact that when De Palma finished Dressed to Kill, it originally received an X rating from the MPAA. I think it kind of comes down to three shots. It’s two different shots of Angie Dickinson’s bush in the shower, closeups, when she’s showering. Then there’s the effect in the elevator during the murder when she’s sliced literally up the middle. Those were the things that were exercised to get the film an R rating. However it became controversial because De Palma (I mean, it’s only 3 seconds) made a big point about, “Oh, they were screwing up my movie.” Then he was joined by Pauline Kael, who backed him up and said, “Look, I saw Dressed to Kill before the MPAA cuts, and I’ve seen it afterwards and De Palma’s version is better.” Then people said, “Well, we’re talking about 3 seconds.” And she goes, “With artists like De Palma, 3 seconds matter. 3 seconds is the difference between good and great.” Warner Brothers, without making a big fucking deal about it, restored the movie. This was back in the early eighties, by the way, back when the movie was only a couple of years old. De Palma’s original unrated cut.


Roger: In a pan and scan version, which was one of the issues I had with the tape. However, it has to be said, the pan and scan is really lovingly attended to.


Quentin: It’s a pan and scan movie and then there are some compromises to De Palma’s original framing, even though it’s not done scope. He shot it in 185, there is an effort and a charm to make it work that is just so right there. That is just not there when you just take the 185 interpositive and then just do whatever you’re going to do.


Roger: They know they have to format it for a four by three television screen back in the day, and they’re trying to do their very best to maintain the integrity of his intent.


Quentin: Yeah.


Eli: Yeah. If you’re going to restore those 4 seconds, you can take the extra effort to pan and scan it.


Quentin: So watching Dressed to Kill– Let’s lose the giallo aspect for just a second and just talk about the movie itself. I’ve been widely known as saying that Blowout is one of my favorite movies.


Roger: He used to talk about that, back in the day, endlessly.


Quentin: Yeah. Yeah. Look, I love Blow Out and you know of the movie brats, when I was growing up De Palma was my favorite.

Roger: You were like his Praetorian guard.


Quentin: Yeah. No, and believe me, being a De Palma fan in the eighties wasn’t that easy because there was a lot of people who hated him. Then they’d want to pick fights with you.


Roger: And he was polarizing, for sure.


Eli: I loved him so much. My dad used to call me De Palma. It wasn’t Spielberg, it was De Palma.


Quentin: Yeah, but being a De Palma fan meant you had to defend him.


Roger: When he was upset with you, did he call you De Palma and then when he was happy with you, did he call you Spielberg?


Eli: No, people would say, “Oh, he wants to be Steven Spielberg, apparently.” Then he would be like, “No, no, no. Eli wants to be Brian De Palma.”


Roger: At least your dad knows you.


Quentin: In the 80’s Spielberg was the pull. “Oh, he’s going to be like Spielberg.”


Eli: I was like, “No, no, no, no, no, De Palma.”


Quentin: As time has gone on though, Dressed to Kill has taken Blow Out‘s spot for me (after Carrie), as my favorite. I think Carrie is one of the best movies ever made, but Dressed to Kill is kind of taken Blow Out‘s spot as the ultimate De Palma thriller and the ultimate expression of what De Palma wanted to do.


Roger: This is when he has all of his tools given to him. All these studio tools are now given to him and he’s allowed to do, accurately, what he wants to do.


Quentin: De Palma’s the only one of the movie brats that (for the most part, at least when he did thrillers) wrote his own scripts, but he didn’t start off as a screenwriter. He’s more like a director writing stuff for himself to do, as opposed to Paul Schrader or Francis Ford Coppola or John Milius. By the time he does Dressed to Kill, now he’s writing and now he knows what he wants to do is a thriller. He’s firmly established himself as the new master of the macabre. So he writes Dressed to Kill himself, and it actually ends up being a big script in Hollywood. People love it. He’s able to get exactly the budget that he wants for it; to be able to shoot in New York with all the frills. And the studios were fighting for it.


The studio that ended up winning it was A.I.P., who was really trying to really make themselves one of the majors at that time. I can’t even count the number of times that I’ve seen Dressed to Kill over the years. I’m not saying that watching it with you two guys was my favorite screening of the movie, but it was one of my favorites. There was something about it; it’s the first of four movies, we just got comfortable sitting down on the couch. We put in this really cool old videocassette. We know the movie by heart, and we sat down and just watched it and just had so much fun. There was this interesting thing: we talked and we punctuated things and made comments in the first half. By the second half, we didn’t say anything. We were just completely caught up in the dreamlike imagery, going on all the way to the end that we know by heart.


Roger: You know, you think you’ve seen a movie a million times and you think you’ve known it, and then you sit down and you realize that the experience of watching a movie isn’t just the movie, it’s the people you watch it with. You see it through their eyes, you feel their energy. So sitting in the room with Eli and you and watching this, and not watching a streaming version of this or a Blu ray of it or something.


Quentin: Or sitting in a theater, watching a print.


Roger: But actually just sitting down and watching it on VHS, I actually saw things I had never seen before in the film. I realized revelations about the movie I had never really fully understood, and this has always been my favorite De Palma film.


Eli: I think we all have that experience; where we were like, “This is the one that’s going to require the least amount of work.” We all know it by heart. We’ve seen it so many times.


Quentin: I almost questioned, “Do we even need to watch it?”


Roger: Yeah, exactly. You actually said that right before.


Eli: I think it was at some point during the museum sequence that we were all just like, “This is a goddamn masterpiece,” but in a way that we were like, “This isn’t just our favorite. This is one of the greatest films ever.” Like, we were all having these revelations. I was thinking about how we’re always talking about kind of the trans aspect, and that’s something that’s been discussed a lot. But I was like, “Wow, opening and closing with these mirroring shower scenes.” Then thinking about the opening of Carrie and the opening of this and the whole thing about body parts, especially watching it in 2022, when there’s so much discussion about gender fluidity and gender identity. Then we made that note about how Donahue is really, really sensitive to the trans guests in a way.


Roger: In 1979, in a way that people aren’t now.


Eli: In a way that the movie isn’t, because people were more outraged about the Liz Blake being normalized rather than the trans part. It was just such a pleasure to watch with you guys and just to sit and watch. I mean, I’ve always wanted to like, hang out. I wish I’d lived nearby and hung out at Video Archives. I felt like, at the time, we were all living parallel existences and I was just doing mine on the East Coast. But to sit and watch it with you just rekindled my love for that movie and my appreciation for the mastery of De Palma.


Roger: You were talking about Donahue and in my notes, I tend to write my notes like a little capsule review, and I didn’t want to read a capsule review. It’s not that, it was more just my thoughts. It really touches on the Donahue thing, and it was basically that there’s two ways to discuss Dressed to Kill.


One is as the masterwork of a virtuoso artist being given all the big studio tools he requires to make his auteur statement, and one could talk for hours about his mastery of those tools. Or one can view the statement itself: the admissions of a provocateur. That he’s deeply fearful, distrustful and paranoid of nearly everything in the world. I say his world, actually, because De Palma gives us a self-aware glimpse outside of his highly stylized giallo dreamscape through the real world television talk show Donahue, where a person in transition is interviewed with a remarkably delicate compassion for 1979. It is certainly in contrast to the transphobic associations De Palma makes between gender transition and homicidal schizophrenia.


Aware of this, De Palma encourages a determined contrast between the hard pixelated video of Donahue’s reality talk show and Ralph Bird’s fuzzy, dreamlike lenses. A look achieved by literally putting women’s stockings between the lens and the film plane. De Palma further contrasts the separations of the two competing perspectives on reality by placing Donahue within a very specific cinematic device: the split screen, and specifically on the screen side of the schizophrenic killer. The psychiatrist character, Dr. Levy, states the filmmaker’s perspective clearly in his post-script analysis. But we can see De Palma’s sociological fears and distrusts throughout the film.


Eli: It was so interesting when we were talking about that. We were like-


Quentin: I think you’re making too much of the whole thing.


Roger: You always do.


Quentin: I think it’s too easy to make too much of the transgender aspect. It’s just De Palma playing with schizophrenia, taken directly from Hitchcock.


Eli: It’s specifically gender related because in that opening scene, when we’re noticing Michael Caine, when he says, “My secretary’s away.” He’s both being the woman-


Roger: He’s like, “Be with you in a moment.” He’s already schizophrenic.


Eli: He’s already switching between a man and a woman.


Quentin: But that’s all harmless schizophrenia talk for a thriller. I don’t think he’s making a comment on transsexualism any more than Hitchcock’s making a comment on transsexualism with Norman Bates and his mother. The one thing that needs to be talked about and this that we haven’t mentioned is that Dressed to Kill falls into a special subgenre of movie, and that is the paraphrased remake. Now there are certain movies that are paraphrased remakes. They’re not a remake, per say, of another movie but they wouldn’t exist without this one particular movie’s existence. When you watch it, if you know about that other movie, that’s almost part of the enjoyment that you have watching this new movie. Some of the real paraphrase remakes are absolutely Psycho and Dressed to Kill, Bringing Up Baby and What’s Up, Doc?


What’s up, Doc? doesn’t have the leopard and everything, but if you’ve seen Bringing Up Baby, that’s almost part of what you’re getting. Now, there’s movies that come close; Taxi Driver comes close to being a paraphrased remake of The Searchers, but doesn’t quite get there. Now, people have said about my movie, Reservoir Dogs, is a paraphrased remake of City on Fire. No, no, no. It’s close, insofar as I take the last 10 minutes of City on Fire and make a whole movie about it. But that doesn’t qualify as the way Dressed to Kill does.


Eli: That’s like saying Smoking Aces is a remake of True Romance.


Quentin: Right.


Eli: It’s extrapolated moments.


Quentin: But in the case of Dressed to Kill, there are structure moments and there are scenes that the joke of the scene, the wit of the structure is the callback to Psycho. So like, for instance, the introduction of the Kate Miller character, Angie Dickinson’s character, she’s introduced as the lead of the movie and is killed in a big showpiece murder sequence about 40 minutes into the film. Then the narrative is handed off to other characters. It keeps going on throughout. However, my favorite of the Psycho funhouse mirror reflections is one of my favorite scenes in Psycho: Simon Oakland explaining, in words very similar to the ones that are used in Dressed to Kill, Norman Bates sexual psychosis at the end. “This is why he did it.” Simon Oakland telling it like it is.


