Features and Columns · TV

Fast Fashion Meets Murder in ‘She’s Dressed to Kill’

These supermodels are about to be super dead!
Header Shes Dressed To Kill
By  · Published on March 1st, 2020

Welcome to 4:3 & Forgotten — a weekly column in which Kieran Fisher and I get to look back at TV terrors that scared adults (and the kids they let watch) across the limited airwaves of the ’70s.

Slasher films typically belong on the big screen as the bloody shenanigans are typically too much for TV, but it’s possible to deliver a film that checks off several of the genre’s boxes without needing an R rating. Or is it? This week’s slice of 70s TV terror makes a stab at convincing viewers with its story of an unknown killer “slashing” his (or her?!) way through the models holed up in a mansion. Part Agatha Christie whodunit, possible title inspiration for Brian De Palma’s 1980 classic… it’s time to tune in for She’s Dressed to Kill!

Where: NBC
When: December 10, 1979

They say the fashion business can be murder, but Alix Goldman (Connie Sellecca) still wants in as a model. She’s cajoled her way into a shoot with renowned photographer Alan Lenz (John Rubinstein) — yeah, you read that name right — and after showing off some of her karate moves the pictures end up on Irene Barton’s (Jessica Walter) desk where she’s declared the next “it” model and invited to an exclusive showing at a remote mountain top retreat. Fashion world is crazy y’all.

Another model, one who was visibly upset at the obvious canoodling between Alan and Alix, drops dead after being foolish enough to use lipstick laced with cyanide, but the show must go on so everyone heads up the mountain — accessible only by a gondola operated by a shifty ex-con named Rudy Striker (Jonathan Banks) — for the legendary Regine Danton’s (Eleanor Parker) new line. She hasn’t been relevant in years, and her last ditch effort sees her stealing credit for designs actually created by newcomer Tony Smith (Peter Horton). Along for the ride are models, a catty journalist named Victor De Salle (Clive Revill), ex models like Camille Bentancourt (Joanna Cassidy) whose “face looks like she stepped on a land mine,” the “plain looking” Laura Gooch (Gretchen Corbett), and more.

The first body hits the floor before the show’s even over and others follow, and with the phone lines cut, the power out, and a storm raging outside the group is trapped in a mansion on top of a mountain with a killer in their midst!

Poster Shes Dressed To KillShe’s Dressed to Kill is pretty darn entertaining tale blending the high stakes fashion world with an And Then There Were None-inspired story line. To the opening point, the killer offs his prey in bloodless ways ranging from poison to blunt force trauma, and the film’s first hour in particular succeeds at setting up numerous red herrings along the way. That hour mark, though, sees the arrival of a new character who immediately shifts the proceedings towards the goofy — still entertaining, but damn silly.

A 70s TV movie is restrained by understandable limitations, but director Gus Trikonis brings his experience as an accomplished exploitation filmmaker — The Student Body (1976), Moonshine County Express (1977), The Evil (1978) — to keep things lively and visually engaging throughout. From the models themselves to action/suspense beats later on, he delivers an energetic little mystery. Writer and TV veteran George Lefferts gives the film a big boost, though, with a script that respects the genre while feeling progressive with its characters. Even better, he never met a red herring he couldn’t throw in to this script.

Could Alix’s desire to be a model lead her to kill the competition? Is the man who Irene fires over the phone angry enough to murder? Should we take note of that mention of Irene’s ex-husband who died in a fire? Is it suspicious that Kate the lesbian model is also a renowned big game hunter and experienced mountain climber? Should we be alarmed that ugly Laura once had fantasies about beautiful people being wiped off the Earth? Is Rudy the perv as evil as he seems? Is Tony angry enough about losing credit for his designs that he might resort to murder? Could Camille the has-been have gone nutty? Should we be unnerved that Alan keeps taking pictures of the dead models? Does no one else notice that the sheriff is wearing a fake nose?

Lefferts’ script keeps all these balls in the air for that first hour while also delivering dialogue that’s both hilarious and aware. “You should never be able to see the white line between your toes,” says the trainer teaching Alix how to walk like a model, and I still don’t know what that means. Eighty three minutes into the movie someone finally suggests they all stick together only for the wise sheriff to immediately add “If you gotta go potty, don’t take a friend.” There are also some more serious observations including Camille’s sharing of a suicide note she wrote in her 20s and Laura’s accusation that “You’ve created a world in which it’s impossible for a woman to be happy unless she deceives herself into thinking she’s beautiful.”

I won’t spoil the reveal for you — odds are you’ll catch on roughly an hour in — but even if you know the outcome the ride is a fun little mystery offering up a relevant commentary on an industry built on the illusion of beauty. “Death isn’t funny, is it,” says one of the handful of survivors, “life’s the joke.” Toss in some karate action, a dummy falling to its demise, mean-spirited insults, an unexpected romance that ends in a marriage proposal after knowing each other two days, a little more karate action, and an over the top villain reveal/monologue, and you have an entertaining piece of 70s TV terror.

Turn the dial (okay fine just click here) for more 4:3 & Forgotten.

Related Topics: ,

Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.