Tuesday, June 7, 2011
Brian de Palma, 1984
Starring: Craig Wasson, Melanie Griffith, Gregg Henry, Deborah Shelton
Oh, Brian de Palma. I've asked this question a few times in my blog, but what the hell happened to you? Black Dahlia? Really? That has to be one of the worst films I've ever seen. But on to Body Double, which is towards the end of his winning streak, but still counts as an enjoyable film.
Jake Scully (Craig Wasson) is a character actor playing a vampire in a horror film. One afternoon he freezes up on set due to claustrophobia he was unaware he suffered from. When he is sent home early he finds his girlfriend (Reanimator's Barbara Crampton!) in bed with another man and later gets fired from his job. Due to a stroke of luck, another actor, Sam, offers Jake his fancy penthouse apartment while out of town for a job. Sam also shows Jake one of his sexy neighbors who performs a private striptease every night in her bedroom.
Jake becomes obsessed with this woman and begins to follow her, only to notice that she is also being followed by another man who looks like an '80s version of Frankenstein's monster but is inexplicably referred to as an Indian. He saves her purse from theft and begins a relationship with her, but later witnesses her murder and is too late to save her. He spirals into depression and begins watching a lot of porn, only to realize that the masturbation routine of porn star Holly Body (Griffith) is the same dance done by his murdered neighbor. He decides to pursue a career in the porn world in order to get close to Holly and question her. Can he find a connection before the killer strikes again?
Combining elements of the horror film, murder mystery, and erotic thriller, Body Double is also liberally sprinkled with some great bits of comedy. While this is not de Palma's best film, it's an enjoyable way to pass the time. I usually hate Melanie Griffith, but her short scenes here are great. I don't think I would be going out on a limb to say that this is her best performance. There's some wonderful writing clearly based on Vertigo that continues de Palma's ongoing devotion to Hitchcock. There is also plenty of gore and sexuality that clearly borrows liberally from the giallo subgenre and can even be counted loosely as an exploitation film. While it is no longer particularly shocking to include the porn world in Hollywood filmmaking, I'm sure it was fairly risque was in the early '80s.
My biggest complaint is Craig Wasson, who I absolutely hate. For once, I can say for sure that the performance is what fails, not the writing. As in Veritgo, Jake Scully's character works because he is not totally innocent. He's a peeping tom, pantie-sniffer, and all around creep. He also happens to be a colossal whiner and I can't help imagining what the film would have been like with Holly Body as the protagonist.
Overall I would recommend Body Double. Though critically lambasted, it has joined many of de Palma's other films in the ranks of '80s cult favorites. It is certainly enjoyable, but is not my favorite de Palma effort: Dressed to Kill and Phantom of the Paradise tie for that honor. Fans of slasher films, gialli, '80s horror, and Hitchcock should definitely give it a chance -- and the single disc Sony DVD is insanely cheap.