Roger: And we have Dr. Levy doing that in this film.


Quentin: Sort of; we start to have the parody of the Psycho Simon Oakland scene with Dr. Levy. But then it jumps the ship and now it has Nancy Allen delivering it to Keith Gordon, and what we don’t see in the video is Mary Davenport sitting behind.


Roger: It because of the pan and scan, because of the loss in the wide screen.


Quentin: – Keith Gordon, listening to the blow by blow description of how a sex change operation works. So that’s the real comedy of it, is realizing, “Oh, my God, he’s got Nancy Allen, she’s doing the Simon Oakland bit.” It starts off as Dr. Levy, but then it becomes Nancy Allen, and that’s just a parody of the Simon Oakland scene.


Roger: Anticipating your blowback on my thematic reading of a film, I read the script. Actually, I think this is a script that any aspiring writer, actually any writer, should read. This is a great screenplay. This is a textbook on how to write a script that the town is going to love.


Quentin: Wow, that’s just not De Palma’s reputation.


Roger: I know it’s not. But actually in reading it, it’s fantastic. What De Palma is talking about has more to do with his own paranoias and his own fear. What De Palma is doing is what an artist is supposed to do, and I think it’s defensible, no matter what he makes. What you’re supposed to do is lay yourself bare. You’re supposed to open yourself up and reveal all the things within you that maybe are even uncomfortable to you. You lay naked.


Quentin: I agree with all that.


Roger: In front of the world. It’s not just subtextual, it’s actual text throughout the movie; like went Keith Gordon sprays all the white foam.


Eli: I mean that’s-


Roger: He ejaculates the white foam into Bobbi’s face to repel her away, afterwards he’s telling Nancy Allen that it’s a simple compound of sodium and she’s like, “Hey, spare me the Mr. Wizard lecture. I wouldn’t know sodium from Adam.” Okay, so Adam being the first man. That’s not an accident and he underlines Adam in the screenplay.


Eli: I think, just to support Roger’s theory, De Palma opens the film lingering on the shot of the female genitalia but it’s literally split with the man shaving and the straight razor. That’s the film is about: he’s telling you this is a film about the split personality. There’s the one side which is Bobbi that wants to slice off the genitals, which is what motivates all of the killing in the film. On the other half, it’s the doctor who really doesn’t want to go through with it.


Roger: A line that is cut from the movie in the end, when she’s trying to turn on the doctor and she’s like, “Hey, aren’t you feeling anything? What’s stopping you?” And he’s like, “Well, my ethics, for one.” In the script and it’s a line cut from the movie, probably because of language. In the script she says, “A cock doesn’t have ethics.” And then she continues on with the rest of her lines, you know? “So maybe I’m just going to go powder my nose and-”


Quentin: “I expect your clothes to be piled up next to mine.”


Roger: At the very opening of the script is a prologue scene of a human body being shaved with a straight edge razor: chest hair being shaved, everything being shaved, and then you come down to an empty- They just describe it as an empty space of genitals and you realize in the script, through some of the dialogue, that Bobbi has only recently cut off her own genitals. That this is why she’s been at the asylum. They pushed the theme even greater. Now, in doing that, he’s aware of it. And so he includes the Donahue program to let us know, “I know what reality is. Here’s a reality talk show. These are my anxieties, shown in a murder mystery. These are the things that scare me.”


Quentin: Well, that sounds different to me than what you said earlier. We are watching it with an eye of analysis as opposed to just entertainment, and we got both.


Roger: Absolutely.


Quentin: We got both of them. But the fact that the movie starts with an erotic scene of characters that we don’t know, that we actually get to know through the eroticism. We know Kate Miller, to some degree or another, by the time that sequence is over and we know it without any introduction of the husband or the wife or the situation. We don’t know that that’s a fantasy at first when it’s happening. That was fucking fantastic. I can’t think of another movie other than something that is just completely labeled as eroticism that would dare to start off with an erotic scene that truly erotic and put us into that steamy, dreamlike world.


Eli: No, it’s amazing. It also really sets up-


Quentin: It galvanized us in the watching of it.


Eli: You’re just you’re sitting there thinking, “First, no one would let do this like this today.” But what it really does is it sets up the museum sequence because we know what’s going on in her mind and we know where her fantasies go.


Roger: You know, there’s a voiceover originally. In the screenplay, I was surprised to discover, there’s an entire internal monologue going on in her mind, so we understand what she’s out for. She’s looking to get laid. He says Picasso, they’re looking at Picasso when they’re sitting there. But then he goes ahead and he shoots the reclining nude, The Guerrilla, and she writes nuts. So everything in her mind is like she’s looking at art and she’s thinking about nuts, she’s thinking balls. She’s making a shopping list.


Quentin: Yeah, well, you get that in the movie.


Roger: Yeah, he’s making these little jokes and everything, but there’s so much of her own mental anxieties going on; we’re hearing everything inside of her head.


Quentin: Okay. But that backs up De Palma’s methodology that he’s always talked about in interviews. De Palma has always said that his rough cuts, as opposed to other directors, run shorter than other directors. Because the thing is, he cut out all the exposition scenes and he wants it just to work as visual storytelling and then adds them as he needs to. So when he’s writing the script, he’s like, “I’ve got to make sure that everybody understands this.” So he makes it very, very clear on the page but then he’s hoping his imagery will supplant a lot of that description and he can just little by little, start peeling it back until it’s just what’s needed.


Roger: Yeah and it allows the actress to also understand what’s going on in her own mind, although he does a pretty good job of that throughout the script.


Quentin: I believe it. I can’t wait to read that.


Roger: Well, happy birthday.


Quentin: Oh, thank you. I was my birthday yesterday.


Roger: And so you may have this copy.


Quentin: Two things to bring up that are interesting in the case of Dressed to Kill, to actually back up what you guys are saying, which I’m not even against what you guys are saying. I’m just sensitive.


Roger: No one’s attacking De Palma.


Quentin: Okay. Okay. But one of the things that adds to your guys’ hypotheses is the idea of the origin of Dressed to Kill. The origin of Dressed to Kill actually isn’t Psycho, even though I’ve made a whole point about it being a paraphrase remake of Psycho. The origin of Dressed to Kill is De Palma’s failed attempt to do Cruising. De Palma read the book for Cruising, which is a bad book. I’ve read the book for Cruising. I love the freakin movie, but the book is trash.


Eli: You love the Friedkin movie, not the freakin movie.


Quentin: Yeah, the Friedkin movie. I love the freakin Friedkin movie.


Eli: I just wanted to clarify for our listeners at home.


Quentin: Well, De Palma had read the book and thought about turning it into a feature. He wrote a script that, frankly, when you think about it now deals with (almost sub textually) almost all the exact same subjects of Dressed to Kill.


Eli: And it’s another film that’s close to being a giallo.


Quentin: You made the point when we were talking about the four American giallos; you said that Cruising almost qualifies, but doesn’t quite.


Roger: And what was it that disqualified Cruising?


Eli: I mean, I think the police procedural. The fact that it’s a cop story, that it’s really a vehicle about Al Pacino going crazy.


Quentin: If it was just about the murder, it would be a giallo.


Roger: If Dressed to Kill had been about Dennis Franz’s character.


Quentin: It’s rare (to almost never happens) that a cop investigating the case is the lead character. That was one of the things that we left out.


Eli: Absolutely.


Quentin: It usually is somebody either involved in the murders because of their past and that brings them into it, or they witness the murder or some situation happens and then they turn into an amateur detective.


Eli: Yeah, no, they’re not police stories. They’re not police investigations, they’re true murder mysteries with someone who’s unqualified that’s going to lead them into a dangerous situation.


Quentin: Literally having a cop be the lead character doesn’t disqualify it as a giallo, but comes close. So he took his script for Cruising and then just adapted it into Dressed to Kill.


Eli: Amazing. I never knew that.


Quentin: There are big moments that were his big moments from Cruising, he just rewrote and put them into Dressed to Kill. Apparently his script for Cruising starts with basically the Kate Miller shower scene. It’s interesting because in the book, I wrote some speculation, I have a whole chapter on Sisters and how De Palma became the master of the macabre and why he became- Because I don’t think not coming from a horror film aficionado place. He’s coming from a science place. He started off his career as an avant-garde, hippie influenced satirist, and then by 1970, that hippie esthetic was dead on arrival. So De Palma has always been very aware of the politics of how you make movies and how you continue to keep making movies. So he knew he needed to have a success that would draw audiences to a film.


De Palma was given a choice. He was like, “I have to figure out a commercial niche, a commercial genre, I can work in that will allow me to keep making movies.” I think the situation is that one: he’s always loved Hitchcock. Not so much because I think he loves Hitchcock. He loves Hitchcock’s methodology; for a guy who can take apart a transistor radio and put it back together again when he was 12, him breaking apart the components of what makes a Hitchcock thriller a Hitchcock thriller was attractive to him. But he’s also watching two things going on simultaneously at the same time in the late sixties. He’s watching the enthusiastic response to the French New Wave Hitchcock homages, like The Bride Who Wore Black by Truffaut and Claude Chabrol movies, which he can’t stand and can’t believe that they’re getting as good a reviews as they’re getting.


But in particular, he sees Repulsion and he thinks that Repulsion is the way you do a Hitchcock movie now. This is a Hitchcock thriller for a new age and where Hitchcock could be disturbing in the margins, when it came to Polanski disturbance was the whole point. It was the whole enchilada. It was the reason to make the movie. Now, I do not think that he puts Argento as high as he would Polanski. At the end of the day, I think he would probably consider Argento a piker to some degree or another.


Nevertheless, the “not since Psycho” ad campaign of The Bird with the Crystal Plumage showed him that there is a market, there is an absolute market, that could comfortably fit inside of the horror genre but also is more important as the Hitchcockian homage genre. That’s what he did with Sisters. I still think he saw The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. 


Eli: Sure, sure.


Quentin: And I think he saw Deep Red, I think he saw them. I would actually venture to think that there is more latent Argento imagery in Dressed to Kill than there is actually even Hitchcockian imagery.


