Body Double (1984)

Directed by Brian De Palma; Written by Robert J. Avrech and Brian De Palma

Tapping into voyeur fantasies everywhere, Body Double is a vintage De Palma thriller, complete with skin, sex, gore and suspense as a fledgling actor’s wandering eye (and libido) gets him in trouble. 

Craig Wasson stars as Jake and Jake’s down bad. He’s working on a not-so-great movie, and when he comes home early one day he finds some nobody schtupping his partner. Opening the door, Jake makes eye contact with her. He’s shocked, she’s… not even embarrassed to the point of at least dismounting. Not only that, he gets fired from the indie vampire B-movie he was starring in, so now he’s both out of a job, relationship and living situation. Tough odds. 

Thankfully, struggling actors look out for one another, and a fellow thespian asks him to house-sit a dream bachelor pad in the hills, complete with a telescope that lets him look straight into the bedroom of a local beauty who likes to put on a show – steamy! While ogling her one night, he catches someone else looking on, and he doesn’t like the looks of him. It marks the beginning of a stalker/bodyguard relationship and the lines get blurry fast. 

De Palma adopts a little of Hitchcock’s Rear Window and adds his own lurid proclivities in the story of Jake’s voyeuristic misadventure and if you wanted a visual definition of the male gaze, then here it is, employed to perfection, as De Palma’s lens becomes intent binoculars, roaming over the neighbor woman’s best assets. Other filmmakers might cut the scene short, satisfied that Jake has had a good look, but De Palma, purveyor of flesh that he is, sticks with it for the full peep show. Fans of horny movies with horny people in them, look no further.  

Body Double is a dirty little thing that celebrates the exploitation slasher genre and is another entry in De Palma’s other works that interlinks sex, mystery and violence, like Raising Cain and Dressed To Kill. How Jake’s peeping tom routine gets him into trouble has a sister act in John Travolta’s sound guy in Blow Out, released three years before, who becomes a pawn in political intrigue when his microphone picks up something it shouldn’t have. There are a lot of classic De Palma touchstones here, but he also shows off his cinematic craft in Body Double, bringing to life the tight thriller of a story penned by himself and Avrech. 

Stories like Body Double usually belong on dusty VHS shelves long forgotten. The predictable formula, rote preoccupations and low-brow fascinations usually don’t turn into something worth remembering, but De Palma’s artistry as a filmmaker elevates the entire production. The compositions, the feel for suspense, and metatextual flourishes makes it a lot of fun, and proves De Palma capable of lifting any enriching any kind of material. 

Body Double is a quintessential steamy thriller, more art than pulpy entertainment, and without the unfortunate transphobic elements Raising Cain and Dressed To Kill, one of De Palma’s standouts. 

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