Body Double January 8, 2015
Brian De Palma
1 Hr., 50 Mins.
“Look,” a movie director (Dennis Franz) frankly says to his leading actor, Jake Scully (Craig Wasson). “I got a picture to make here. I got 25 days to make it. I have no time to wait around for a claustrophobic vampire who freezes every time he lays down in a coffin.”
Scully is a young, struggling actor. He's good-looking, nice enough. But he's just passable when it comes to star power. He's landed a leading role as a vampire, true. But it’s only a B-picture. One can hope for the best as he dons gaudy, glittery eye makeup and a pair of fangs that'd make Bela Lugosi look like a Dardenne Brothers figurehead. But even hoping isn't enough. Scully's going nowhere.
As his professional life limps along, things only get worse when Scully discovers his girlfriend in bed with another man. Since his girlfriend owns the apartment, he's becomes both loveless and homeless. His professionally angling's just the icing on the half-priced cake that is his life.
So he considers himself lucky when a fellow actor (Gregg Henry) offers him the chance to stay at his house for a few days. It's gaudy – it sits on top of a hill and looks like the Seattle Space Needle had a baby with a spaceship – but it'll have to do. It's not so bad, anyway: Across the way sits a mansion inhabited by a stunningly beautiful woman (Deborah Shelton) who seductively undresses at the same time every night.
Watch enough Hitchcock films and you're bound to figure out where Body Double's headed next: consider Rear Window junior and Vertigo the second, just with a lot more blood, sex, nudity, and enough tawdriness to top off a jumbo sized popcorn bin.
One night, as Scully peeps on his new neighbor performing her nightly striptease, he notices a shady man perched on the satellite dish in front of her home, watching her with a sadistic thirst in his eyes. Jump a few days later, and the woman has been brutally murdered in her bedroom, with Scully as the sole witness. The police laugh at him, passing him off as a paranoid pervert.
But his neighbor’s death leads him to a number of startling discoveries, the most shocking putting him in the direction of the pornography industry. After further investigation, he enlists exhibitionist Holly Body (Melanie Griffith) to figure out the ins and outs of his neighbor's bizarre murder.
Hitchcock had a fascination with hot blondes, armed-and-dangerous camera angles, and ever-present danger. Brian De Palma, billed the Master of the Macabre in his heyday, likes all that too. But as evidenced by the stylistically risky Body Double, he also doesn’t want to be a carbon copy of cinema’s most predominant suspense filmmaker. De Palma’s own Dressed to Kill, Sisters, and Blow Out were jaw-dropping in their stylistic dexterity, their stories borderline ridiculous yet efficient when connected with such unique photography and editing.
Body Double is no different, even if it is sillier than some of De Palma’s other efforts. (Which is saying something, considering Dressed to Kill gave the then 49-year-old Angie Dickinson a blatantly obvious 20-something-year-old body double, put Michael Caine in drag, and ended with a was-that-all-just-a-dream? startler.) The plot twists are sometimes inane, and sometimes too coincidental to truly be stunning. But De Palma is so self-assured that we go with it. We trust his instincts, as well as his instinctive eye.
There are even visual kicks aplenty, but the theme of voyeurism in Body Double is what makes the film such a wild experience. It’s almost always uncomfortable. In every scene, you feel as if you shouldn’t be there, as if you’re intruding on something deeply private. The storyline may not always be strong (or even truly believable), but Body Double is about style, tone and mood. In that sense, it’s more than convincing. B