Eli: Yeah, it’s Argento mixed with a little Michael Powell.


Roger: The shower is so strong an image that it tends to overwhelm people’s references.


Quentin: Yes, exactly but I’m talking, in particular, about the black patent leather raincoat.


Roger: The glasses, the Italian look.


Eli: The POV of the killer.


Roger: The slightly fuzzy, foggy quality of the images.


Quentin: The whole thing. And again, that’s why I also pull back a little bit on making too big of a read on the sexuality of the reveal of the killer because that’s also just from Argento. We don’t know the killer at the end of The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is a woman until we find out and we’re surprised. We don’t know about the killer at the end of Deep Red.


Eli: It’s like he took the best of what he loved about Hitchcock, what he loved about Polanski, what he loved about Argento, and threw them in a blender and then creates something that I think he wants to make it classy and elevate it. All the stuff at the museum and the score and all of it, it’s such an elegant film.


Quentin: I mean, the thing that makes this the ultimate American giallo is Pino’s music, because it adds the Italian element that is missing from the other ones but is in this movie.


Eli: Definitely


Quentin: It is integral to the giallo.


Roger: The entire gallery sequence would be something completely different without Pino’s score; without that kind of longing, pulling quality of his dreamlike score.


Quentin: It will be interesting to read the script because Dressed to Kill without that music, what would that even be? I mean, it’s just a different movie. I can’t even contemplate what it is without it.


Eli: It’s like Psycho without the music, or Jaws without the music.

Roger: Directors, like children, look to their forefathers and through imitation, learn how to become their own person just like a child looks to a parent and imitates in order to learn how to become a person. So too does a filmmaker, we end up becoming people of many parents, and De Palma has his lineages that we can look at and say, “He’s a composite of all of these different people.” He is literally a schizophrenic composite, as a filmmaker, of these other filmmakers that he so admires, that he looks to, but he’s still his own person.


Quentin: I would actually even go so far as to say that, of all the movies that have the lead characters turn amateur detective and try to figure out what’s going on, Dressed to Kill might be my favorite and that the team of Keith Gordon’s Peter Miller (the young boy) and Nancy Allen’s high priced prostitute, teaming up together in one of the most charming double acts I’ve ever seen in a horror film. They’re just so charming together. They’re so lovely and without hitting a sexual aspect, there’s something romantic about them together.


Roger: Without ever pushing any kind of romance at all. He never pushes it, at all.


Quentin: He doesn’t push it at all, but there’s something romantic about it that gives it a sexy vibe without sexuality, per se. I’m not looking necessarily for- Well, I’m say I’m not looking for Keith Gordon to score. I’m kind of thinking if she didn’t have that dream, he might have scored over the course of that weekend.


Roger: I don’t want I don’t want to ruin the script for you but in the screenplay, she wakes up with a john in the hotel room, screaming.


Eli: Wow.


Quentin: Wow, wow. Well, that actually sounds better. That sounds way better.


Roger: It was a shock to discover because it-


Quentin: That sounds way better.


Roger: And he’s like, “What the fuck are you crazy?”

Eli: That’s pretty cool.


Quentin: I think the reason he changed it is because he actually realized how the audience had a connection to Keith and Nancy Allen.


Roger: For me, Keith Gordon is my entry to the movie. I was his age, or maybe a little younger, when this movie came out. I think Keith and I are close to the same age.


Quentin: Probably, yeah.


Roger: And he looked and behaved and dressed exactly like this friend of ours, Scott, who also was from the video store days.


Quentin: As if Scott watch Dressed to Kill and go, “I’m going to dress like that.”


Roger: “I’m going to behave like that. I’m going to like do that.”

Eli: He was dressed to Keith.




Eli: I think one of the reasons we loved Keith Gordon, growing up watching those movies, was he wasn’t the typical good looking, macho, eighties leading guy. He was so much like us; the nerdy science guy.


Roger: He’s Brian De Palma, literally.


Eli: But he treats Liz with such respect. He never judges her as the movie never judges her.


Roger: She touches him briefly. She says, “You’re just a kid” and he’s like, “Yeah, I’m the kid that saved your ass.”


Eli: Right, exactly.


Quentin: And then finally, she goes, “But what a kid.”


Eli: She’s so sweet.


Quentin: It is charming. I like it when she says that.


Eli: She’s so amazing, Nancy Allen.


Quentin: You make a really good point, it’s really cool that Peter Miller doesn’t judge Liz Blake for what she does. That’s really cool. That’s a really, really cool progressive aspect from him but doesn’t scream as such. That’s why they’re so good together.


Eli: And it’s what the movie does so well and it’s what people were so upset about at the time. Like, “How dare you not judge or make a comment on this woman?” Even Dennis Franz is just basically empowers her. He’s like, “Look, I can’t get in there, but you can. Do the detective work for me, my hands are tied.”


Roger: “You have more at stake at this than I do.”


Quentin: “Yeah, your ass.” But it’s even kind of interesting that Dennis Franz, who busts her balls through the whole film, only to find out at the end that he just wanted the appointment book. He was actually looking out for her. He never really thought she did it. He wasn’t going to arrest her. It’s not the guy he’s been for the whole fucking movie.


Roger: “Ted from out of town. We’ll get Ted in town and downtown.”


Quentin: “Oh, this Ted from out of town? We’ve got to get him in town and downtown. Finally got a statement as to who and what he saw.”


Eli: And also the locations. She calls from a payphone on the river, just the way that the choice of locations and all those things that we thought about.


Quentin: It’s the return of De Palma’s New York. De Palma spent his whole early career filming New York.

Eli: But he’s a different guy than the Greenwich Village days.


Quentin: By the time he comes to Dressed to Kill, now it’s about the Met. Now, if he’s renting out an apartment, it’s on the fucking Upper West Side. That’s the world that he he explores this time, not Greenwich Village.


Eli: No, it’s not. It’s wealthy people and people cheating and bored people and all that.


Quentin: “Everybody getting laid after lunch.”


Eli: That was a rare thing, that you could afford to a psychiatrist back then.


Roger: “Pardon my language, but he’s given her a blow by blow. The cabdriver give me a blow by blow.”


Quentin: “She went down on him in the cab, for christsake. I got a cabbie giving me a blow by blow.”


Eli: Start to finish, there’s not a weak shot, not a weak moment. No fat, just sick. Like you said, we couldn’t stop talking about how much we loved it and then we were silent, just watching it.


Quentin: Now, one of the things you mention is that the script has an early scene with Bobbi shaving-


Roger: -her entire body and then kind of revealing that there’s-


Quentin: The castration.


Roger: I believe it’s revealing no genitalia. Actually it’s interesting, in the script, Bobbi is merely described as a blonde with an ‘e.’ My daughter informed me that when blond is spelled with an ‘e,’ it means it’s feminine.


Quentin: Oh, okay.


Eli: Is Bobbi with an ‘i’ or a ‘y’ in the script?


Roger: With an ‘i.’ There’s actually an interesting moment in the screenplay which has been cut out. It’s the one moment in the movie I can tell something’s been cut; is with the doctor on the-


Quentin: Dr. Levy and Dr. Elliot?


Roger: Yeah, Dr. Levy and Dr. Elliot. They have different names in the screenplay. Michael Caine’s character says, “Because Bobbi isn’t a true transsexual” and this has been cut from the movie. “Bobbi isn’t a true transsexual. A transsexual has an unalterable belief that she is of one sex trapped,” and that’s in quotes, “in the body of the other. Bobbi is totally unaware of her other self. She’s really a dangerous schizophrenic personality.”


Quentin: Okay, but no, that’s De Palma taking it out of the realm of editorializing on transsexuals and turning it into Norman Bates; the schizophrenic character that does not know the existence of the two different personalities, that can have conversations with each other without knowing that they’re the same person.


Roger: It’s unfortunate that that line is trimmed out of the movie, for whatever reason it had to be cut. Probably because it leaned too heavily into revealing what’s going on, which to audiences at that time would have been a reveal. So it probably was too much, but it actually is unfortunate because it is one of his defenses. The other one being that the Peter character actually, as the scientist suggests with no compunction, “Maybe my next experiment will be to make a new version of me, or to build a woman out of myself.”


Quentin: He finds it intriguing, the idea of the scientific medical application.


Roger: Correct, and that her final suggestion and line to him is, “Better to stick with your computer.”


Quentin: Peter.


Roger: Yeah, which his mother has established is named Peter.


Quentin: Stick with your Peter.


Roger: Play with your Peter.


Quentin: Now one thing is interesting is that while I haven’t read the script, I have read the novelization which De Palma got co-writing credit on, but I don’t think he wrote shit. I think Campbell Black, who wrote the Raiders of the Lost Ark novelization, I think he used a lot of De Palma script and so De Palma got co-writing credit on it. But one of the things that’s interesting about it is the fact that again, ties it to Cruising: the fact that so many people had to play Bobbi in order to create one Bobbi. It is kind of wonky. I think you can use the term wonky to describe it, but he pulls it off. It all works.


I almost can’t believe that that works as well as it does, because once you see Michael Cain in the makeup and the costume, you know that is not who we’ve been watching through the entire film in any way, shape or form. That is not who we’ve been watching in the entire film. But he still makes it work. So there’s the cop woman who’s tailing Peter, who is also playing Bobbi as well. Then there’s William Finley, who’s playing Bobbi’s character on all the phone voice messages and then there’s Michael Caine.


Roger: And Finley, who’s the Phantom.


Quentin: But because of that type of tomfoolery that he’s doing, he’s never allowed to have just a regular scene of Bobbi just being Bobbi. But the paperback doesn’t have those problems.


Eli: So there’s scenes of Bobbi.


Quentin: The opening chapter of the book is a scene of Bobbi in a bar trying to pick up a guy.


Eli: Okay.


Quentin: She’s trying to pick up a guy and basically realizing, as Nancy Allen says, “Once you take off all the clothes, now the jig is up,” and it’s great. Bobbi is my favorite De Palma killer of all the De Palma, Bobbi’s my favorite. It’s a negative in the movie, that we never have a scene from Bobbi’s perspective. It’s kind of great that the book offers up one.


