After losing an acting role and his girlfriend, Jake Scully finally catches a break: he gets offered a gig house-sitting in the Hollywood Hills. While peering through the beautiful home's telescope one night, he spies a gorgeous woman dancing in her window. But when he witnesses the girl's murder, it leads Scully through the netherworld of the adult entertainment industry on a search for answers—with porn actress Holly Body as his guide.
De Palma Double Bubble, Toil and Trouble. Body Double is directed by Brian De Palma, he also co-writes the screenplay with Robert J. Avrech. It stars Craig Wasson, Melanie Griffith, Gregg Henry, Deborah Shelton, Guy Boyd and Dennis Franz. Music is by Pino Donaggio and cinematography by Stephen H. Burum. Brian De Palma continued his crusade to push buttons of the sensitive whilst homaging his hero Alfred Hitchcock, with this cheeky, garish, sleazy thriller. Even when moving away from Hitch like movies, he created a storm with Scarface (1983), so the critics of 1984 wondered if a return to suspense thriller territory would put the director back on an even cinematic keel? Not a bit of it! The reaction to Body Double was ridiculously over the top, apparently a misogynistic homage to the porn industry, with exploitation gore thrown in for good (bad) measure, Body Double was the devil's spawn in the eyes of critics. The public? Not so much, film was a sure fire hit at the box office. Of course today it seems all very tame, where not even a simulated drilling killing can raise the temperature of the audience, or that frank sexual language and bare bodies no longer makes cinema goers blush. On reflection now it's easy to view De Palma's movie as a visionary piece of work, a film gently poking the ribs of Hollywood and the MPAA, and as was always the case with his 70s and 80s work, he was a director who easily elicited a response from his audience. And with his box of cinematic tricks still impressive before he became over reliant on them, Body Double is a fascinatingly lurid viewing experience. That it's Vertigo and Rear Window spliced together is a given, but that doesn't make it a bad film, besides which it bears the De Palma stamp as well, undeniably so. Plot finds Jake Scully (Wasson), a struggling actor with claustrophobia, thrust into a world of murder, obsession, deceit and paranoia, for when he house sits for a newly acquired friend, he spies a sexy lady through the telescope apparently being stalked by an odd looking Native American. To reveal more would spoil the fun of anyone watching for the first time, but suffice to say that Jake has entered the realm where neo-noir protagonists wander around wondering how and why they are in this mess. It's pulpy and pappy, but in the best ways possible, and unlike many other films made by directors who ventured into similar territory, it's never boring (hello Sliver). Cast are appropriately cartoonish or animated, the twists fun if not hard to see coming, and with De Palma's visual panache cosying up nicely with Donaggio's musical score, Body Double is fine entertainment brought to us by a director with a glint in his eye. 8/10
Body Double infiltrates the vehemence of adult entertainment through inspired Hitchcockian thrills. De Palma was at the height of his success during the eighties. Implementing his technical flourishes within sub-genres that we’re not necessarily accessible for the average audience member. Erotic thrillers, whilst some may describe as distasteful and misogynistic, accentuated sexualisation to further enhance the lust of man. Body Double is no different. Much like the pornographic industry that is portrayed, it certainly has a sub-par screenplay that persuades you to fast-forward to the “act” in question, yet manages to lure you into the sleazy allurement of De Palma’s technically adept direction. After waltzing in on his partner cheating on him, a novice actor is recruited by a friend to house-sit a luxury abode, conveniently positioned adjacently to another property hosting a sumptuous succubus of temptation. Naturally, downbeat and fuelled by anger, he resorts to peeping and spying as she provocatively dances in front of the window before proceeding to creepily follow her the next day. As the main man himself stated, this is inspired by Hitchcock’s two greatest thrillers: ‘Rear Window’ and ‘Vertigo’. The added eroticism granting De Palma’s feature a differing (if unpleasantly salty...) flavour that uniquely defines its narrative qualities. Initially, the first act kicked off with a mundane imitation of Hitchcock’s aforementioned ‘Rear Window’, opening itself up to comparative criticisms. The introductory setup, outlining Wasson’s Jake Scully as a claustrophobic unconfident mess, sent the plot down a one-way route that, upon first thought, had minimal opportunities for a U-turn. The convenience of the telescope as Scully unashamedly invades the privacy of his new temporary neighbour and his dreadful tailing techniques complementing his mediocre onscreen acting portrayals, sent my own thoughts down the predictable avenue. Was Scully a perverted mess, or was he being set up? I thought I knew. But then De Palma trapped me. Through ornate neo-noir aesthetics and a vapid insight into the world of adult entertainment, he precariously planted a sufficient amount of false breadcrumbs to force me to second guess myself. And that I did. The mystery slowly unraveling, accompanied by a smooth monosyllabic score and Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s legendary gay anthem “Relax”, unlocking the intentions of all characters involved. Heightening the glossy lifestyle of adult performers, De Palma‘s directorial flair, mostly consisting of extended takes and distant shots, invited audiences into a tainted environment plagued by primitive regression. Tantalising voyeurism and dangerous obsession. Even hints of Argento’s influence of the giallo sub-genre. Various techniques, especially the continuous panoramic 360 revolving as Wasson and Shelton questionably embraced each other, resembled dated homages that failed to match the noir aesthetics that De Palma meticulously crafted. The conclusive ten minutes unfortunately unwrapped certain revelations in an underwhelming manner, by having the story abruptly cut with no substantial resolution. This left myself viewing the proceeding credits montage with an overbearing feeling of unsatisfactory bewilderment. Undoubtedly, Body Double is rough around the edges. Occasionally bypassing substantial development for evocative voyeuristic tendencies. But that does not deter from De Palma’s intrinsic cinematic approach, where the night life of Hollywood truly becomes illuminated.