Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Body Double

By the time director Brian De Palma had made 1984's BODY DOUBLE, he had amassed quite a C.V. of "shock" thrillers.  Some of them were psycho-sexual, lurid, and blood drenched (SISTERS, DRESSED TO KILL), while others were more cerebral (OBSESSION, BLOW OUT).  Few of De Palma's contemporaries had his energetic style, his deftness with the camera .  Mathematical precision, yet a real creative approach.  Throughout the '70s and '80s De Palma was accused of plagiarizing Alfred Hitchcock, his idol.  Right down to his employment of scorer Bernard Hermann.  For BODY DOUBLE, one critic noted that in addition to Hitch, De Palma was beginning to rip off himself.

I prefer to regard this movie as a sort of apt valediction to the director's early to mid-period; to a mostly impressive string of horror features (excepting SCARFACE, not a genre entry in the traditional sense).  Brian De Palma would move away from the genre soon afterward, making big Hollywood pics like THE UNTOUCHABLES, MISSION IMPOSSIBLE, CASUALTIES OF WAR, and the unsuccessful THE BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES.  BODY DOUBLE concerns a hapless, struggling actor named Jake Scully (Craig Wasson) whose brains seem to work at half speed.  He also has a crippling case of claustrophobia, which even in the grand space of Los Angeles is a debilitator.  One particularly bad day finds him losing a job on a cheapie horror film and coming home to discover his girlfriend/roommate is banging another dude.

Things seem to look up when Jake meets Sam (Gregg Henry) in an acting class.  Sam has this amazing pad in the Hills and needs a house sitter. As a bonus, Jake discovers that an across the way neighbor likes to dance in the buff in front of her window.  The telescope becomes a pleasant nightly ritual, but then Jake sees some disturbing things.  An abusive boyfriend.  A mysterious disfigured American Indian.  Jake begins to trail the woman.

After some highly unfortunate events, Jake becomes a murder suspect.  We're following the Hitchcock playbook pretty closely so far.  But then Jake ends up starring in a porno film, in the process meeting Holly Body (Melanie Griffith), an actress who dances exactly the way that woman in the window did.

There are a lot of developments to spoil, and I won't.  The plot is fairly interesting, but of course the real reason to watch BODY DOUBLE is De Palma.  This is the director on all cylinders, full tilt.  In his tradition of elaborate set pieces, note both the chase on the beach and the electric drill scene, the latter a minor classic.  Grisly and darkly humorous.   I also liked the pursuit through the Rodeo Drive mall.  L.A. locations are plentiful and well utilized.

The sleaze factor is at an all time high in BODY DOUBLE.  Moreso than in any other De Palma, even THE BLACK DAHLIA.  Granted, much of the movie has the porno industry as a backdrop.  The director spares little in the exploration of that world, including Holly's description of the sort of acts she will and will not commit to.  Her performance is easily the strongest of the lot here; no one can accuse her of not diving in fearlessly.

P.S.  Frankie Goes to Hollywood fans will enjoy their appearance, performing their obscene hit "Relax". 
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