Roger: It helps to humanize the character, and you feel a glimpse of that in the script. Just barely a glimpse.


Eli: The voice message is as close as you’re going to get, on the answering machine.


Quentin: I don’t know if William Finley’s voice humanizes Bobbi. It makes Bobbi sound like a crazy shithouse fucking rat.


Roger: “Don’t make me a bad girl again.”


Eli: That’s the closest we get.


Quentin: Yeah, that’s the closest we get. Yeah.


Eli: That’s all we get.


[musical interlude]


Quentin: We’re back and joined by Gala Avary. Wearing a rare dress, for you.


Gala: I am dressed up for giallo week.


Quentin: Oh my God, You are. You’re actually dressed a little bit like Bobbi.


Gala: I am themed dressed right now.


Quentin: If you just had dark sunglasses and a blonde Gloria wig.


Roger: She literally said today I was like, “Wow, you’re dressed up” and she said, “Yeah, I am. This is giallo week.”

Quentin: Right on.


Eli: She’s Dressed to Kill.


Quentin: Yeah, right. She is dressed to kill.


Gala: Well, hello, Quentin. Hello, Roger. Hi Eli, I am so glad that you’re on the show. I’m so excited that we’re talking about giallo. One thing you mentioned was the violence of the giallo film, and I actually pulled a leaflet calling for a protest against Dressed to Kill that was distributed by San Francisco by the Women Against Violence and Pornography and Media in 1980. My favorite part was this part in all caps, which actually plays into something that you said earlier, Quentin. “From the insidious combination of violence and sexuality in its promotional material, to scene after scene of women raped, killed or nearly killed, Dressed to Kill is a masterwork of misogyny. The distorted image of a psychotic male transvestite makes all sexual minorities appear sick and dangerous. Dressed to Kill follows a new trend in films: witness the gay male killer of Cruising. The lesbian rapist of Windows, and now the killer transvestite of Dressed to Kill. Though Kate Miller dies and Liz Blake bleeds time and again, three scenes: the rape, the necrophilia and the slashing scene were to have happened in women’s minds, as if the eroticization of violence were not enough, Dressed to Kill asserts that women crave physical abuse. That humiliation, pain and brutality are essential to our sexuality. If this film succeeds, killing women may become the greatest turn on of the eighties. Join our protest march with us on August 28.”


Quentin: One of the things that they reacted to, especially when it came to slasher films, all the established critics working for newspapers and magazines like Time or Newsweek, took a dim view of them and talked about how they didn’t appreciate the sexual politics and just called them these sleazy movies. Then Siskel and Ebert had a whole diatribe against slasher films. Then Dressed to Kill comes out at the height of the slasher film genre, 1980, the height of the slasher film genre. Then it gets rhapsodic reviews from the most established critics, especially female film critics. Pauline Kael gives it a rave. Sheila Benson, surprisingly enough, raved about it beyond the beyond.


Roger: I remember that.


Quentin: Which was like, whoa, Sheila Benson.


Roger: It was weird.


Quentin: And so the fact that this was getting these high art prestige reviews, that in particularly bugged this group and that was one of the things they were responding against, was this being deemed as art by the high society film critics and especially the female film critics.


Gala: Well as the woman in the room, I love Dressed to Kill. I think it’s an awesome movie. I’ve seen this movie before, so it was a treat to watch it again. I thought to myself, “I know the ending, am I going to be surprised? Am I going to have fun rewatching it?” Hell yeah, I did. It was a blast. The cinematic language that De Palma uses in his films, in all of his films, but specifically in this film, he crosses the line, actually intentionally looking into the mirror at the very first therapy scene when he becomes Bobbi. It’s deliciously juicy.


Roger: It’s jarring for a purpose.


Eli: It’s a literal line cross, as you’re crossing back and forth between personalities. It’s amazing.


Quentin: Yeah, It’s right up there with the reel change in The Loved One.


Roger: Exactly. He crosses the line on purpose. He uses the split screen to emphasize the bifurcation. He uses mirrors throughout.


Quentin: Oh, no, no. Every one of De Palma’s visual motifs is hit in Dressed to Kill; media inside of media.


Roger: Media inside of media, inside of cinematic gags. Yeah.


Quentin: Interestingly, in this case though, usually the media inside of media, he creates both medias. In here, he uses the real Donahue. He could have come up with a phony guy.


Roger: But he needs a touchstone into actual reality.


Eli: Absolutely.


Roger: To let everyone know, “I know what reality is.”


Eli: Yeah, “I’ve done my homework.”


Roger: I know what reality is and what we’re going into is inside my brain. This is non-reality and in fact that’s only enforced by the heightened cinema.


Gala: Yeah. Also just the use of mirrors, as we were talking about. I love that you realize what’s happening, towards the end when he looks into the mirror and he becomes Bobbi.


Roger: When he smiles.


Gala: When he smiles into the mirror, you kind of realize and then you go back and you think about that time that he looked into the mirror before. It just it’s such a good tool that you’re using the mirror to show the mirror personality and the other side of yourself.


Roger: But even then in that moment, when he looks in the mirror, there’s a little tiny piece of you that thinks, “Oh, he’s smiling because he’s going to get lucky.” That’s what I thought when the young Roger was watching this movie.


Quentin: I really thought that the very first time, and there was a laugh in the audience.


Roger: Like, “Oh ho, he’s going to get it.”

Quentin: Maybe Angie Dickinson didn’t get it, but Nancy Allen closed the deal.


Roger: And then he has the female cop MacGuffin, the female detective who’s blonde.


Quentin: Betty Luce. What a great name.


Gala: A Bond girl name for the ages.


Roger: Creeping up behind Keith Gordon and so in that moment, you’re just like, “The killer is going to get Keith Gordon now” and he’s walking the tightrope all the way to the end. That’s why the script is so fantastic, frankly.


Quentin: But speaking about this whole thing of the De Palma methodology and him carrying it through and maybe finding its home in this, he gave a really interesting description of the entire last section together. He was saying that he purposely structured it so that you’ve got the whole scene with Liz Blake and Dr. Elliot turning into Bobbi and the whole thing leading up to it. Peter Miller is looking through the window and then just when it looks like it’s going to happen, the cop shows up, shoots Bobbi, Bobbi goes down and the day is saved. And then De Palma goes, “And at that point, I’ve disappointed the audience. They want to see her get sliced up. They know they’ve been jerked off to the”- He actually said these words. I don’t know if he used jerked off, but you’ve been jerked off to this-


Roger: It wouldn’t be appropriate.

Quentin: And you’ve been jerked off to this entire movie.


Eli: Only for the Dr. Elliot character, not for Bobbi.


Roger: Yeah, exactly.


Quentin: To expect this big ending. Then when Nancy Allen is just saved at the last minute by a cop, you’re disappointed. They wanted more. They wanted to see her sliced up. I don’t know if they want to see her sliced up, but they wanted it elongated more. They wanted a bigger sequence and they don’t get it. Then he has the scenes that happened after it, which are telegraphing to an audience, “Okay, we’re wrapping it up. We’re wrapping it up, we’re wrapping it up. We’re wrapping it up.” Then it cuts to the insane asylum scene and he said that the point was, after I’ve given you moments of “they’re wrapping it up,” the audience to grab their Raisinets, grab their popcorn, get ready to rise up and leave and then go, “Oh, hey, wait a minute. Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. This looks like it’s not over.” And then he has his real ending, where she gets to get sliced up but still live through it.


Gala: Actually you just reminded me I’m getting goosebumps because the mirror, specifically in her dream sequence at the very end, when the hand with the straight razor comes out of the mirror and slices her. That is such an awesome moment; the use of the mirror, the hand coming out, the straight razor.


Eli: Yeah, because Bobbi’s been in the mirror the whole time.


Gala: Exactly. What a great way to put it.


Eli: Bobbi comes out and slices her throat. It’s amazing.


Roger: I can remember seeing this film for the first time, and I saw it with Scott, actually. I vividly remember the moment because I was so freaked out by that final shower scene moment with her creeping out of the shower and seeing the razor and kind of slowly going for it, and you only see the tips of the shoes behind the door. Then that shot where the camera kind of hovers over and it kind of slowly moves over the shoes and we realize they’re empty. To this day, I can hear Scott saying she’s jumped out of the shoes. She’s not in the shoes. It wasn’t even that I registered what was happening on screen because the visual information was affecting my brain so intensely in that moment, because I was so terrified. But hearing Scott say, “Oh, she’s not in the shoes,” every time I watched the movie in that moment, I hear Scott whispering that to me and it scares me, hearing him whisper that to me.


Gala: Okay. So do you guys think that Bobbi has escaped from the asylum or do you think that’s part of the dream?


Quentin: Oh, no, It’s all part of the dream.


Gala: You think that’s also part of the dream?

Quentin: The whole thing is a dream. She’s traumatized, like in Carrie. She’s traumatized.


Roger: The whole thing is De Palma’s dream and De Palma’s reality.


Quentin: De Palma made a point about it. Actually, when he said that in that interview that I’m talking about the interviewer goes, “Yeah, but you kind of tip it over that it’s a dream when you see how surreal the asylum is.” He goes, “Yeah, but I’m not a realistic director per se. So that doesn’t just tip somebody over that it’s a dream sequence because I’m extravagant in my sequences. So that could be my real interpretation of an insane asylum.”


Gala: And I actually agree because it was very One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, in my opinion. I did not think it was a dream sequence the first time I saw it, until she wakes up screaming.

Eli: I didn’t think so either, because there’s two scenes. Carrie at the grave, we’re all expecting he’s going to do a dream sequence shock ending. But it’s one scene at a funeral, and then she comes out. This is like you’re in insane asylum and you think it’s a dream and they cut to the POV and you’re like, “Oh, that wasn’t a dream. She actually escaped and now she’s going to get killed.” So you’re like, “Oh, this was a two scene dream. That’s the trick.”


Quentin: But now what’s interesting is, I love it now but I remember when I first saw Dressed to Kill on the day it opened. I saw it the Friday it opened at the Del Amo Mall, and I rarely did this: I actually walked out talking out loud, about my incredulousness, about the movie. I couldn’t believe he ended it like Carrie. It was the same shot. The same Pinot sting as the camera rises.


Eli: It’s crazy.


