Body Double (1984)

Brian De Palma directs Craig Wasson, Gregg Henry and Melanie Griffith in this bonkers erotic thriller where a claustrophobic actor gets over his hang-ups by stalking a doomed woman and then trying to hire a porn star for a fake project.

Listen, Body Double is a ride. Try and overthink it… or pick it apart and it falls apart. Doesn’t mean it isn’t thrilling. Approach it as a four cheese pizza and Penthouse fuelled wet nightmare where the geography constantly shifts and the waking moments are dirty meta jokes and you’ll get off. The whole thing is a dirty meta joke really. But I take my sleazy genre entertainments seriously and I reckon De Palma does to. He is serious about his hard-on for Hitchcock. Serious about VHS porno. Serious about how actors and women should be put through the ringer because of all his personal hang-ups about them.

The mutating plot melds Rear Window, Vertigo and Dial M For Murder together. The solution to the gimcrack mystery is guessable from the first act. Just follow the meandering horny, nasty journey. De Palma hobbles himself in the casting of sitcom nobody Wasson. He can’t hold a candle to the ladies we never get within touching distance of. His performance is maybe weak by design, unattractively bland in a movie popping with spicy flavour? De Palma might be ultimately saying that movie actors are interchangeable, bodies to be swapped, the auteur is the mastermind and all that matters. Look at the early bar scene where just about every principle and extra has a look-a-like sharing the frame. Look at that last, daft over-the-end-credits gag. An obtrusive musical number to Frankie Goes To Hollywood! Look at the chat show porn star who accidentally mistakes the word exposition while she delivers the exposition that actually shunts the story ahead to its final unlikely section!

Once you accept that everything ropey about Body Double is take-it-or-leave-it unreality intentional, my only true gripe is we do not get enough Melanie Griffiths. As she is baby-voiced glorious here as the sex worker dream girl. Pino Donnagio’s dreamy electronica score also bumps this way up. The set pieces are marvels: mall stalk, drill kill, risky hitchhiking, burial. After the promised titillation, these luxurious traps are the true reason to indulge in De Palma’s chaotic doodling. Saturday night madness.


Perfect Double Bill: X (2022)

My wife and I do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here

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