Body Double, when it was released in 1984, was not particularly well-received. Some of the harsher critics derided the film as being far too derivative of Hitchcock, overly-self-indulgent, and even malevolently misogynistic. I can see where the points are coming from, but those are the very things about this film that I've embraced and why it's always been one of my very favorite De Palma offerings.
The story begins by introducing us to our flawed, weak and frightened hero (of sorts), a struggling actor named Jake Scully (Craig Wasson), who gratefully accepts the charity of a solicitous stranger, fellow actor Sam (Gregg Henry), who offers him a place to stay, rent-free. The home is a magnificent hilltop L.A. mansion, and all Jake has to do is water some plants while Sam is away. Sounds simple, but of course nothing is what it seems.
Jake quickly becomes obsessed with spying on the nearest neighbor, the drop-dead gorgeous, deeply troubled Gloria Reville (Deborah Shelton), which leads to a nadir of illicit affairs, pornography, and murder most foul.
The Hitchcock hallmarks are all there — the obsessed everyman, the elaborate set-up, the forbidden fruit, the blonde, the witnessed death — and the movie is indeed incredibly showy and self-aware. As for it being misogynistic, I can see the symbolism (a woman is penetrated by a drill; none of the female leads are "good"), but it's a stretch. Above all, Body Double is a fun, seedy romp into the netherworlds of voyeurism and fixation.
De Palma adds many of his own flourishes, and the movie could not have been better-cast of better acted (in terms of the genre… nobody was nominated for an Oscar with this one). (In fact, De Palma was nominated for a Razzie as "Worst Director" — John Derek beat him with Bolero.) The cinematography, music, sets, costumes and locations are all top-notch. Some of the most memorable, and enduring scenes were actually the worst-received at the time of Body Double's release — the Frankie Goes To Hollywood sequence was seen as shoehorned M-TV, and the spinning kissing scene near the tunnel at the beach actually elicited laughter from preview audiences.
Unabashedly meshing gaudy 80s excess with the gritty 1940s-noir style, Body Double is not without its flaws; but I love this movie and I happily recommend it to anyone who enjoys flashy filmmaking and its flirty best.
The DVD offers a goldmine of additional release material. The new special edition includes a four-part retrospective featurette, which offers up many tasty trivia tidbits (star Melanie Griffith had no body double; De Palma was working on a script about Jim Morrison, watching lot of M-TV, when he discovered Frankie Goes to Hollywood; Dennis Franz, as a world-weary director, was playing De Palma; Gloria Reville's pet is the same pooch that starred in Sam Fuller's White Dog).
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Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson
Want more De Palma?
Check out our coverage of The Black Dahlia, and the review of Sisters.