Quentin: and she’s all flipped out. I literally walked out of the Del Amo theatre-


Roger: Pissed off?


Quentin: Not pissed off. No, I wasn’t-


Roger: Stunned?


Quentin: I was flabbergasted. I go, “He ended it like Carrie. I can’t believe he ripped off his own ending. I can not believe it. I can not believe that’s how it ended.”


Eli: Or is this movie an homage to Carrie and his taking from, you know-


Roger: Or is this the ultimate expression that he-


Quentin: I have no problem with it every other time I ever saw it, but the first time I saw it, I was flabbergasted that a director would take his own ending from his own movie that’s that recognizable.


Eli: And in less than five years from it’s release.


Roger: Every time a trunk opens up in a Quentin Tarantino movie, there’s a camera inside of it looking out at everybody and staring in at the body on the inside.


Quentin: But what if my movies were to end exactly the way the first one did.


Eli: The last line is, “I’m a cop.” You’d be like, “Wait a minute.”


Roger: Wait a minute here.


Gala: Also, I love that De Palma actually includes Bobbi earlier in the film at the museum sequence.


Quentin: We talked about that.


Gala: If you pause at 21 minutes and 39 seconds, you will see Bobbi waiting there and I love that.


Quentin: You guys always knew that, right?


Roger: I knew it. But I think that is actually in that instance, I think that’s Michael Caine.


Quentin: Noooo. It’s absolutely Betty Luce.


Roger: Are you sure?


Quentin: I’m positive. He can’t put Michael Caine in or it’s just too fucking obvious. Michael Caine in that pancake makeup is way too obvious.


Roger: But it happens so fast.


Quentin: It’s Betty Luce


Roger: In the script,


Quentin: We’ll watch it right now.

Roger: it comes after she gets in the car. They drive off and then cut to Bobbi watching them and walks away.


Quentin: Well, Bobbi takes the glove.


Roger: Yeah, yeah, yeah. She picks up the glove and walks away.


Gala: But I love that. As a fan, I love getting to rewatch a movie. I just think it’s awesome to rewatch and then go, “Oh my God, there’s Bobbi, in the shot.”


Quentin: That’s one of my favorite shots in the whole movie, is the pan from Angie Dickinson’s gaze to the cab and passing by Bobbi.


Roger: Yeah, and I like how Bobbi is turning to look as she’s looking to see what she’s looking at, as we’re turning to look to see what we’re looking at. I mean, in a way, he’s making us Bobbi. A disembodied Bobbi watching the same thing.


Gala: So my favorite De Palma film is Phantom of the Paradise. I’m a huge fan of that movie. I listen to my record on repeat over and over and over.

Roger: It plays all day in our house.


Gala: I’m pretty sure my dad is sick of it


Roger: [singing song from Phantom of the Paradise] I just walk by Gala’s room and I hear that.


Gala: When I was in middle school, I even used “Special to Me” to audition for the school play. So that’s how I was.


Roger: It’s the great Paul Williams.


Gala: So this time when I watched it, I actually heard Bill Finlay’s voice and I was like, “Oh my God, it’s Bill Finley.” I didn’t know that, he’s uncredited. I was so excited and then Roger and I were talking about it and he’s also cross-dressing in Phantom of the Paradise.


Quentin: Yeah.


Gala: So I kind of did a little bit of research, obviously I’m sure we all know this, but DePalma and Finlay were friends since college. Finlay was in De Palma’s first short: Wanton’s Wake, where he is not in drag, but he is a perverted character that dresses in a gorilla suit. In De Palma’s first feature, Finlay plays a prime red herring but manages to dispatch the real killer by manipulating the body of one of his female victims.


Quentin: There’s actually his second film because the first film is Wedding Party, which Finlay is in with Robert De Niro.


Gala: There is also a film version of a performance group staging of Dionysus 69. Bill Finlay is not in drag, but he is doing what we would call “Greek stuff” in togas.


Quentin: Togas. [laughing] Okay, okay.


Roger: [laughing]


Gala: So it seems it was less about cross-dressing roles with Bill Finley and De Palma, and more about gender fluidity in Finlay’s roles. Finlay married his wife in 1975, stayed with her until his death. He has a child and no record of trysts or political activism for the gay community. Why did he voice for Bobbi? Probably just a favor between friends.


Quentin: Yeah, yeah.


Gala: Now, I think it’s important for all viewers out there to know that this film has gone through constant reevaluation in the social opinion of it, specifically with the transgendered character. There have been- I mean, I dug up several reviews from actual transgendered activists and reviewers all the way back from 1984 and the Criterion rerelease from 2015, and now. I will save the reviews, maybe, for the after show later.


Eli: On History of Horror, we did a deep dive. We had Alexandra-


[siren starts blaring]

Roger: You do that on your show, right?


Eli: You’re right.


Roger: We don’t know what that is.


Eli: Oh my god.


[siren stops]


Gala: Just so the listener knows what’s going on; we had a whole conversation with Eli before the episode, that on this show we don’t use phrases like ‘hot take’ or ‘deep dive.’


Roger: You did a detailed analysis.


Eli: Okay. On History of horror, we did a detailed analysis on Bryan Fuller; from Hannibal and Alexandra Billings. It was really interesting to hear their point of view. They love the movie, but obviously for that community, they certainly want to address it, but it still doesn’t stop their enjoyment of the film.


Quentin: So it didn’t affect Bryan Fuller’s appreciation of the film.


Eli: No, he loves the movie. They talk about how the Liz Blake character being normalized was way more controversial at the time. But you sort of have to acknowledge what it’s saying, but still. He loves DePalma so much and loves Blow Out and Dressed to Kill, that they almost don’t want that to affect their enjoyment of the movie.


Gala: I watched mine on Amazon. I rented it, which means I actually did get to see the performance of the woman.


Quentin: Mary Davenport.


Gala: Mary Davenport sitting behind, as they describe the procedures that one undertakes.


Quentin: It’s the only genuine loss from the video cassette is missing Mary Davenport’s very funny reaction to the description of the vaginoplasty (for those in the know).


Gala: I bought my VHS tape on eBay for $20. It is a Warner Home video clamshell from 1984. My tape is supposed to go in the horror section, whereas Quentin’s tape was in the adult drama section.


Roger: Well, they changed their demo over time.

Quentin: Dressed to Kill is fluid in a lot of areas, beyond the sexuality-


Gala: Genre is one of them.


Quentin: -Including genre.


Roger: So I just want to make a point, that the poster that’s in front of Gala’s Warner Brothers Box, which is the later version of Quentin’s paper clamshell, is the French metro poster on the inside. You may or may not remember, but in the script for True Romance, we made sure to include a French Dressed to Kill poster.


Quentin: Oh yeah.


Roger: While on set, I pulled the poster. I kept it and I put it into Killing Zoe, and so the same one and that poster now hangs in my son’s room.


Quentin: But it was part of your wild time in France that inspired Killing Zoe. At those junkie’s house was a big French poster for Dressed to Kill.


Roger: That’s right. We always used to talk about that. I remember telling you that they had this giant metro poster for Dressed to Kill in their apartment.


Quentin: I remember you said you walked in and thought, “Wow. Quentin, would really dig this place.”


Roger: Yeah. I mean, the story is, I was traveling through Europe in 1987. I was in Paris, hated it, and was on my way out when I bumped into a French friend of mine who I knew from UCLA. He was like, “Oh, I’ll show you the real Paris,” and took me and introduced me to all of his friends; who I wrote in as characters in Killing Zoe, eventually. In fact, this guy is in Killing Zoe; he plays the bellboy. When we were in pre-production, I saw him and it was like, “Oh my God, you’re going to play the bellboy in the movie,” and he showed up and he was on heroin while shooting.


Quentin: “And now, we do heroin!”


Roger: Anyhow, we went over to their apartment because he was like, “Now, we do heroin! Hold my arm!” I go over to his apartment and it was like a junkie’s apartment, except for the fact that they had this giant French Dressed to Kill poster. So I came home and I immediately, of course, told Quentin about it and it found it’s way into every screenplay after that, I think.


Quentin: And frankly, to some degree or another, it was the Video Archives crew’s reaction to your French escapade that led you to think maybe you should turn this into a movie, right?


Roger: Yeah, yeah, yeah. “Roger Takes a Trip.” Actually, that was your title for it.


Quentin: It’s a pretty good title.


Roger: It’s a good title.


Eli: It’s a good time.


Roger: It’s a good title. So whenever I look at the poster, which actually I think hung in my daughter’s-


Gala: No, no. It’s in my brother’s room right now.


Roger: But originally when you were like a child, like when you were a baby in the crib, this was in my office and your crib was in my office. We only had a two bedroom apartment, and so there was this giant- [to Gala] Describe the poster which you stared at as a baby.


Gala: The poster is a woman putting on her black stockings, presumably sitting on her tub, as a man with a single black glove opens the door and he’s just kind of creeping in. Actually, years later you asked me, “Gala, why do you not like to have your door open a crack?” And I told you, “I’m terrified that someone’s going to come in” And it’s because of this poster was hanging above me as a baby.


Roger: Yeah, Yeah.


Eli: That’s good parenting, Roger.


Roger: Yeah, I know, I know. I have apologized for that- and a lot of other things.


Gala: But here I am now, so all is well.


Quentin: Yeah, exactly.





clip from trailer for Eyes of Laura Mars: Her world: sensual, dazzling. His world: dangerous, violent. Drawn by a mystery, their lives converge. Faye Dunaway and Tommy Lee Jones. Eyes of Laura Mars: A Thrilling Vision of Romance and Terror. Rated R.


Quentin: Okie doke, and we’re back. Now we’re following it up with Irv Kirshner’s Eyes of Laura Mars.


Roger: So first of all, this is a Columbia Pictures Home Entertainment clamshell case, which I haven’t seen in a very, very long time.


Quentin: No, it’s really unique.


Roger: It’s one of the most beautiful boxes of this sort, partly because the poster of Eyes of Laura Mars is such a beautiful poster and they lean heavily into that graphic.


Quentin: Absolutely.


Roger: The one of the eyes. Plus, it’s got that beautiful catalog branding that Columbia Pictures did at that time; with the blue stripes.


