A game of voyeurism turns deadly in BODY DOUBLE
“I like to watch.”
Throughout the 1970s, Director Brian DePalma established himself as one of the best of The Movie Brat collective of filmmakers which included Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Martin Scorsese. In the early 80s his erotic thriller Dressed To Kill got him labeled a misogynistic Hitchcock ripoff who loved violence. Not one to shy away from controversy, his 1983 film Scarface was his most violent work up to that time. The follow up was a direct answer to the all the critics and feminists who had been protesting him. DePalma basically wanted to piss off all his detractors (most importantly the MPAA, who he hated) and was intent on doing a film that featured actual sex on the screen but that never happened. Instead Body Double (1984) became his own personal take on Hitchcock’s Vertigo mixed with Rear Window.
The story focuses on Jake Scully (Craig Wasson) a poor Hollywood actor/schlub who’s latest role is playing a vampire in a schlocky B-movie. While filming a scene, Jake runs into trouble due to claustrophobia that has plagued him since a young age. After being fired off the production Jake comes home to find his girlfriend having sex with another man. Without a job or a home, Jake is really in dire straits. In the meantime he attends auditions for other jobs. The director of one has the actors perform an exercise to face their fears. It’s here we learn how Jake’s phobia of small spaces began during a childhood game of Sardine with his older brothers (a detail taken from DePalma’s own life). Jake is introduced to a fellow actor Sam Bouchard (Gregg Henry) through a friend, and runs into a few times during the course of trying out for various roles. Over some drinks, Jake expresses his current sad state to his new pal and luckily for him Sam offers him a place to stay/housesit while he’s out of town acting in a play. The residence is a scenic modern bachelor pad (known as the Chemisphere in real life) on top of a canyon overlooking several other homes. It’s here Sam shows Jake the place’s main attraction through a telescope: a woman named Gloria Revelle (Deborah Shelton) who lives below and “performs” in her bedroom at night. When Sam splits, Jake spies on Gloria and becomes obsessed with her. He then finds himself becoming part of a strange game of cat and mouse when a mysterious, creepy looking Indian man suddenly appears one night, and begins stalking them both.
For fans who wanted DePalma at his sleaziest, they really got it with this movie. It’s decadent mixture of his obsessions at the time: Hitchcock, Los Angeles/Hollywood, neo-noir, B-movies and porn all wrapped up together. DePalma again completely worked on his own terms with this story using all kinds of visually stylized storytelling techniques (although there’s no split screen). While I don’t consider it one of his very best, it is a totally unique period film from the early 80s with a lot of flash and seedy thrills.
One of the most memorable sequences in the film is the video for the hit single “Relax” by New Wave band Frankie Goes To Hollywood which Jake appears in. Melanie Griffith plays a porn star named Holly Body and is fantastic, bringing an added element of sexiness to the shady proceedings. DePalma was originally looking to cast real porn star Annette Haven in the role but she turned it down.
The trailer above, which is rather short (clocking in at around 1 minute 20 seconds) creates a tantalizing mood as we witness just brief broken images of a woman behind some blinds. It is classic DePalma grabbing the audiences curiosity while showing practically nothing.