Body Double review by Mike Long

It seems that far too often movies are labeled as being "ahead of their time". What if a movie which was "ahead of its time" didn't age very well, and 20 years later, felt very dated? That's the case with Brian De Palma's 1984 thriller Body Double.

Craig Wasson (who could be Bill Maher's brother) stars in Body Double as actor Jake Scully. Jake has landed a prime role as a vampire in a low-budget horror film. There's just one problem -- Jake's severe claustrophobia keeps him from performing in a coffin. As if this weren't bad enough, Jake goes home to find that his girlfriend has been cheating on him. Distraught, Jake begins making the rounds of auditions and attempts to find a new place to live. He meets another actor named Sam (Gregg Henry) who claims to have a place that Jake can stay. Sam has been living in a fantastic UFO-shaped house in the Hollywood hills, and as he's going out of town, he invites Jake to live there. Before Sam leaves, he introduces Jake to one of the perks of living in the unique house -- the beautiful woman in the adjacent house who performs a nightly strip-tease.

Jake soon finds himself addicted to watching the woman and while spying on her, he witnesses two jarring events -- he sees her assaulted by a man who then takes money from her safe, and he notices a rather intimidating repairman watching the house. Overtaken by curiosity, Jake follows the woman around town and eventually has an encounter with her. That night, while obsessively watching her, Jake sees a terrible act of violence. He is shattered by what he's seen, until he notes an adult film actress on TV (what channel was he watching?) and realizes that her exotic dancing is very similar to that of the woman across the way. Jake then takes it upon himself to figure out exactly what he saw that night.

De Palma has never denied his affection for Hitchcock and he certainly channels two Hitchcock classics here; Rear Window and Vertigo. De Palma and co-writer Robert J. Avrech make no bones about the similarities to those two films as Jake is a man whose voyeuristic tendencies have him witness a crime, all the way become obsessed with a woman that he is watching. (Jake's claustrophobia is very similar to Jimmy Stewart's fear of heights in Vertigo.) And this certainly wasn't the first time that De Palma had aped Hitchcock.

And, Body Double isn't the first time that De Palma has put style ahead of story. The problem here is that the film is nearly all style, while handing the audience only the most thread-bare plot. The story may sound complicated, but it really isn't. Man moves into house, spies on woman, sees a crime, investigates crime. There are some twists and turns towards the end, but they only prop up the movie instead of carrying it along. In place of story, De Palma gives us long silent stretches where nothing happens. There is a very long scene where Jake follows the mystery woman (played by Deborah Shelton) through a shopping center. The location is an architectural wonder, but the scene is quite boring. De Palma had done something similar in his more successful Dressed to Kill with the scene in the art gallery, but he can't reproduce the beauty of that scene here. Instead, we wonder just what the hell Jake is doing and when something is going to happen. I hadn't seen Body Double in nearly 20 years, but I remember the violent scene occurring much earlier in the film, not after an hour. Thus, we are treated to nearly two entire acts of the movie where Jake mopes around, spies on a woman, and then follows her, with his intentions being inscrutable all the while.

However, the most notable thing about Body Double is how the film has not aged well. I can distinctly remember comments from De Palma at the time of the film's release in which he stated that he made Body Double in retaliation for the backlash (most notably from the MPAA) against the violence in his 1983 film Scarface. But, today, it's the sexuality in Body Double, not the violence, which is shocking (thus showing how the world has changed since 1984). I remember the murder scene in the film being much more graphic than it really is. In contrast, I had forgotten about the masturbation scene. In the latter half of the film, Jake explores the world of adult films, but these scenes seems quite tame today. At the time, having a mainstream Hollywood film examine porn may have been controversial, but given the fact that porn is discussed on Entertainment Tonight, these scenes just don't come across as sensational now. Of course, the thing that really makes Body Double feel dated is the appearance of Frankie Goes to Hollywood in the movie. Really?

Body Double is a film that will truly divide viewers on how they feel about Brian De Palma. There's no denying the fact that he has an incredible eye for visuals and there are some truly gorgeous shots in the film. On the other hand, the cinematography can't rescue a story and narrative structure which leaves much to be desired. (And if you don't like it when De Palma rips off Hitchcock, then you'll really hate this one.) This movie may only truly appeal to those who have a desire to see Melanie Griffith naked...and I truly pity those people.

Body Double wants you to watch it on DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. Given the fact that Body Double is over 20 years old, the transfer looks pretty good. The image is fairly sharp and clear, showing only a slight amount of grain and no defects from the source print worth discussing. De Palma's films always look somewhat soft (see Carrie for the ultimate example) and there is some of that here. The colors are very good for the most part, although they aren't as brilliant in some shots. Video noise is negligible and I didn't notice any overt artifacting. The DVD offers a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are OK, and the annoying score gets some help from the surround sound. The only time that the subwoofer kicks in is during the Frankie Goes to Hollywood song and the audio suddenly sounds as if it's coming from a different movie.

The only extras on this DVD are four featurettes, "The Seuction" (17 minutes), "The Setup" (17 minutes), "The Mystery" (12 minutes), and "The Controversy" (5 minutes). Sony has clearly taken a cue from Paramount, because what he have here is one long featurette which has been divided into smaller parts. Each contains modern-day comments from De Palma, Melanie Griffith, Deborah Shelton, Gregg Henry, and Dennis Franz (who has a small role in the film). The problem is that each of the four segments deals with a couple of topics, and thus there's never any flow here. In short, De Palma talks about the development of the script and the actors talk about casting and their characters. From there we have anecdotes about shooting particular scenes, the inclusion of the world of adult cinema in the film (and De Palma's efforts to have a real porn star in the film), the acting styles of the cast, the way in which the film was received and how it's thought of today. There is some good information here, it's just presented in a very awkward manner.

4 out of 10 Jackasses

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