If Alfred Hitchcock made a movie in the throes of a coke-fueled bender, I imagine that the end result would resemble Brian De Palma’s neo-noir, erotic thriller Body Double. It’s a movie filled to the brim with violence, nudity, and over-the-top set pieces. It’s cheesy. It’s well-executed. The premise is absolutely ridiculous. And it’s 100% awesome.
When Body Double was released in the fall of 1984, however, it was met with mixed critical reactions and tepid box office returns. But I think this movie deserves a reevaluation from modern-day audiences. Not for being a masterpiece, mind you; it’s much too campy for that kind of praise. This is a Cult movie with a capital “C.”
In one scene, for instance, the killer uses a phallic, over-sized power drill to murder a woman. Why? Where does this drill come from? Who would have something like that lying around their house? Shut up, kid, and do another line of blow.
“I do a lot of murder mysteries,” De Palma explained to People magazine, “and after a while you get tired of the usual instruments. You can use a knife, a rope, but now we have electrical instruments, which are truly terrifying . . . it was not my intention to create a sexual image with the drill, although it could be construed that way.”
And in another scene, Body Double inexplicably features a full-length music video for the Frankie Goes to Hollywood song “Relax” on the set of a porn production. They break the fourth wall. They litter the frame with S&M background actors. And it all ends when they have our lead character “shoot his load” inside Melanie Griffith (the daughter of two-time Hitchcock film star, Tippi Hedren). I’m not. Making. This. Up.
Body Double is a movie that aims for the moon, but lands on Uranus.
In other words: it’s got a little bit of something for everyone.
“I’ll show them,” said De Palma to the Philadelphia Inquirer, in reference to his battle with the censorship board over Scarface (1983). “I’m going to give them everything they hate and more of it than they’ve ever seen. They think Scarface was violent? They think my other movies were erotic? Wait until they see Body Double.”
While Body Double doesn’t quite reach those lofty ambitions, it’s an enjoyable schlock fest executed with a showmanship’s flair.
In fact, Body Double was conceived by De Palma as a direct homage to Hitchcock, and it lifts plot lines and themes—voyeurism and obsession—from some of his best-known works: Vertigo (1958), Rear Window (1954), and Dial M for Murder (1954).
“Both Brian and I were, and are, huge fans of Alfred Hitchcock’s movies,” said screenwriter Robert Avretch in an interview with OpEdNews.com. “Together we screened Rear Window and Vertigo, and discussed the narrative strategies Hitch used in both films. So, in a sense, I was working off of De Palma’s ideas of Hitchcock’s ideas.”
In Body Double, Jake Scully (Craig Wasson) is a struggling actor who has just lost the role of the vampire in a low-budget horror movie due to his claustrophobia. When he returns home earlier than expected, Scully discovers that his girlfriend (a brief, wordless cameo from Barbara Crampton) is cheating on him and he’s forced to move out. At a method acting class the next day, Scully meets successful actor Sam Bouchard (Gregg Henry) and Bouchard offers him a place to stay. It’s a swanky, modern apartment in the Hollywood Hills known as the Chemosphere.
While touring the apartment, Bouchard prompts Scully to peer through a telescope at his gorgeous next-door neighbor Gloria Revelle (Deborah Shelton). Every night, Bouchard reports, she performs an erotic dance dressed in lingerie in front of an open window at the same exact time.
Over the next few days, Scully becomes more-and-more obsessed with Revelle. He watches her through the telescope. He follows her to the mall. To the beach. They meet. They kiss. They make plans to meet again. But when his efforts to thwart her murder fail, he strives to find the killer and who the real dancer in the window truly was.
I’ve never been a huge Brian De Palma fan. Don’t get me wrong, I respect a lot of his work; especially, films like Carrie (1976), The Fury (1978), and Blow Out (1981).
But De Palma likes to over-exaggerate reality. Take a look at Scarface. Does any real-life gangster actually behave in the manner that Tony Montana does as portrayed by Al Pacino? He chews the scenery. He’s simultaneously believable and un-believable. It’s somewhat fun to watch, but it’s not striving for the same subtlety and well-crafted storytelling that Hitchcock is known for.
If anything, it’s a poor mimicry and I’d much rather watch the real McCoy.
That said, I think Body Double is well-worth the price of admission and would make a great film to watch at a party with friends (once this whole COVID-19 thing is over with, I should say). The photography from cinematographer Stephen H. Burum is elegant, but not too flashy; the performances are solid across the board with the exception of Melanie Griffith (oof, she’s rough to watch); and the score from Italian composer Pino Donaggio will become a nagging, ever-present earworm.
Just try to get this one out of your head: