Directed by Brian de Palma and screenplay by de Palma and Robert J. Avrech from a story by de Palma, Body Double is the story of a claustrophobic actor who house sits for a friend as he witnesses the murder of a neighbor as he tries to lure the killer with the help of a porn actress. The film is a study of obsession and voyeurism as a man watches in horror over a murder of a woman he had fallen for as he seeks the help of a porn actress to catch the killer. Starring Craig Wasson, Gregg Henry, Melanie Griffith, Deborah Shelton, Guy Boyd, Al Israel, and Dennis Franz. Body Double is a thrilling and stylish film from Brian de Palma.
The film follows an actor who loses a gig due to his claustrophobia and learns that his girlfriend is having an affair as he meets another actor who gives a job to house-sit a home for him where he peeps at a neighbor across the street who would later be murdered. It is a film that play into a man who falls for this woman who was dancing erotically as she mimicked the moves of a porn actress whom he would later hire to get him to solve this mystery. The film’s screenplay by Brian de Palma and Robert J. Avrech does play into the idea of voyeurism as the protagonist in struggling actor Jake Scully (Craig Wasson) meets another actor in Sam Brouchard (Gregg Henry) who is house-sitting a lavish home as he offers Scully to do the job as he’s set to go work outside of Los Angeles.
Brouchard would show Scully a house across from their home as they watch a woman dancing erotically through a telescope where Scully would later watch events where something is off as he would later follow this woman in Gloria Revelle (Deborah Shelton (with the voice of Helen Shaver)) who is aware she’s being followed as she’s also having issues with her husband. The day she and Scully meet where they’re seen by a mysterious man in a mask, Scully admits to following her as he would later watch her that night where everything goes wrong. The screenplay definitely show that Scully is someone who meant well though being a voyeur to a murder scene didn’t help matters until he discovers a porn film starring Holly Body (Melanie Griffith) who dances in a similar manner that Gloria did where he seeks her help.
The direction of de Palma definitely emphasizes on style as it also borrows some of the visual styles of his favorite filmmaker in Alfred Hitchcock. Shot on location in Los Angeles and Hollywood, de Palma definitely uses its studio backlots, the Hollywood Hills, and other notable locations as characters in the film while the lavish home that Scully is house-sitting is this circular home with a spinning circular bed is the icing on the cake. While there are these intimate moments including some inventive usage of medium shots and close-ups as it play into the drama and suspense. It is de Palma’s usage of wide shots add to the visual quality such as a scene outside of a beachside motel where everything is presented in a wide shot where Gloria is in one part of the motel and Scully on the stairs following her. It is among these shots including a sequence in the mall just minutes before as it is about where the actors are in a part of the mall and such as it showcases de Palma’s usage of geography as it add to the suspense and drama.
The direction also has de Palma explore the subculture of pornography where Scully would audition to be in a film as he uses his acting skills to find and meet Holly leading to its third act. It’s a sequence at a porno film set that featured members of the 80s British pop act Frankie Goes to Hollywood as it is a moment where de Palma brings a bit of humor to a film that is dark. Notably in its climax as it play into the reveal of who has been stalking Gloria and why Scully had to be involved. There are also these stylish moments that play into Scully’s claustrophobia where de Palma create these shots as it adds to the drama including its climax as it mirrors the film’s first scene where Scully freezes during a film shoot because of his claustrophobia. It adds to the suspense and drama but also in how it play into the schematics that is often expected in suspense dramas. Overall, de Palma crafts an exhilarating and provocative film about a claustrophobic actor who teams with a porn actress to solve a murder that he witnessed.
Cinematographer Stephen H. Burum does excellent work with the film’s cinematography with its stylish usage of lights for some of the film sets as well as the lights for some of the interior/exterior scenes at night along with some straightforward lighting for the daytime exterior scenes. Editors Gerald B. Greenberg and Bill Pankow do brilliant work with the editing with its usage of slow-motion and jump-cuts as well as an inventive montage in the third act that play into the drama and suspense. Production designer Ida Random, with set decorator Cloudia Rebar and art director William A. Elliott, does amazing work with the interior of the home that Scully house sits with its circular setting as well as the lavish home that Gloria lives in and the porno film set. Costume designer Gloria Gresham does fantastic work with the costumes from the sleazy clothes of the porn actors as well as the stylish designer dress that Gloria wears.
Special makeup effects artist Thomas R. Burman does terrific work with the makeup in some of the makeup that Scully wears in the film’s first scene as well as in the porno film set. Sound editor Stephen Hunter Flick does superb work with the sound as it help play into the suspense including the murder scene and the film’s climax. The film’s music by Pino Donaggio is incredible for its score with its lush orchestral piano pieces and other string themes as it also feature some chilling themes and some electronic pieces as the score is a major highlight of the film as its soundtrack includes a music video from a new wave band and a performance from Frankie Goes to Hollywood.
The casting by Janet Hirshenson and Jane Jenkins is wonderful as it feature some notable small roles and appearances from Steven Bauer in an un-credited cameo as an assistant director for the porn film shoot, Holly Johnson and Paul Rutherford of Frankie Goes to Hollywood as themselves in the porn shoot lip-syncing to their song, Barbara Crampton as Scully’s girlfriend Carol who cheats on him, David Haskell as Scully’s drama teacher, Larry “Flash” Jenkins as an assistant director at the horror film shoot, Al Israel as a porno film producer, Monte Landis as Scully’s agent, and Dennis Franz in a superb performance as a film director who is helming a horror film where Scully freezes due to his claustrophobia. Guy Boyd is fantastic as Detective Jim McLean who investigates the murder and questions Scully as he’s suspicious of him but also is smart enough to know that Scully isn’t the killer.
Deborah Shelton is excellent as Gloria Revelle as a rich woman who is being stalked by a mysterious masked figure who keeps coming to her home secretly as she is also into eroticism unaware she’s being watched with her voice dubbed by Helen Shaver. Melanie Griffith is brilliant as Holly Body as a porn actress who is this charming young woman that is also a lot smarter than people give her credit for while also being aware that she is playing a major part in this murder mystery due to the way Gloria dances. Gregg Henry is amazing as Sam Brouchard as an actor who asks Scully to house-sit a home for him as he’s away for a gig as he helps Scully out in getting a place to stay while also hoping to have Scully enjoy the view. Finally, there’s Craig Wasson in an incredible performance as Jake Scully as a struggling actor whose girlfriend cheated on him and doesn’t have a home as he takes a job for another actor only to find himself in deep shit while dealing with claustrophobia as it is a gripping and engaging performance from Wasson.
Body Double is a spectacular film from Brian de Palma. Featuring a great cast, dazzling visuals, a chilling mix of sex and violence, and Pino Donaggio’s luscious score. The film isn’t just one of de Palma’s quintessential films but also a unique suspense thriller that explores claustrophobia, voyeurism, and desire. In the end, Body Double is a sensational film from Brian de Palma.
Brian de Palma Films: (Murder a la Mod) – (Greetings) – (The Wedding Party) – (Dionysus in ’69) – (Hi, Mom!) – (Get to Know Your Rabbit) – Sisters (1973 film) - Phantom of the Paradise - Obsession (1976 film) - Carrie - The Fury - (Home Movies) – Dressed to Kill - Blow Out - Scarface (1983 film) - (Wise Guys) – The Untouchables - Casualties of War - The Bonfire of the Vanities - Raising Cain - Carlito's Way - Mission: Impossible - Snake Eyes - Mission to Mars - Femme Fatale (2002 film) - The Black Dahlia - (Redacted) – Passion (2012 film) - (Domino (2019 film))
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