Body Double Reviews
I saw this as a very-young adult. The way DePalma shot this film has stuck with me.
Scully is a young, struggling actor, good-looking, nice enough, but just passable when it comes to star power. He has 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 makes Bela Lugosi seem like a Dardenne Brothers figure. His staggering claustrophobia only makes things worse.
As his professional life limps along, things only get worse when Scully discovers his girlfriend in bed with another man, which, in response, leave him homeless and alone. A fellow actor (Gregg Henry) offers him the chance to stay at his house for a few days, a house of fiendish tackiness that sits on top of a hill and looks like the Seattle Space Needle had a baby with a spaceship. Across the way is a mansion inhabited by a stunningly beautiful woman (Deborah Shelton) - Scully is able to watch her undress as his friend has equipped a telescope overlooking the balcony.
If you've had a filling serving of Alfred Hitchcock movies, I'm sure you can only guess where the film is going. "Body Double" is "Rear Window" junior and "Vertigo" the second, except 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 deformed looking man perched on the satellite dish in front of her home, watching her with a murderous thirst in his eyes. Skip to a few days later, the woman is brutally murdered in her bedroom, with Scully as the sole witness. The police (of course) 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 turning toward the world of pornography, where he enlists the help of actress Holly Body (Melanie Griffith) to find out the truth in the bizarre slaughter.
Hitchcock had a fascination with hot blondes, armed-and-dangerous camera angles, and ever-present danger. Brian De Palma, billed as the Master of the Macabre in his heyday, likes all that, but he doesn't want to turn himself into a carbon copy of cinema's most predominant suspense filmmaker. De Palma's own "Dressed to Kill," "Sisters," and "Blow Out" (let's stop talking about "Carrie" and "Scarface" for a minute) were jaw-dropping in their stylistic dexterity, their stories borderline ridiculous yet efficient when connected with such electric visuals.
"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 it isn't hard to make us want to just go with it.
I have been purposefully vague when retelling plot points because so much of the film's success lies in its slimy thrills, but the style is something worth noting - "Body Double" shows the director at his optical peak. Early in the film, Scully, sensing his neighbor is in trouble, follows her to a Los Angeles mall, her actual soon-to-be attacker lurking in every nook and cranny. In the past, De Palma has payed great attention to split-screens and close-ups, but the entire sequence is notable for its remarkable combination of voyeurism and open space. There are three buzz characters moving around the complex all at once, with the camera sometimes peering onto them from above, most impressively when they walk on different floors. Without much dialogue to back it up, the scene rattles with tension. Will danger catch up in this game of cat-and-mouse?
There are even more visual kicks (particularly the simultaneously laughable yet hugely ingenious moment where Scully and his neighbor run into each other, after he's been following her around for hours, embrace in fiery passion, the camera spinning around them with merry-go-round delirium), 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.