Dressed to Kill 1980 ***


Brian De Palma hasn’t been troubling the box-office much with ventures like Tomboy or Domino, but back in 1980, he on fire, and was hailed as the new Hitchcock. He won this accolade as much by imitation as anything else; Dressed to Kill feels like a fusion of the cod-psychology of Psycho plus some of the innocent abroad adventure of North by Northwest. The portrayal of a transvestite killer and gender reassignment treatment feels exploitative and is rather regrettable by today’s standards, and De Palma’s enthusiasm for naked female victims, hardly a unique fetish, inevitably limits the audience. But the technicalities of Dressed to Kill are still impressive; the early sequences involving Kate (Angie Dickinson) being stalked in a museum have steely control, and after she’s unexpectedly side-lined, the plot diverts to Kate’s son Peter (Keith Gordon) and Nancy Allen’s call girl Liz, leading to a spectacular elevator murder. The level of violence and the stereotyping are regrettable, but De Palma’s gift for tension and dramatic images doesn’t fade, and there’s nice turns from Dennis Franz and Michael Caine as the cop and the psychologist who prove useful Peter on his quest to find out who murdered his mother. they don’t make them like this any more, and that’s probably for the best, but as a snapshot of what was acceptable in 1980, this is a jaw-droppingly slick thriller.

Phase IV 1974 ***


Written by Mayo Simon, Phase IV is an oddly involving sc-fii thriller that looks at the balance between humans and insects on planet earth and comes up with some surprising results. What would happen is ants were to utilise their teamwork and decide to wage war on humanity? Phase IV’s title gives away the structure, with four acts depicting the shifting balance of power, with scientists Michael Murphy and Nigel Davenport standing between mankind and insect rule. Phase IV’s structuralism makes sense coming from director Saul Bass, who designed credit-sequences for Alfred Hitchcock, Otto Preminger and Martin Scorsese; where most sci-fi goes for giant monsters and gore, Bass draws the battle-lines as man vs nature, with only one likely winner.

Stoker 2013 ***


Alice in Wonderland’s Mia Wasikowska comes of age in this creepy Hitchcockian thriller, the English Language debut of Old Boy director  Chan-wook Park Wasikowska plays India Stoker, mourning her dead father (Dermot Mulroney), struggling to connect with her mother (Nicole Kidman) and threatened and yet charmed by her sinister uncle (Matthew Goode) . From a tight script by Prison Break star Wentworth Miller, Stoker is a brooding Gothic melodrama that slowly ratchets up the tension, and managed to dodge the genre clichés before reaching a surprising and yet clearly signposted denouement.

So I Married An Axe Murderer 1993 ***


Mike Meyer’s could probably have made almost anything he wanted between Wayne’s World and Auston Powers; it’s delightful that he chose to make a film as off-beat, quirky and original as So I Married An Axe Murderer. Set against a sunny San Francisco vibe, Meyers plays Charlie Mackenzie, a poet who falls in love with Harriet (Nancy Travis), only to find out she has hidden and potentially deadly depths. Robbie Fox’s script appears to have been adapted to suit Meyer’s comic abilities, showcase beautifully in the hilarious beat-poetry scenes and in the evocation of Charlie’s Scottish family, red-haired, football loving abrasive characters who take the comedy beyond stereotypes to surreal levels. Great support from Alan Arkin and Anthony LaPaglia help make this a minor comic gem.

Psycho II 1983 ***


One of the few sequels that merit comparison with the original, Richard Franklin’s 1983 thriller returns to the Bates Motel with Anthony Perkins returning after 22 years in a mental institution and Vera Miles returning as Lila Loomis, and Meg Tilly as her daughter. Norman’s troubled mind is immediately disturbed by the surroundings, but Tom Holland’s script ingenuously reworks many of the tropes of the original Hitchcock film, with the local people keen to knock Norman off his stride by driving him mad. Jerry Goldsmith contributes an excellent score, and Psycho II’s twists and turns make for a stylish entry in the series, strong on suspense and light on gore.

Rebecca 1939 *****


Daphne Du Maurier’s novel gets the screen treatment is deserved from producer David O Selznick and director Alfred Hitchcock, with Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier as the lovers who find themselves tested by a sinister plot.  The key details, the mansion known as Manderley, Mrs Danvers the sinister housekeeper (beautifully played by Judith Anderson), and the stigma of being the second Mr De Winter are all present, but Rebecca is one of the old films that don’t need much adjustment for a modern audience; characterisation is tight, the production values are strong, and the whole package is seamlessly concocted to intrigue and entertain in a classic style.