Genre: Mystery and Thriller Running Time: 1 hr. 54 min.
Release Date: October 26th, 1984 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Brian De Palma Actors: Craig Wasson, Gregg Henry, Melanie Griffith, Deborah Shelton, Guy Boyd, Dennis Franz, Barbara Crampton, David Haskell, Rebecca Stanley
truggling actor Jake Scully (Craig Wasson) is playing a vampire for a low-budget horror movie (called “Vampire’s Kiss”) when he suddenly finds himself unable to rise from his half-a-coffin stage prop – perhaps due to exhaustion or nerves or claustrophobia. And then the set catches fire. After he showers and heads home early, he finds his longtime girlfriend Carol (Barbara Crampton) in bed with another man. Despite being a recovering alcoholic, Scully understandably drives straight to a local bar to down a couple shots of whiskey.
Feeling particularly depressed and forced to shack up at a hotel, he takes an opportunity to audition for the New Orleans Shakespeare Festival – though the humiliating process proves to be even more dehumanizing. Acquaintance Sam (Gregg Henry) tries to console him, offering him a chance to help out with a particularly unusual gig – housesitting a luxurious, elevated, hilltop home, only accessible by a lift. And, best of all, the property is outfitted with a telescope aimed across the valley to another residence, wherein a shapely brunette (Deborah Shelton as Gloria) routinely dances while adorned in revealing nightwear. As Scully monitors the mysterious woman – far more than his own premises – he becomes alarmed at the abusive, unpredictable scenario engulfing his new muse.
This setup is quite a bit like an adolescent fantasy comedy. And Jake and Sam fit the part, giggling and staring like teenaged boys peeking into a girls’ locker room. Yet in the hands of director Brian De Palma, “Body Double” soon escalates into a tense thriller, more interested in the dark side of voyeurism and perversion than the playful elements of sex and romance. It immediately recalls the morbid turns taken in “Rear Window,” as violence mixes with the curiosity – and eroticism. There are also clear parallels to “Vertigo,” as Jake graduates from mere observation to essentially stalking the frolicking mystery woman and snagging a pair of her panties, as well as when he suffers from bouts of vision-distorting anxiety.
The comparisons to Hitchcock stop there, however. The musical cues are terrible, shifting the tone from unnerving to dippily romantic, as if changing movies altogether (clearly they’re a product of the ‘80s). And the encircling camera movements are almost laughable at moments when airy daydreaming is supposed to appear triumphant. The slow-burn plot attempts to make up for the editing pitfalls at times, though a few sequences are not merely dubious but outrageously phony. When failed beach sex transitions into slasher movie silliness – augmented by all the most ludicrous tropes, including, almost unbelievably, falling down during a chase, a killer who vanishes into thin air, and a power tool murder weapon losing its steam by being stretched beyond its cord’s length – the picture loses virtually all of its legitimacy.
And this is all before the storyline digresses into Jake’s personal infatuation with porn star Holly Body (Melanie Griffith) – an inexplicable aside that seems like yet another, wholly unrelated picture starting up from scratch. Although “Body Double” is intended to be a complex, unguessable, conspiratorial murder mystery, the extreme overworking and hopelessly artificial details become unforgivably ridiculous. It’s not so much like a Hitchcock thriller as it is a Mel Brooks comedy.
– Mike Massie