Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Film Review: BODY DOUBLE (1984, Brian De Palma)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 114 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Craig Wasson (MALCOLM X, NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3), Melanie Griffith, Gregg Henry (PAYBACK, RAISING CAIN, UNITED 93), Dennis Franz (DIE HARD 2, NYPD BLUE), and Frankie Goes to Hollywood.
Tag-line: "A seduction. A mystery. A murder."
Best one-liner: "I'd buy THAT for a dollar!"

Well, Hitchock pastiche/rip-off week fittingly continues with more De Palma.

Brian De Palma's films generally attempt to maintain a careful balance of fanboyism, pretentiousness, homage, morbid exuberance, and practical jokery. That balance can be skewed all too easily, and then the house of cards comes tumbling down- luckily, that's not the case here. It's full of scenes that we've all seen before, be it following the mystery woman and kissing her at the seaside (VERTIGO), spying on the neighbors with a telescopic lens (REAR WINDOW),

or seeing a sexy lady skewered by a ginormous drill (SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE),

but, like the best of Argento, De Palma strings it all together with an sincerely compelling whodunit, eye-popping visuals, and some ridiculous, tongue-in-cheek payoffs. Craig Wasson is our cuckolded hero, swept up into a mind-blowing mystery. He's likable, in a Bill Maher kind of way, and he organically finds himself in a series of increasingly sleazy, darkly comic scenarios (peeping, panty-stealing, contacting porn stars, etc.).

[Also of note are Melanie Griffith's cheerful, X-rated celeb, Dennis Franz's d-bag director, and Deborah Shelton's doomed ingénue.] In a sea of films that offer commentary on the seedy side of Hollywood, BODY DOUBLE manages to stand out, offering clever parallel scenes of adult movie and Shakespeare company auditions or presenting a scenario where 'acting' must be channeled in order to survive a hellish predicament (when earlier, personal trauma had to be harnessed for a role). Stunning images include a UFO-style L.A. mansion;

a glam-rock vampire suffering a bout of claustrophobia-induced paralysis (on set of a movie called 'VAMPIRE'S KISS'); and a music video of Frankie Goes to Hollywood's "Relax," punctuated by bold purples, yellows, leopard print, and assless chaps!

Pino Donaggio's soundtrack gives us the Italian touch, as well- it alternates between Bernard Herrmann-style strings and Tangerine Dream-style (RISKY BUSINESS) synths- the former a deferent nod to the types of films De Palma would like to be making, and the latter a playful jab at the 'safe sleaze' Hollywood was doling out at the time. Say what you will about BODY DOUBLE, but it never takes the safe route. In all, it's a fun 'dark side of Tinseltown' exposé, an unhinged, self-reflexive look at filmmaking, and it's got a few genuinely creepy moments. Four stars.

-Sean Gill


Unknown said...

Yeah, this is a good one, definitely one of De Palma's better "homages" to Hitch. I remember when I first saw this film and having a huge crush on Deborah Shelton. Man, was she something else in this film. It's a shame she had to get killed off.

And good call on Craig Wasson as BilL Maher! Man, they coulda been separated at birth. That's spooky...

Unknown said...

love this movie. saw it when I was a young teen probably a couple years after it was out. I finally saw it again in its entirety the other night. Weird memories of seeing it so many years ago. I certainly remembered Holly Body through the years. Glad I finally saw it again. R movies used to be so much racier.
I also thought Wasson reminded me of Bill Mahr. Wasson is great in this movie. Hats off to him!!

Sean Gill said...

BODY DOUBLE really holds up, and you're right about flicks being racier during the heyday of De Palma. I say hats off to Wasson, too, but it's unfortunate he hasn't really done anything noteworthy since NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3.