Quentin: Well, here’s the thing about it is: of all the studios that had their own kind of brand, what the later RCA Columbia boxes became-


Roger: That kind of black and red,


Quentin: With the blue border around it and RCA Columbia at the top.


Roger: Yes, yes.


Quentin: That’s actually maybe my favorite of all the the studio logo set ups for a video box. Even though we talked about how great the paramount ones are, this is before they established that RCA Columbia thing where- I’m trying to remember the other white boxes we had of stuff like this. None of them are coming to my mind right now.


Roger: None are coming to my mind, either. But this one stands out. Yeah, this one really jumps out. Also, it has no tagline, which is either classy or they’re just going purely off of the title and that beautiful graphic at the beginning. So back to the box reads: [reading from box] Eyes of Laura Mars: Fashion Photographer Laura Mars (Faye Dunaway), world renowned for her erotic portraits of gossamer gowned models in settings of urban violence, becomes a focal point for a series of bizarre murders. The victims are all people Laura has known. Each murder is “witnessed” by Laura in her mind’s eye, as if through the lens of her camera. These terrifying experiences bring Laura together with an intimate relationship with a homicide Detective, John Neville (Tommy Lee Jones), who tries to unravel the events that have taken control of Laura’s mind. [end of reading from box] Eyes of Laura Mars comes out in 1978.


Quentin: What number is it, on the box?


Roger: This is #8582, which comes late.


Quentin: Yes, but I think we had that for sure in the horror section. So that would be under the ‘e’s’ in horror. As we were watching it, not only is it passing the test of being an American giallo, it truly could have been an Italian movie.


Eli: Yeah, absolutely.


Quentin: It’s not a giallo homage. No, it is practically a giallo. This exact movie, this exact screenplay could have been done in Italy with Umberto Lenzi directing it.

Eli: Yeah. I think one of the things that was so fun to watch was the way the fashion shoots were staged so realistically. In the Helmut Newton photography and the idea of violence in the lens of violence; it’s really on point but it does feel so stylish.


Quentin: But it is kind of fascinating when we were watching it: nothing about the movie seems authentic. From the police investigation, to the portrayal of the cop, to even the portrayal of her level of celebrity. Especially not the gimmick of seeing through the killer’s eyes, randomly, whenever they kill. The one thing that is absolutely authentic is the direction of the photoshoots that are laid out. There’s nothing fanciful about them. They’re exactly realistic. I’ve been on David LaChapelle photo shoots, and they are just like what’s presented here.


Roger: Yeah, I would actually say that it’s done almost intentionally. They present those photo shoots, which is the fabrication of non-reality from these visions that she’s getting. They shoot them, like, verité style. It’s like a real photo shoot that you’re at, and it really feels that way because Helmut Newton not only shot all the photographs, but probably also was consulting.


Eli: Yeah, for the art direction.


Roger: About what a photo shoot would be like. Then he shoots it with long lenses, frequently from afar, as if we’re watching a kind of reality. He’s catching events. We’re seeing deep, deep, deep shots where we see New York running into the horizon.

Quentin: But then also the way it captures a uniquely authentic, but different, high-class Manhattan than Dressed to Kill. This captures the disco Manhattan, and this movie has one of the best disco soundtracks of its era.


Roger: Yeah, absolutely.


Eli: But it does feel like this interesting mix of a giallo film; where it’s the John Carpenter influence and a John Peters production, with the Barbra Streisand song. You have this kind of big Hollywood feel about it; with the movie stars and the Streisand music and the photography, but also it’s got a John Carpenter stalking slasher.


Quentin: And then also, just to make the point of it: when I saw the movie, after the movie came out, I went and got the soundtrack album. Now I liked the Barbra Streisand song, but I got it for the [singing], that’s why I got the record.


Roger: The whole idea of giallo in any way requires a descent into a dreamlike realm. That’s the purpose of shooting those verité style; is to kind of to contrast with how dreamlike the nightmare moments are.


Quentin: So I don’t think we’ve described the storyline quite exactly well enough so far. So the idea is that Laura Mars has become this ridiculously famous celebrity for doing these.


Roger: A name photographer, a named fashion photographer.


Quentin: But, apparently, a household name.


Roger: Well, like, you mean you named David LaChapelle? It would be at that level.


Quentin: Yeah, but she seems even more popular than that. She’s been on The Tonight Show a bunch of times.


Roger: Annie Leibowitz, or something.


Quentin: She seems more famous than all of those guys put together.


Eli: She’s a photographer who has paparazzi photographers following her.


Quentin: She’s as famous as Faye Dunaway in the movie.


Roger: And her work, actually, it be fair to say, is reminding me a lot of Steven Meisel, which he does a lot of kind of outlandish, murder scene stuff.


Quentin: So she’s a world famous celebrity photographer, who specialty is taking beautiful women and creating an aspect of murder to them. That’s how she sells the products. Then it becomes clear later in the movie that she has these wild random images of murder and death, and then she does them as fashion layouts. She re-does them as these art pieces that include these little flashes in her head.


Roger: And the police have taken notice. “Hey, these are really close to the actual real crime scene photos.”


Quentin: Yes. “Okay. Here’s the real photo that happened at the Mayflower Hotel. Here’s your photoshoot photo.”


Roger: “Explain to me why they look exactly the same, because this wasn’t published”


Quentin: So this is going on, but then somebody in her circle is murdered and when the murder in her circle happens, she actually is able to watch the murder. She sees through the P.O.V. of the killers, during the murder.


Roger: They have a psychic connection of some kind.


Quentin: Yes, and then it happens again. And then it happens again.


Eli: And they’re killing off her friends. They’re killing everyone in her circle.


Quentin: Everyone in her entourage.


Roger: And it’s been happening, apparently, for a long time, which is how she’s processing these images into her work; is that it’s been coming to her in dreams.


Quentin: We don’t realize that till much later.


Roger: It hasn’t ever been much more than just like, “These are dreams.” Or “These are images that come to me.” Now it’s gotten more and more intense, as if whatever’s causing it is getting closer to her.


Eli: Yeah, if the killer realized, “Okay, I’m going to get caught. So…”


Roger: It’s starting to happen while she’s awake, she’s having waking dreams.


Quentin: And it’s disconcerting to her, aside from the fact that when she puts together what’s going on. But it’s also that when she’s seeing through the eyes of the killer, she can’t see what’s in front of her. She can only see the killer’s eyes.

Roger: She’s blind otherwise.


Eli: The killer never stops to look in the mirror.


Quentin: Which makes it really cool, and one of the better scenes in the movie; is when the killer goes to attack her and all of a sudden she sees through the killer’s eyes. She’s seeing herself being chased and she’s running blind.


Eli: Yeah.


Quentin: Which brings to mind the Strange Shadows in an Empty Room blind girl scene.


Eli: Yeah, it’s got some of the great giallo tropes: the cast of characters like the suspects, whether it’s Rene Auberjonois, her kind of-


Roger: I love Rene Auberjonois.


Quentin: The sketchy ex-husband.


Roger: Well, there’s enough great supporting roles and there’s enough great actors are coming in that you start wondering, “It could be anybody, the killer.” You don’t know who it is.


Quentin: Very much like Happy Birthday to Me; they all take turns looking guilty.


Roger: They all have a reason.


Eli: And you, the audience member, you think you’ve got it figured it out. You’re like, “Oh, no, it’s going to be him.” But at a certain point, there’s Michael Tucker with his Gabe Kaplan Afro, and you’re like, “Well, maybe it’s him,” because he’s kind of on the sidelines. They really do a good job and there’s a moment where she’s got the police tail, so to get off the scent and to go to her crazy ex-husband where you’re like, “Oh, he’s the killer.” They switch: Rene Auberjonois dresses in drag and she dresses like him. There’s the double drag switch, and then he gets murdered in drag.


Roger: An almost a kind of reverse Dressed to Kill, or an inverted Dressed to Kill, where he is the one that is in drag getting killed in the elevator.


Quentin: Not to compare the two movies in quality wise, but what’s happening in Dressed to Kill and what’s happening in Eyes of Laura Mars could literally be happening three blocks away from each other. They’re simultaneously three blocks away from each other at any point, these lead characters could cross by each other. Kate Miller can totally walk by Laura Mars.


Eli: Right, they would know each other.


Roger: They’re at the same party.

Quentin: I’m surprised Kate Miller isn’t at the opening of Eyes of Laura Mars with her husband.


Eli: No, it’s interesting.


Quentin: I remember liking Laura Mars better than I did when we watched it, and I even thought fairly recently (within the last two years), I watched it with my wife Daniela because I thought she’d get a kick out of it, and she did. She liked all the fashion stuff going on.


Roger: She’s a model…


Quentin: She is.


Roger: “In case you’re ever wanting to see a movie where you’re chased by a mad man.”


Quentin: She liked all the disco and the fashion shoot and it makes sense, that’s her world. The first half is not a giallo homage, it is a legit giallo. This is exactly the kind of screenplay you expect to come out of Italy. But then the Jon Peters part comes in; where Tommy Lee Jones, who plays the cop, and Laura Mars the photographer are attracted to each other and they fall in love. Then right in the middle of the movie, it becomes a love story. Laura Mars throws her character completely out the window from that point on and everything is about love and devotion. Love and devotion. Love and devotion. Tommy Lee Jones seems to throw his character out the fucking window. He’s all about her, rather than about the case.


Roger: Well, one can see that he kind of fills the emptiness in her life of having a real male protector.


Quentin: I would agree with all that, except, her lines, her dialogue literally is reduced to, “Oh, I love you so much.” “Oh, I love you so much. I adore you. I can’t live without you.”


Roger: That moment feels rushed, in the movie. Yeah.


Eli: The other cops, the way they sort of just go, “Yeah. It’s a little weird though, I guess. Lt’s really getting in there.” They just really like-


Roger: You mean Frank Adonis?


Quentin: The beautifully named Frank Adonis. The actor’s name is actually more cliche than his character’s cliche name.


Eli: Yeah, but they have to sort of make jokes about it, not act like it’s weird that they’re now a thing in the middle of this murder investigation as people are getting knocked off.


Roger: Yeah, they’re like, “Hey, he’s sleeping with the famous photographer. What about us?”


