This 1984 thriller is best known for two things: Melanie Griffith’s naked dancing, and Brian De Palma’s direction. If either of those things gets you hot, you might be tempted by the newly-released special edition DVD.
De Palma is a technically proficient director, no doubt—the guy can frame a shot. And Griffith, back in ‘84 at least, wasn’t bad to look at. But Body Double, while sometimes dubbed a “cult classic” (whatever that means), is not only bad, but offensively bad. A nominee at that year’s Razzie Awards, it is the worst kind of 1980s cheese-and-sleaze thriller: a misogynist fantasy and a Hitchcock rip-off to boot, fun to watch only if you’re seriously hard up for a good laugh at the Spandex decade’s expense, and are willing to sit through a psychologically tone-deaf story to get it.
Like Vertigo, Body Double centers on a neurotic protagonist who starts following a beautiful woman and becomes obsessed with her death. Like Rear Window, the story begins with a bit of good-old-fashioned neighborly spying. Body Double’s hero is scantly-employed actor Jake Scully (Craig Wasson), a claustrophobic aw-shucks everyman with a cockeyed grin and a penchant for peeping. When a friend asks him to house-sit a Hollywood mansion (and don’t we all get that request regularly), Scully finds himself privy to a nightly peep show, courtesy of a half-clad hip-swaying neighbor lady. When the peep show turns deadly one night, Scully finds he must call on porn star Holly Body (Griffith, in a Ripley’s-Believe-It-Or-Not Golden Globe-nominated role) to help solve the vexing mystery.
Poor ol’ Scully: he should have just read the title of the movie. Do that, and you’ve unlocked well over half the mystery. As for the rest, it’s as convoluted and implausible as they come, a story fabricated flimsily and shamelessly around something much less than a “concept”—just a bit of showbiz vernacular.
There’s fun to be had in the DVD’s extra features, mostly in guessing the cubic centimeters’ difference between the volume of Griffith’s lips circa 1984 versus 2006, and in watching De Palma ineptly defend the film. De Palma, who also co-wrote the film, balks at critics who call him a violence freak and a misogynist, but the movie speaks for itself. The neighbor, Gloria Revell (Deborah Shelton), is the epitome of a damsel, as pathetic as she is imminently seducible. In fact, most of the women in Body Double are emaciated, vacant, and constantly on the verge of arousal. The misogynistic pièce de résistance, though, is a scene in which an intruder (a vicious, leather-faced Injun, to continue the political correctness motif) uses an oversized drill to literally screw a woman to death, a scene De Palma shot so that the killer is viewed from behind, with the large drill boring down at the woman from between his legs. We’ll leave that one to the kids in Freud 101. For now, just remember the definition of a body double: a dummy. On DVD from Sony Home Pictures Entertainment