Body Double (Blu-ray)

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Body Double (Blu-ray)

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Review of "Body Double (Blu-ray)"

published 13/02/2017 | hogsflesh
Member since : 19/04/2010
Reviews : 835
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Pro Enjoyable film, good blu-ray
Cons Film is very uneven in tone
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"Dial D for De Palma"

A scene from the porn film-within-a-film

A scene from the porn film-within-a-film

This Blu-ray/DVD set from Powerhouse Films is £15 on amazon at the moment. It’s a limited edition, so may shoot up in price soon.

Brian De Palma is part of the movie brat generation that brought us Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, among others. He’s never quite had the kind of insane success they’ve had, nor the kind of artistic acclaim of Scorsese, mainly because there’s a faint whiff of the disreputable about him. One of the main sticks used to beat him is the accusation of misogyny, especially in his Hitchcock-influenced thrillers. And Body Double is exhibit A in the case against him.

Year: 1974
Director: Brian De Palma
Stars: Melanie Griffith
More information at:
IMDB user rating: 6.8

Actor Jake Scully is out of work and down on his luck. He gets fired from the crappy vampire movie he’s making, then walks in on his wife having it off with another man. Another jobbing actor offers him the chance to house-sit. While doing so, he starts to spy on a woman in a nearby house who does a striptease (alone) every night at the same time. Unfortunately, she also seems to have attracted the attention of a creepy repairman, who starts to stalk her.

I always associate this film with American Psycho – in the book, Patrick Bateman describes how he rents the film over and over in order to watch the central murder scene. Consequently, I was expecting the scene in question to be over-the-top and tasteless. In fact it’s no such thing. It’s not very nice, but it manages to find time to be funny – the killer is nowhere near as good at killing as he thinks he is – and there’s a great drill bit/penis visual gag.

This pretty much sums up the film. It’s actually very entertaining in its own way, and has an ahead-of-its-time sense of humour. On one level it’s a tired erotic thriller, on another it’s yet another homage to Hitchcock, and on yet another it’s a rather cynical look at the world of low-budget film and struggling actors. It unites all its disparate strands with a postmodern playfulness that could make it quite appealing.

Unfortunately, it is still authentically sleazy in a way that works against its humour, at least somewhat. This is the kind of thing you might get away with in a novel, but to actually show eroticised nudity and somewhat-sexualised violence is taking things a bit beyond playful. I dunno, I guess as a comment on exploitation cinema, it probably feels like it has to give its audience what they want to see, and the end credits, which play over a pair of naked breasts with blood trickling down them, are so over-the-top they are potentially funny. But it feels like it’s having its cake and eating it, like horror movies almost always do.

Anyway, I still found a lot to like (this is the second time I’d seen the film – it definitely gets better with repeat viewings, so maybe Patrick Bateman had a point). There’s a lot of Hitchcock in here, most obviously Rear Window, Vertigo and Dial M For Murder, along with all those films where the hero is wrongly accused. But there’s a lot that isn’t just lame Hitchcock pastiche. The low-budget vampire movie Scully is shooting is hilariously 80s, the acting class he attends is hilariously gruelling, and shopping mall where he stalks the woman in the window is hilariously pretentious.

And then there’s the porn film. There aren’t many films that would think to have their hero go undercover as a porn actor to get information relating to a murder case; in fact Body Double is the only one I can think of. And the porno that he shoots, insanely, contains a performance of Relax by Frankie Goes To Hollywood (ie they’re actually present, on the set, singing, while a porn film is going on around them). This is a brilliant scene, if only because it’s so ridiculous. (Unfortunately what we see of the smutty movie is a lot less decadent than the actual music video for Relax was.) Later, Scully talks to the porn actress he’s just been fellated by (she, of course, is the person he needs information from) and she reels off a whole list of ‘extreme’ things she won’t do onscreen. It’s probably a sad reflection on modern life that these things are all fairly mainstream nowadays; in fact, the president of the United States has been publically accused of enjoying at least one of them.

Scully himself is an odd hero. He’s a loser, a moron, and a pervert. He doesn’t wonder about any of the absurd lucky coincidences that set him up in the first half of the film. He never questions the morality of spying on his neighbour undressing, and of subsequently stalking her. And he not only goes undercover as a porn actor, he actually participates in a porn film fairly enthusiastically. This is not the sort of behaviour you expect from a typical, relatable protagonist. He’s played very well by Craig Wasson, who has to give a multi-layered performance and copes with most of the absurdities very well. The cast are all very good, with the other standout being Melanie Griffith, perfect as the hard-edged but mostly sympathetic porn star.

It’s all directed with verve. Apart from the vague ethical concerns and the absurd plot, the main problem is probably a terribly fake-looking makeup job on one character, the very presence of which comes dangerously close to spoiling the biggest plot revelation. The music, by frequent De Palma collaborator Pino Donaggio, ranges from bizarrely slushy daytime soap opera music to shrieking Hitchcock pastiche.

How much you’ll enjoy this probably depends on how willing you are to be amused by nudity and gory murders. It’s a bit too whimsical and deliberately silly to work as a proper thriller or horror movie, but I found its sense of humour more modern and effective watching the film recently than when I saw it years ago.

This looks pretty good – probably as good as it’s likely to get. Films from the 80s never seem to have the same boost in quality on Blu-ray that films from earlier decades do, and this doesn’t have the jump-off-the-screen-at-you improvement I’ve seen in some films. But it has a healthy layer of film grain, there’s plenty of visible detail (in a film that uses plenty of long shots, that’s a real boon) and the colours look nice and bright.

There are four short documentaries about the making of the film (which really amount to one long documentary that’s been pointlessly split into four. Various cast and crew reminisce entertainingly enough. De Palma’s attempts to scoff at the suggestion that his films are misogynistic is a bit cringe-inducing (it basically comes down to ‘I can’t be a misogynist, I love women!’). And an archive interview with Craig Wasson reveals that he was not a very comfortable interviewee (he’s not present in the more recent documentary). Mostly the extras are a fun addition. Weirdly, the cover image – which I think is the original poster – features two characters who don’t appear anywhere in the actual film. There’s also a DVD that replicates the Blu-ray, but I didn’t bother to watch that.

It’s good to see a new company offering old films on Blu-ray in the UK – Powerhouse see to have picked up a lot of the titles that were only previously available on crazily expensive limited editions from the States. I hope they flourish – if they put this much effort into all their releases, they might well do.

I enjoyed this, which surprised me – it’s not quite a guilty pleasure, as it’s too well made and too knowing. But it’s a good Blu-ray release of a film I was always a bit unfairly dismissive about.

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Comments on this review

  • rolandrat123 published 19/03/2017
  • eve6kicksass published 13/03/2017
    This is one De Palma film I still haven't had the pleasure of watching, though I might catch up on it one day. Great Blu-ray review! :)
  • IzzyS published 09/03/2017
    VH review.
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Product Information : Body Double (Blu-ray)

Manufacturer's product description

Product Details

Genre: Thriller

DVD Region: Blu-ray

Video Category: Feature Film

Actor(s): Melanie Griffith, Craig Wasson

Director(s) (Last name, First name): De Palma, Brian

Classification: 18 years and over

EAN: 5037899069776

Production Year: 1984


Listed on Ciao since: 12/01/2017