Quentin: So while all of that is a complete crock, in a weird way, it proves as subterfuge when it actually turns back into a giallo again. More of a giallo than it’s ever been before, when it comes to the wrap up.

Eli: Yes, it actually is the setup for something even so batshit crazy that even the giallo films are like, “Wait a minute.” But there’s one great scene that they do certain things; there’s the murder that happens and everyone gets dragged to the police station.


Quentin: No, that’s a great sequence.


Eli: Then you see the models and they do the classic New York tracking shot; across the faces of what would be prostitutes in a lot but they’re all models.


Roger: They’re almost indistinguishable.


Quentin: They’re all dressed up like prostitutes.


Roger: Because it looks like a Versace shoot.


Eli: When you put them on the streets of Fifth Avenue with steam and a flipped over car, it’s a fashion shoot. But you put them in the police station, the same people all look different, and they’re acknowledging it. They’re like, “We look like hookers in here.”


Roger: They actually had to give them a line so that we would know that they weren’t hookers.

Eli: It’s so great.

Quentin: The first 35 minutes of this movie is flawlessly directed. There’s not a misstep in it, as far as I’m concerned. It holds that dream for about 35 minutes, and then the wonky plotting gets involved. I don’t know if it’s good, but it’s kind of great; the way it comes back for its final climax. Okay, so I’m going to ruin the end. I was almost wondering about maybe we shouldn’t reveal this, but actually, it’s the thing about the movie that’s worth talking about.


Eli: That’s what makes it giallo.


Quentin: It’s what makes it giallo. This could be a giallo trope, but it’s also just a trope of wannabe thrillers: where you have the boyfriend (or fiancée or husband etc.) character who’s been completely straight and legit the entire movie and so through a crazy monologue, has to reveal that now he is the killer and it’s usually accompanied by a “me so crazy” performance that the actor has not given up until now. Tommy Lee Jones, in this movie, does my second favorite “me so crazy” monologue reveal for that type of character. My favorite is Paul Michael Glaser’s reveal in John Huston’s Phobia, which could almost be a giallo as well.


Eli: No, it’s amazing because he’s such a good actor and then you’re just watching him have to stuff in the crazy all in one scene that’s completely out of nowhere.


Quentin: With a ridiculous backstory that would have made Ernesto Gastaldi proud. It’s an absolutely crazy ridiculous backstory. A backstory so crazy, that’s what reveals to Faye Dunaway that he’s the killer.


Roger: Yeah. But at the same time, I’m still kind of confused about the back story, to be honest. Is he the father? He obviously has a schizophrenic personality. Is it the father that caused it, that has replaced him?


Quentin: Yeah, I think so. It’s not for sure, nothing is for sure. You’re having to figure it out. For sure he’s a schizophrenic. When he’s a cop, he doesn’t know he’s the killer. When he’s the cop, he’s actually looking for the killer. But then he switches his personality and he becomes his father, who is out there committing violence against prostitutes.


Eli: And even at the end, when he he’s going to kill Faye Dunaway, he basically puts the knife up and just says, “Kill him. Kill him.” He’s like, “Kill my other half.”


Quentin: And there’s also a whole other thing. There’s also a whole other thing because the father killed the mother. How dare anybody take this type of murder and try to sell products with it?


Roger: Yeah.


Quentin: Commercializing it. But just like in Dressed to Kill, the character is a complete schizophrenic that does not know that two personalities are existing inside of one person.


Roger: It’s a little movie-like, I guess. Hollywood movie-like, a little Jon Peters-like; to in the end have the “Kill me” thing, as if you were flipping back and forth between the killer (who will kill her) and the guy who is willing to sacrifice himself.

Quentin: Actually, that’s them trying to hold on to the love story very, very desperately right up to the very end.


Roger: A mite too desperate.


Quentin: Yeah. “A mite too strong.”


Roger: Yeah, that’s an Irish Spring reference.


Eli: I got it.


Quentin: The other thing that’s so great about the movie and again, and that’s mostly in the first 35 minutes, is the whole presentation of Laura Mars’s entourage. They’re a great group of characters with a great group of actors. They probably wouldn’t get these kind of quality actors in a real Italian giallo. Not only one of my favorite cuts in the movie, one of my favorite cuts of the night (and this is including all the great cuts and Dressed to Kill) is just that cut to Rene and Brad Dourif in the car, having a full on bitch fight. You can’t even hear what they’re saying but it seems like such a New York scene, to just cut to two people arguing in a car.


Roger: Then he gets out and he’s super nice to Faye Dunaway.


Quentin: “Big boys now! Big boys!”


Roger: And then suddenly, “Hey. Hey, honey. How are you? I got the car radio, right over here.” He’s super- He switches on a dime.


Eli: That’s the nice giallo red herring; where the main character doesn’t see it but you see that these two were arguing about something. There’s some secret between them, which they don’t want to share.


Roger: You mentioned how beautiful this movie is. Again, this is someone who is becoming a Video Archive staple: Victor Kemper shot this movie.


Quentin: Again, what is this, our fourth Victor Kemper movie? Or third?

Roger: I think there was a third. We must have had three by now. In fact in 1978 alone, he made Magic, The One and Only, Eyes of Laura Mars, and Coma.


Quentin: Oh, wow. Wow.


Roger: All four in one year.


Quentin: So I have a copy of Shock Cinema magazine (Spring 2004, issue # 24) that has an interview with Irv Kershner. They’re talking to him about his career and then the interviewer goes, “I wanted to ask you about Eyes of Laura Mars; I know John Carpenter wrote that one. Kershner goes, “Oh, I threw that script out.”




Quentin: “I was set up to do the picture and I read that script and I just thought it was awful. A week later, Jon Peters came to me and he said that they wanted me to make it. So I said, ‘If you want me to do it, I’ll have to make changes.’ And he said, ‘Okay, okay, do it, do it.’ So I hired a writer and we started rewriting the script until there was almost nothing left from the original. I didn’t like the Carpenter script. It had a lot of violence and it had no meaning. It just wasn’t mysterious, it was just full of violence. I put the fashion business in it. That wasn’t there before and it gave it a tone.”


Roger: Oh, really?


Quentin: Yeah. “Without that, it was nothing. So I tried to give it a form and I also thought the actors were very good. But the hardest part was working on the script. The writer that I was working with had a heart attack, so he left the picture before we even started and we had to get another writer and we had to continue working on the script while we were shooting to get it right.”


Roger: Poor heart attack guy never got credit.


Quentin: “We changed almost everything in the script. The only thing that they had in common was that they were about women who had visions. Nothing else remained: the dialog, the characters are different. Everything is different. But he does make good pictures, John Carpenter. Different kinds of pictures than the ones I make. I’m much more interested in characterization.”


Roger: “Yeah, maybe you’ve heard of my film; Empire Strikes Back.” I got to say, I was kind of on Irving Kershner’s side until I heard that interview. What a fucking dick.


Quentin: He wanted to do a movie of a script he thought was trash.


Roger: What’s interesting about that, though, is that if all of that is true then Carpenter was obviously giallo influenced. And Irving Kershner is like, “No, it’s a mystery.”


Quentin: Wow, that’s really said. There probably was much more giallo. It would have been even more giallo influenced if they had done Carpenter’s version.


Roger: Enough is still there just by osmosis.


Quentin: Okay. Nevertheless, without having read the John Carpenter script, I have to be on Kershner’s side because the whole fashion model aspect is the part that works.


Roger: This might require a little bit of CSI work on my part. I might have to dig out.


Quentin: Find the John Carpenter script for Eyes. I have a Psychotronic magazine (issue #14) that has an interview with Brad Dourif in it. [reading] An occult mystery directed by Irv Kershner, he played fashion photographer Faye Dunaway’s ex-con, chauffeur. Brad: That was the first bad boy I played. He wasn’t really wicked, he was just an ex-con. He’s actually a sympathetic character. We spent two weeks rewriting it, it never really quite got rewritten right. There was a lot of tension on the set.


I enjoyed her [Dunaway] a lot. I also enjoyed working with Tommy Lee Jones. I don’t think the two of them enjoyed working with each other, though. It was just very unsure. Nobody was really quite sure of the material and they were right, the material had problems. Those of us who weren’t involved in all of the bad stuff were having a great time, actually. You know, it’s great to be in New York. I was young, I was surrounded by really gorgeous women. I stayed at the Hotel Navarro, which was kind of a really wild hotel and by them, I knew a lot of people in rock and roll and people used to come into my hotel suite and play all night. I had a real party going.”


Roger: God, I love Brad Dourif. This makes me love Brad Dourif even more.


Gala: That is so awesome.


[musical interlude]


Quentin: And now we are joined by Gala Avary.


Gala: Hey, guys. I really liked Eyes of Laura Mars. I keep wanting to call it “The Eyes of Laura Mars” and I keep having to remind myself there is no “the” at the beginning. It’s just Eyes of Laura Mars. Faye Dunaway is lit so beautifully in this movie. How Victor Kemper lights her eyes is just- It’s like old cinema, it’s beautiful when you watch it. Especially since the movie is all about her eyes. I mean, they better be lit well.


Quentin: [singing song from film, then stops] Continue, Gala.


Roger: If you dare.


Eli: Eyes by Laura Mars, voice by Quentin Tarantino.


Gala: The visual storytelling is really beautiful in this. I’ve heard that this is the movie that George Lucas saw that allowed Kershner to direct Empire Strikes Back.


Roger: Still the best Star Wars movie, in my opinion.


Gala: So for any of you Star Wars fans out there, you should watch this movie too, because it might give you a little bit of taste.


Quentin: It’s famous because it didn’t get that many great reviews. But one of the big reviews that they got that was laudatory was Pauline Kael gave it a rave. It was one of those reviews of people who don’t like her used against her from time to time. They would ask her questions like, “What was it about Eyes of Laura Mars?” in a Q&A, and she just shut them down and explained why she liked it so much.


Gala: And you guys brought up the great supporting cast. I mean, Rene Auberjonois, who’s from Star Trek: Deep Space 9, he plays Odo. Raul Julia, who’s awesome in this movie. Brad Dourif, who-


Roger: Also on Star Trek.


