Rob Von Matterhorn (possibly real name) is the “evil genius” behind the Facebook page The Saturday Morning Vault (also on Instagram). When not providing daily doses of cartoon flashbacks, he can occasionally be found contributing to our website, like he did just a couple months ago with his review for (unsurprisingly) The Banana Splits Movie. Something tells me that you should expect another review or two from him to hit our site again in the near future!
Rob is making his 4th appearance in our Halloween Horrors series. If you’ve caught some of his previous entries in past year’s of this series, then you should expect some humor with his looks at what aren’t always comedic minded films. What I personally appreciate more, and what I also attempt to do with my own entries in this series, is to present a piece that looks at more than just the movie itself. In this particular instance, there’s fair argument that the following piece is just as much about how the film was perceived by other media outlets as the film itself.
Arguably most importantly, this piece also reminds us that it’s okay to laugh at the horror films that we love. Even the good ones!
Years ago, there was a certain magazine that often marked a boy’s first steps as he took his journey into manhood. The first time he opened it, a new world was presented before him. Things he’d never seen or thought of were displayed in front of his eyes. His first reaction might be a laugh or shock, but soon he’d look forward to getting his hands on every single copy of the magazine that he could. And while its publication has become more sporadic in recent years, its hard to deny just how important it was for generations of young men during the latter half of the last century. I am, of course, referring to Mad Magazine.
Coming of age in the late 80’s and early 90’s, Mad Magazine did more to influence my sense of humor than any other source of media. The regular features like Spy vs. Spy, The Lighter Side of…, Sergio Aragones marginals, the fold-ins, and everything else gave me something to look forward to every single month and probably warped my mind just a bit. Yet, my favorite part of Mad were the movie and TV parodies. To me, there was something magical about watching pop culture get lampooned. It showed me that nothing was sacred, and everything could be turned into a joke. If it was a show or movie I was familiar with, I’d laugh along with the gags and catch all the references. If it was something I hadn’t watched before, I could still appreciate the bad puns and one-liners. I might not have watched Doogie Houser M.D., but I could still laugh at the title, “Dorky Housecall, M.D”. Every once in a while though, these parodies would make a strong enough impression on me that I’d go out of my way and watch the source material. And the best example of that for me is the Brian DePalma film Dressed to Kill.
I found Mad’s parody, “Undressed to Kill”, in an older issue that a cousin had given me, and it was hard not to be drawn into it. The first two pages featured a beautiful prostitute in her lingerie and a nude woman in a shower. Throughout the rest of the issue, there were numerous references to the above-mentioned shower scene, and sex jokes galore. Since I hadn’t seen the movie and didn’t know much about sex there was a lot I didn’t understand, including the final panel where the identity of a mysterious killer was revealed, but it unquestionably made an impression. Many years would go by before I started to take an interest in horror movies, but once I did it wasn’t long before I finally checked out a copy of Dressed to Kill to see what all the fuss was about …and to check out that shower scene.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, Dressed to Kill is either a tribute or rip-off of Psycho. Which camp you’re in largely falls into whether or not you think director Brian DePalma is an auteur or a Hitchcock imitator. Regardless of what you think of DePalma, it’s impossible not to see Psycho all over this movie, but it’s not a bad thing at all. To his credit, DePalma basically took all the pieces of Psycho, shook them up in a bag, and created something, that while similar, is still very much his own. While it might not be as good as the inspiration, it’s absolutely a movie worth watching. And in the world of Psycho remakes, you could do a heck of a lot worse (Hi, Gus Van Sant!).
The story starts off with Kate Miller, a bored unhappy suburban housewife who is about to have the worst day of her life. The day begins with her having a disturbing dream about being murdered in the shower (Psycho Reference #1), and then follows that up with unsatisfying sex with her husband. Her genius son gets caught up in a science project and forgets about their plans to spend the day at the museum. Later, she tries to flirt with her therapist, only to be denied for professional reasons. Things start to look up though when she hooks up with an anonymous stranger for a quick fling, only to discover that he has gonorrhea and now she probably does too. Oh, and if that isn’t enough, as she leaves his apartment, she gets sliced to death by a mysterious crossdressing man (Psycho Reference #2) with a razor and a rather unfortunate temperament.
Then, the story switches main characters (Psycho Reference #3), and high-end escort Liz takes the reigns. Liz has the bad luck to witness the murder and catch a glimpse of our mysterious transvestite killer, which makes her his new target. I’ll stop the recap here, but rest assured, the Psycho references continue even to the extent that a psychiatrist sums up the killer’s mental state to the cast and viewers at the end of the movie. As it is, I’m sure I missed a handful of the more subtle ones from just the first half hour. I’m sure at some point a drinking game was made where you take a shot every time an obvious Psycho reference pops up, and at least a few people blacked out as a result.
Risk of hangover aside, I still recommend checking out Dressed to Kill. DePalma created some extremely memorable scenes, and he does a great job of slowly building up tension throughout the movie. It does of course have its flaws though. The ending isn’t difficult to see coming, and it might not offer the most enlightened viewpoint of transgender people, but the pros outweigh the cons and it deserves its recognition as one of the better 80’s horror/thrillers.
And on one last note, I recently tracked down the “Undressed to Kill” parody. I’m happy to say I finally understood all the jokes this time around, and even recognized who the mysterious killer is.