Body Double (1984) is a thriller by Brian De Palma,
and, in my opinion is a very good one.
Jake (Craig Wasson) plays a B movie actor who has a bout
of claustrophobia while filming a vampire film. He is fired, so comes home unexpectedly
early, only to find his wife (Barbara
Crampton) in bed with another man. Then he attends his acting
workshop, and is berated by his coach. Plus he's Craig Wasson, so he
always has a bad hair day.
Things look up when a classmate asks him to
house-sit in what turns out to be a great home with a special bonus -
his neighbor does a strip/masturbation show every evening. The second
night, he notices that he is not the only one watching the show. He
sees an Indian working on a nearby scaffold, and he is also watching.
Jack senses that the woman is in trouble, then becomes obsessed with her, and wants to save
her. Then he witnesses her murder and becomes the prime suspect.
In case there is someone who hasn't seen this film,
I will stop and avoid writing a spoiler, but, at this point in the
film, you have enough information to figure out the ending, but I
don't know anyone who has. That is part of the strength of the film. From my viewpoint, this is an excellent thriller.
It has an excellent plot, is given depth by the fact that Jake's
character is fully fleshed out, and it does not cheat on the erotica. I can't account for the mediocre 6.3 score at IMDB. Rotten
Tomatoes has three actual reviews, 2 positive and one negative. The
negative says, "Ultimately, Body Double feels like a film that seems
more interested in pleasing itself than pleasing the audience." Maybe
I am just dense, but that reads like nonsense to me.
A fella named Wayne Myers wrote a
particularly insightful review at Amazon.com, and I don't think I can
express the film's case any better.
Underappreciated by critics, Body
Double is a success on many levels. Unfairly maligned in this case for
his liberal drawing on Hitchcock themes in Rear Window and Vertigo,
Brian DePalma, with Body Double, has made a decisive break from
Hitchcock and makes the themes of obsession, voyeurism, and pervasive
duplicity and sexual betrayal entirely his own.
Mesmerized by the nightly titillating
bedroom routine of sensuous neighbor Gloria Ravelle (Deborah Shelton),
B-film actor Jake Scully (Craig Wasson) innocuously indulges his
voyeuristic impulses--until the evening he realizes someone else is
watching Gloria too. Things quickly escalate to murder. Melanie
Griffith is Seka-like porn star Holly Body, who Scully discovers is
the unwitting key to a brutal murder. With its triple-flip ending and
beautiful photography (especially the camera's circular travel during
Jake's brief erotic interlude with Gloria as Pino Donaggio's "Love and
Menace" portion of the score reaches crescendo), Body Double is an
exceptionally beautiful film. Pino Donaggio's superb score also
deserves mention, particularly his "Love and Menace" track and his
playful and titillating segment "Body Double" theme when Jake first
watches Gloria, to its variations in a later scene in which elements
of menace are introduced as Jake realizes someone else is watching
too, and finally, its romantic variations in the sequence where Jake
One of the most intriguing and
ingenious sequences I've seen in film comes amid the sequence in which
Jake gets himself cast in an X-rated film to investigate Holly Body's
apparent link to a murder. During the "film-within-a-film" very
soft-porn parody of "An American in Paris" sequence, Jake begins to
have scripted raw sex with ribald Holly to the throbbing beat of
Frankie Goes to Hollywood's "Relax." He suddenly finds a responsive
Gloria in his arms once again as Pino Donaggio's "Love and Menace"
swells on a grand scale. DePalma cross-cuts between Jake's fantasy
lovemaking with Gloria and the actual raw sex he's having with Holly
as illusion and reality merge to the literal climax, allowing Jake to
consummate his poignant, lost romance with Gloria--while bringing
Holly to orgasm at the same time! It's an incredible sequence that
mixes poignancy, humor, mechanical and romantic sex.
With its knowing insight into
voyeurism, Body Double may very well be Brian DePalma's best film.
I agree with Tuna and Mr Myers. Body
the two things I consider necessary for a good thriller.
Rule 1) There has to be more
entertainment in the film than just a surprise ending. The journey
should be as pleasurable as the destination. This is true of Body Double. It has
lurid sex and nudity, vertiginous camera angles, ambitious camera
movement, scrumptious plot
twists, movie industry inside jokes, porn industry inside jokes,
raunchy music, sleazy deceptions, and taboid sensationalism. Like Pulp
Fiction, Body Double is an entertainment
film which is actually entertaining. Yes, it owes plenty to Hitchcock
and the novels of James M Cain, but it has very much its own flavor,
and does a nifty job of giving an 80's sensibility to those works of
the 40's and 50's.
Rule 2) The final "whodunit" surprise
should be something logical, as well as something that we have seen
and could have solved on our own if we were smart enough. Body Double
meets the criterion. We
watch the murder. It's all there in front of us, and there is only one person who could have done it,
because of something perfectly logical which we see with our own eyes.
As Tuna pointed out, I didn't actually figure it out, but I was
kicking myself for missing it after the secret was revealed.
Fun movie! At the very top of the genre pyramid.
The Citizen Kane of erotic thrillers. Truly erotic, a great mystery,
beautifully directed, and entertaining non-stop. In fact, the
action is so erotic and the nudity so copious that it allows minimal
crossover. This movie shocked mainstream audiences when it was
released and still shocks people who are not prepared for the level of
sensational content, which matches any softcore sex film. Some sexy
thrillers, like Body Heat, can appeal to mainstream audiences, but
only if the erotica is subtle. Body Double is lurid and over-the-top
sexy. Hell, that's what I like best about it!