Gala: Yeah. Brad Dourif, if you’re listening, I love you. You’re one of my favorite actors of all time. So getting to see him, especially in one of his earlier roles. I mean, he plays the voice of Chucky. Then in a lot of later roles, he’s playing the villain and so in this as a later time viewer, it was really special to have myself think, “Oh, it’s Brad Dourif, he must be the killer.”


Roger: Well, he must be. Like, in Exorcist 3; he’s always playing this kind of creepy guy.


Eli: Blue Velvet.

Roger: In Star Trek: Voyager, he plays crewman Souter, who’s a serial killer.


Quentin: Just so you all know, when I was a kid, he was my character. If Keith Gordon was your character.


Roger: He would have been your entry into Eyes of Laura Mars.


Quentin: Yeah, exactly. I always remember thinking, “Oh, I could have played that role well.” He became my favorite character. I was rooting for him not to be the killer because I liked him so much.


Gala: Yeah. I just love being able to watch a movie and have an actor that’s now typecast, not be typecast in that role. It tricked me and I was like, “Oh, yay, he’s not the villain,” because I actually got fooled.


Quentin: No, he almost has the Klaus Kinski role in an Edgar Wallace German crimi.


Roger: Yeah.


Gala: But I loved him in it. Also when you guys were talking, it actually reminded me because that scene when she is running away from the killer, I was just like, “Why doesn’t she just look back and see who the killer is?” And then I was like, “Oh, wait, She’s seeing through the killer’s eyes, so even if she looks back she wouldn’t be able to see.”


Roger: She’s only going to see herself looking back.


Gala: That was the one kind of stupid thing I thought she did in the movie and then I was like, “Oh, duh. It’s the whole entire plot device,” which I actually really liked. I was able to suspend my disbelief. I had a lot of fun thinking about it.


Roger: Then the fact that back then, this idea of portraying cubism to an audience, you had to explain it. Like, they had to go through that whole explanation scene with a camera to show it.


Eli: With the television, yeah.


Quentin: That’s the only part about that whole thing that I liked. I liked the whole description to Tommy Lee Jones. “I see this” and then the camera pans to that. That was obviously one of the selling points; to get the whole movie going, was Carpenter’s idea that you could a see through the killer’s eyes. That’s my least favorite element in the film, is that. It doesn’t ruin the movie, it doesn’t stop it. They do a fair enough job with it, but it’s my least favorite. Even though it’s the lynchpin on the day.


Roger: Yeah, it’s the reason they’re making the movie.


Quentin: Yeah, exactly.


Gala: But it’s so funny because I love it. I mean, we revealed who the killer is, so we all know it’s Tommy Lee Jones and his split personality. I love it because when they finally make love, they talk about how you don’t meet your soulmate, you recognize them. It’s kind of, in a weird way, also, like, “You don’t meet your killer, you recognize your killer.” It’s this weird dichotomy. I just like also the fact that they’re soul mates; their souls are connected. They can see through each other’s eyes. They are one. It was this weird, kind of romantic, plot device that I approved of.


Quentin: Well, you know, one of the things about the film: it’s a funnier movie when you actually seen it once and you know who the killer is when you watch it, because they really have a lot of fun with the scenes between Tommy Lee Jones and Faye Dunaway. They’re talking about this and that and the other, then all of a sudden his eyes go crazy as she says something or he hears a piece of information and then he comes back. If you know the movie, you go “Okay.” He talks in metaphor. He talks in killer metaphors, constantly, if you know he’s the killer.


Gala: Yeah, that’s so good. Because like with Dressed to Kill earlier. In rewatching it, you find something new upon your rewatch. It’s so important in movies.


Quentin: Okay, but Dressed to Kill is such a classic version.


Roger: You know, one thing that Quentin, you just briefly mentioned, that we kind of flew right over without really talking about too much- I mean, this is coming from John Carpenter. Let’s talk about that.


Quentin: It was interesting, it’s like he wrote this script and he showed the script to Jon Peters, who wanted to establish himself as a big time producer (which he would, eventually, after A Star is Born).


Roger: Basically to come out of the shadow of Barbra Streisand.


Quentin: He gets the script, which was then called “Eyes.” John Peters reasoning? Well, I think he just hears the idea and he goes, “That’s going to be Barbra Streisand’s next movie.” So he gets the script, buys it, and designs it to be a Barbra Streisand vehicle. She decides it’s not really what she wants to do following A Star is Born, but she supports John Peters anyway. He gets the next biggest female lead: Faye Dunaway. I think this is Faye Dunaway’s follow up to Network, if I’m not mistaken. But he gets Barbra Streisand to do the theme song.


Roger: She did one or two other things. She did a TV movie and then something else just before.


Quentin: Oh, she did the Aimee Semple McPherson thing.


Roger: That’s right. That’s right.


Eli: No. Then she made another- Well, it’s not a giallo, it’s more of a horror film: Yentl.



Eli: Actually, Eyes of Laura Mars was released under a different title in Boston. It was the Eyes of Laura [in a Boston accent] Mahhhhs.




Eli: [in Boston accent] “There’s a wicked scary kid.”

Roger: “Saw it in the Harvard yard.”


Gala: Yeah and the visual storytelling I find really beautiful in this film. But the ending, the reveal, was really cool. But the ending of like, “Oh, kill me, kill me” and then her on the phone with the 911 operator: I felt a little bit let down. I don’t know. It just it didn’t really, like, sell it. There was this big buildup and that’s what I was left with?


Quentin: It’s literally is just Tommy Lee Jones and his “me so crazy” performance out of the blue. That makes it work for me.


Gala: Like, him jumping through the window like a wild cat.


Eli: But what that should have been the setup was, you should have her shoot him. He struggles, he falls down and he goes through a taxi cab. You’re in a high rise with a broken window, it was such a setup for a body fall and a splat and a big ending.


Roger: They probably brought that David Goodman in (as I’m thinking about it) to write because of Straw Dogs, because he had worked on that. I mean, I like Logan’s Run. That’s a great script.


Quentin: My guess is that Goodman was brought in to turn it into a love story.


Eli: Yeah, that feels right.


Roger: It makes sense.


Quentin: To turn it into the Jon Peters movie that Peters wanted, and that Faye Dunaway wanted.

Eli: I feel like they’re keeping it classy but if Carpenter had directed it, the ending would have been he falls out the building, he lands and two cars crash and the camera would have pulled back and he literally would have been in one of the murder scene photographs of her fashion shoot.


Gala: Yeah.


Roger: That’s a great ending.


Eli: A New York Post guy stops by and all these people are-


Gala: That would have been so good.


Eli: That would have tied the whole thing. When I direct the remake of Eyes of Laura Mars, that’s how I’ll end it.


Roger: That’s how it should have ended, yeah.


Quentin: [singing to Eli]


Eli: Record that. We already have a recording of the new theme song done by Quentin Tarantino. Done. I’m Using that.


Roger: I’m telling you, Eli, that’s a great- That’s a much better ending. It’s a great ending.


Eli: I was thinking about it, that’s what the ending should have been. You’re setting up for this whole thing with crime scene photos and the reveal and the killer. He should have fallen out in some grotesque street crash where a car flips over, catches on fire, and you pull back and you realize that he has created his own version, and then she sees it.


Roger: Or she could be photographing it.


Eli: Well, she sees it in her mind and then someone comes out on the street and photographs it, and he’s become part of a murder tableau.


Gala: That’s the problem. That’s the ending I want, and I didn’t get it.


Eli: We’ll reshoot it.


Quentin: That’s the ending that Alice Woodhouse gave us twice. She gave us, twice, overhead shots of people on fucking sidewalks with blood.


Roger: If anyone at Sony/Columbia is listening, give Eli a call.


Gala: I actually managed to get a Columbia (they call it an early release, a Columbia early release) white clamshell, just like Quentin’s for $99.99.


Eli: Wow.


Roger: Just short of $100.


Gala: Just short of $100.

Roger: I feel like you need to clean that off a little, wipe it down. It’s box is sticky from- I don’t know why, but it’s a little disturbing that somebody’s copy is sticky.


Gala: Thank you for handing me this sticky box.


Eli: Those clamshells start to molt, after a while.


Roger: Yeah, they vulcanize.


Eli: They just get stickier.


Gala: Yeah, but it’s just beautiful. Also, when you open up-


Roger: Actually when you don’t wash your hands.


Gala: The tape still also has that beautiful blue typeface. It’s just gorgeous and just her eyes on it, and I don’t know. It’s not even black and white, it’s black and blue.


Quentin: But one of the things that’s also great is that on it, there’s a little yellow sticker this says “Carpenter,” because obviously in our “May We Suggest” section (in which every week we would choose something) we must’ve had a John Carpenter retrospective going on that week and so we put Carpenter on there so people would know that this was a Carpenter movie. So we wouldn’t put it back into the sorting pile.

Roger: Maybe there was a carpenter section, at some point.


Quentin: No, no, no, no, no. It was our “May We Suggest” spot. This is literally leftover from our Carpenter week that we had, that we never took off.


Eli: The eyes without a face poster seems like a Franju. Which it must have been, for the time.


Roger: I remember when we did “Movies to Get Stoned To” and all these Manhattan Beach mothers were complaining.


Quentin: Yeah. So then Roger changed it to the feature/head section. I still have that card.


Roger: I used to draw the little cards.


Quentin: Exactly. You know, that little character that Roger draws all the time? It’s kind of like a little Roger?


Gala: Yeah, definitely.


Quentin: So it’s the Roger character and he’s got a syringe stuck in his arm, he’s eating black tar heroin, he’s smoking a big fat joint and he’s got all these pills and coke and weed strewn about. Then word balloon is, “Oh my God, what has my life become?”

Roger: That’s my social satire.

Gala: Make sure to stay tuned for next episode of the Video Archives podcast, where we’ll be continuing our discussion on American giallo with Alice, Sweet Alice and Happy Birthday to Me. The Video Archives podcast is hosted by Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avary and produced by Josh Richmond and Gala Avary. Our engineer is Devon Torrey Bryant and our executive producers are Colin Anderson and Natalie Mooallem. Find out more about the show by heading to VideoArchivespodcast.com. You can also find us on Twitter at @VideoArchives and on Instagram at @VideoArchivespod.