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Gordon, N.G. Gordon, A. (1982). De Palma's Dressed to Kill: Erotic Imagery and Primitive Aggression. Am. Imago, 39(3):273-284.

(1982). American Imago, 39(3):273-284

De Palma's Dressed to Kill: Erotic Imagery and Primitive Aggression

Norman G. Gordon, Ph.D. and Anaruth Gordon, Ph.D.

The essential power of Dressed to Kill resides in the three dream or dream-like fantasies which comprise the structural core of Brian DePalma's masterfully crafted film. The film's impact is intensified by the recurrent use of four visual symbols that convey madness and sexual perversity in both dream and non-dream sequences. The three fantasies involve content and modes of presentation that are not unlike the characteristic traumatic dream. Freud states that such dreams bring the person “back into the situation of his accident, a situation from which he wakes up in another fright”. The film begins with the erotic, violent fantasy of one major character, Kate Miller (Angie Dickinson). In the latter half of the film, a young prostitute, Liz Blake (Nancy Allen), makes up a repetitive nightmare involving threat and rape that she relates to a psychiatrist, Dr. Elliott (Michael Caine). The movie ends with Liz's nightmare, from which she awakens terrified and screaming. The dream implies that Liz has not mastered the horrifying experiences and that she will continue to be plagued by the memories of the murderous attacks on her person. However, these dream products (fantasies within the fantasy) represent more than just repetitive traumatic experiences; they involve theme and variation on the core fantasy of the film: the intertwining of sexuality and aggression in the relationships between men and women. The dream sequences and dream report resonate with and amplify illicit sex, voyeurism, mutilation, sadomasochism, and bisexuality.

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