A Kiss Before Dying is a thriller which wears its Hitchcockian influences so overtly, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was directed by Brian De Palma.
In actually fact A Kiss Before Dying is a film from 1991 written and directed by James “Fatal Attraction” Dearden, someone well versed in the shock and horror of a psychopathic main character. It’s adapted from the 1953 novel by Ira Levin, the man behind the books which became the movies The Boys From Brazil, The Stepford Wives and Rosemary’s Baby. Although routed in the “modern” 1991 in which it was filmed, it retains the curious timelessness which movies from the pre-internet and mobile phone age share. Plots which now could be easily sorted out by a quick phone call or Google search now are humps and problems which beset the main characters.
The story is fairly simple – Matt Dillon is psychopath Jonathan Corliss, a young student in search of fortune who will stop at nothing to achieve his ambitions. Having killed one of the heirs to Thor Carlsson’s copper refinery, Dorothy Carlsson (played by Sean Young) in the opening moments of the movie he sets his sights on her twin sister Ellen, (also played by Sean Young). He has managed to make the shocking death plummet appear a suicide, and under a new identity he befriends the mourning sister. Will Ellen find out what really happened? Well, it’s a thriller… what do you think?
The Hitchcock references are littered throughout the film. A Kiss Before Dying involves a woman who has died, and someone who looks just like her (aside from hair colour) taking her place. The similarities to Vertigo are legion. If you haven’t seen Vertigo, have a word with yourself and rent it now – it’s disturbing, brilliant and fully deserving of it’s place in the pantheon of classic films. Dearden clearly thinks so too – as Ellen Carlsson is even seen watching Vertigo on her TV. To a certain degree, that’s laying things on a bit thick.
Still, despite us never really getting to the bottom of Corliss’s psychopathic tendencies, A Kiss Before Dying is an entertaining watch. Matt Dillon is suitably eerie and blank as the driven killer, and Sean Young does good work too. Max von Sydow makes an appearance as the Thor Carlsson and lends the movie some effortless class, and although the film is a straight forward story it is well told. It cracks along at a quite a speed too, a mere 94 minutes. The film is so spare in it’s story telling it even has inexplicable room for the kind of completely unnecessary sex-scenes which seemed to predominate movies in the late 80s and early 90s. They do virtually nothing for the story, but seem to have been thrown in as something to help sell the film. Weirdly in this day and age it’s only really these scenes which seem particularly out of place.
It’s also surprising to discover that A Kiss Before Dying has never been released on DVD in the UK before, but so it is.
It will be out on the 21st March, and although isn’t necessarily a must-see, it wouldn’t be a waste of your time to give it a watch.
But really, if you haven’t seen Vertigo, get yourself a copy pronto.