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Category:    Home > Reviews > Thriller > Mystery > Sex > Filmmaking > Body Double (Special Edition)

Body Double (Special Edition)


Picture: B     Sound: B-     Extras: B-     Film: B



Body Double is another sexed-up Hitchcockian thriller from Brian De Palma that really took a beating from most critics when it opened in the fall of 1984 -- I guess audiences (and critics) in '84 just weren't ready for a movie that borrowed from classic Hitchcock thrillers (Vertigo and Rear Window in particular) containing porn stars and driller killers.


But judging from my two subsequent viewings of the film, and the 80-percent positive rating it now gets from critics on the popular Rotten Tomatoes website, Body Double plays much better today than it did 22 years ago.


When De Palma's Dressed to Kill debuted in the summer of 1980, much was made of his using a body double for Angie Dickinson during the nude shots of a shower scene.  The hullabaloo gave De Palma the idea to design a thriller around the film industry's use of body doubles -- people willing to stand in and show their private parts on camera when a star refuses.


Already tired of accusations of being a violence-loving misogynist and a Hitchcock plagiarist, De Palma finally had enough after his battle with the MPAA over his extremely violent and profane Scarface (1983), and decided to make his next film one that thumbed its nose at the harshest De Palma critics and the MPAA.  The result was Body Double, a thriller which again borrowed liberally from Hitchcock that contained lots of nudity and violence against women.


The fact that De Palma was answering his critics in such a rebellious way only added fuel to the critical fire.


Craig Wasson (Ghost Story), who could easily pass for Bill Maher's less-obnoxious twin brother, stars as a struggling L.A. actor named Jake Scully, whose role as a vampire in a B horror flick is jeopardized by his claustrophobia -- he can't stand being enclosed inside a coffin.  When the director (Dennis Franz, who says he's playing De Palma) tells Jake to take the rest of the day off, Jake returns home to find his longtime girlfriend in bed with another guy.


Depressed and dejected about his life and his career, Jake, who now needs a place to stay, meets a fellow struggling actor named Sam Bouchard (Gregg Henry), who offers to let Jake housesit the swanky Hollywood Hills home of an out-of-town friend.  Before Sam himself goes out of town for a while, he introduces Jake to a telescope that spies on the apartment across the street of an attractive female neighbor who strips seductively every night.  Jake then becomes increasingly obsessed with the mystery woman (Deborah Shelton), who may be in danger, and begins to follow her around L.A.


Jake's amateur sleuthing eventually takes him into the world of pornographic films, where he appears in an X-rated music video set to Frankie Goes to Hollywood singing Relax (not to be confused with the actual Music Video of the song that really did get banned on MTV) and meets porno star Holly Body (Melanie Griffith), star of Holly Does Hollywood.  Griffith is the daughter of Tippi Hedren (The Birds, Marnie), so the connection to Hitchcock is again unavoidable, even though Hitch's protagonists in Vertigo and Rear Window (played by Jimmy Stewart) certainly never encountered a girl like Holly Body.


What might have been shocking and offensive in 1984 seems a heck of a lot tamer 22 years later, and Body Double can now be more easily enjoyed as a clever thriller with some exceptional sequences of purely visual storytelling by De Palma.


Sony's new DVD special edition of Body Double gives the film a nice 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.  The extras include four new featurettes amounting to about an hour's worth of retrospective interviews with De Palma, Shelton, Griffith, Henry and Franz.  It's disappointing, though, that the film's star, Wasson, didn't participate.  And there's no excuse for this Special Edition not to include the original theatrical trailer.



-   Chuck O'Leary


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