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Film Title

Body Double

Director

Brian De Palma

Starring

  • Craig Wasson as Jake Scully
  • Gregg Henry as Sam Bouchard
  • Melanie Griffith as Holly Body
  • Deborah Shelton as Gloria Revelle

An outrageously and stylishly updated reworking of Vertigo and Rear Window, Body Double dials up the lurid material and shocking content. It may bite off more than it can chew, but Body Double is by and large a spellbinding example of Brian De Palma’s signature direction and his gleefully unapologetic content.

Jake Scully is a B-movie actor with a big problem. As he often stars in horror films(frequently as a vampire) he has to be in confined spaces. The trouble is that his latent claustrophobia has evinced itself of late and has lost him jobs. Out of work, things get worse when he finds his girlfriend cheating on him. He moves out and is struggling to find a job, when he meets the charming Sam Bouchard. Also an actor, he takes pity on Jake and takes him under his wing. Sam is currently house sitting for a rich friend and offers Jake the place to stay. Jake jumps at the chance and is taken to the panoramic house in the Hollywood Hills. Sam points out that there is a display that will interest him in one of the houses nearby. With a telescope, Jake views the sultry dancing every night of Gloria Revelle, a beautiful, young housewife. What starts as just a glancing curiosity slows gives way to increasing obsession on Jake’s part. Added to this is his realisation that a strange-looking figure is also observing Gloria with ill intentions. Continuing to grow more infatuated with her, Jake follows her and observes her, once again seeing the grotesque figure looming large. Sadly, through his obsession , Jake is unable to stop Gloria’s brutal murder at the hands of the stalker. As the only witness, he can’t do much as the police know that he was also covertly watching Gloria and didn’t report what he saw. Jake can’t help but feel guilty about his indirect involvement and how he could have prevented the murder. Yet various things are not adding up and what seemed coincidental may in fact be pre-meditated. Still shocked, he finds himself more determined to unravel events that look very untoward and discovers a link between the slaying and the world of X-rated movies. Desperate Jake is soon lead into the dark recesses of the adult film industry, where the gorgeous porn star Holly Body may hold the key to everything.

As is befitting of a film by Brian De Palma, Body Double sports oodles of visual effectiveness and cinematic flourish from the very start. He frequently teases and tests us with what we are witnessing and how true it is, best envisioned by a series of scenes in which we believe we are watching the film, only for it to reveal that it’s the making of a film in the story. A fantastic example is when Jake makes his way on to a porn set and it is played out to the tune of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s ‘Relax’. At first it just appears to be part of the filmic story, before pulling back to show that it’s an adult production within the confines of the plot. We, as the audience, are permitted to be unwitting voyeurs throughout Body Double, whether we like it or not, due to the use of point of view shots to illustrate the illusion of watching. I must confess that in the latter half of Body Double things start to feel a bit rushed, especially in comparison with the slow burn of the earlier pacing. But the outrageous core and De Palma stamp ensure you keep watching as it redeems itself once Holly takes centre stage and brings a much-needed shot in the arm. So it does get uneven in stretches when it could have been tighter and a bit more coherent, but I found myself very engrossed by Body Double that I can somewhat overlook its collection of flaws and bask in the sheer unpredictability of it all. Body Double is a sly beast that is very mysterious and shrouded in red herrings, that you may not quite realise at first glance. Brian De Palma is very impish in what he presents, frequently reeling us into a twisted fantasy that has its tongue jammed firmly in cheek. He is not caring about whether you squirm or find the content repulsive; this is his vision and what he wants to put out there, like it or not. If anything, the winding plot takes a backseat to the directors love of things cinematic and how manipulative the medium can be. A major plus in Body Double(along with the luscious cinematography) is the mood-setting music, courtesy of Pino Donaggio. Using an electronic pulse to produce a slinky and scintillating ambiance, its music that really gets its talons into you and gorgeously sets a scene. The score is akin to the dance that Gloria performs; it invites you in yet knows how to tease and be mysterious.

Craig Wasson is a bit of a wooden actor, yet that very thing is used to great effect in playing the unlucky and low-rent star, caught in a web. His very ordinariness and nothing too special appearance plays in well to the way that he becomes utterly besotted with someone he barely knows and then more than a little suspicious that something stinks. Gregg Henry lends an ingratiating and seemingly supportive presence as the actor who helps Jake, but who may be very different behind it all. Melanie Griffith appears late in the film, but immediately makes an impression as the seductive but brighter than you’d think adult film star. While being obviously attractive, Griffith digs into a street smart attitude and subtle vulnerability of a girl who knows how to handle herself, but doesn’t quite realise the extent of how deep she’s in. Both a smart and confident performer( watch as she reels off just what she will do and not do in a movie) and a pawn, the part of Holly is memorably envisioned by Melanie Griffith. Seen with not much in the way of dialogue, Deborah Shelton is still extremely enigmatic and beautiful as the ill-fated woman, whose demise throws Jake into a tailspin.

I wouldn’t say Body Double is the best film from De Palma, yet it definitely displays some of his finest visual direction and penchant for referencing Hitchcock in typically daring style. Body Double, though uneven, is still a very intriguing thriller that reels you in to the mystery and sleazy aura that if builds so well as it surprises you with some very serpentine twists.

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