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Blast from the Past: Body Double

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Rated? R  |  Where? DVD.

"You can’t believe everything you see,” reads the tagline for director Brian De Palma’s 1984 erotic thriller Body Double. In homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window and Veritgo, the film explores voyeurism, obsession, suspense, and mystery. As the trailer intones, De Palma “invites you to witness a seduction, a mystery, a murder.”

Out-of-work actor Jake Scully (Craig Wasson) just lost his most recent job as a vampire in a B-movie after his claustrophobia renders him unable to complete a coffin scene. Later, in a method acting class, he meets Sam (Gregg Henry), who commiserates with Jake after class over a drink, eventually offering him a place to stay—housesitting an ultra-modern house in the Hollywood hills. While showing him around the place, Sam points out the home’s best feature, a telescope trained to a nearby house, where the beautiful resident—Gloria Revelle (Deborah Shelton)—dances erotically in the window at the same time every night. The hook is set, and Jake becomes obsessed with the woman.

After seeing Gloria being roughed up by her boyfriend one night, the next day Jake follows her, where he witnesses a disfigured “Indian” snatch her purse and run. Jake tries to follow the purse-snatcher but he runs into a tunnel, and Jake’s claustrophobia immobilizes him until Gloria finds him and leads him out. They passionately and impulsively kiss until Gloria runs off. That night as Jake watches for Gloria’s evening dance, he sees that the Indian has broken into her home, and he watches helplessly as she’s attacked and killed.

EROTIC MYSTERY:  Porn star Holly Body (Melanie Griffith) may be at the center of a murder witnessed by Jake Scully (Craig Wasson) in directir Brian De Palma's underrated erotic thriller Body Double. - PHOTO COURTESY OF COLUMBIA PICTURES CORPORATION
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF COLUMBIA PICTURES CORPORATION
  • EROTIC MYSTERY: Porn star Holly Body (Melanie Griffith) may be at the center of a murder witnessed by Jake Scully (Craig Wasson) in directir Brian De Palma's underrated erotic thriller Body Double.

The real mystery begins, however, when he’s watching a porn channel and sees an actress named Holly Body (Melanie Griffith) doing the same erotic dance he watched Gloria do night after night. Now suspicious, he tracks Holly down in an attempt to solve the murder.

The film embraces its ’80s LA milieu and features a new wave soundtrack including Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s “Relax.” De Palma really digs into his love of Hitchcock, but the film’s excesses and florid directorial style can be off-putting for some viewers.

Initially dismissed by some critics and outright denounced by others, the film eventually found an appreciative audience and critical acclaim. Rotten Tomatoes’ review aggregator ranks the film “Fresh” with a 77 percent positive review record.

Many people find De Palma’s films sleazy, and you could certainly argue that Dressed to Kill (1980), Raising Cain (1992), and Femme Fatale (2002) fit that category, but this is the director who also brought us Carrie (1976), Blow Out (1981), The Untouchables (1987), Carlito’s Way (1993), and The Black Dahlia (2006). 

I personally find De Palma’s work stylish and sexy, and Body Double effectively combines horror, mystery, eroticism, and a hint of parody. The film is frequently referred to in Bret Easton Ellis’ novel American Psycho, which itself was made into the film starring Christian Bale. De Palma definitely doesn’t get the respect he deserves. (110 min.) 

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