Every now and then a guilty thought will inadvertently creep into his head, driving him to look away in mock disgust. But the erotic benefits that come with gazing upon his subject's scantily clad body will always lure him back into the perverted fold. Whether it be your shapely next-door neighbour sunning themselves–the inherent durability of their Turkish heritage providing the dermatological fortitude necessary to allow them to lay out for hours on end–in a chartreuse bathing suit (one with the words "fun zone" playfully emblazoned in turquoise across the garments midsection) on a rusty deck chair by their unfinished swimming pool (every move she makes is greeted with a metallic squeaking sound), or the leggy mother of two who lives down the street struggling to push a red wheel barrel full of nutrient-rich potting soil across the lumpy surface of her weed-infested front lawn (the sweat dripping off her taut calves causes her socks to bunch up around her succulent ankles), the desire to stare awkwardly at people you don't know for lengthy periods of time shall never wane. Never! Sure, tacos smothered in fresh salsa or even an episode of that television program you inexplicably watch will pull you away from time to time, but the forbidden thrills that come with spying on Deborah Shelton as she tries on white panties at a swankier than usual pantie establishment located in the swankier part of town are your primary sources of pleasure.
A yet unseen entity in Body Double, Brian De Palma's stylish ode to stalking in L.A., has pretty much based the entirety their devious plan around on the habitual nature of one who lives to leer at others. A skittish actor, one who flirts with unemployment on a semi-regular basis, named Jake Scully (Craig Wasson) literally hurls himself into the heady world of voyeurism, indoor plant care, covert tailing, and pornography. After finding his live-in lady friend (Barbara Crampton) mounting the retractable stain-maker of another man (her face glowing in response to the quality its retractability), the actor in the light brown corduroy blazer suddenly finds himself homeless.
On top of discovering his lady friend with another man, Jake's fear of enclosed spaces gets him fired from a low budget vampire movie called Vampire's Kiss (he plays a new wave vampire), attends an acting seminar where he pretends to be a sardine ("Feel. Personalize. Act."), and eats at a restaurant that is shaped like a giant hotdog ("Tail o' the Pup").
Asked to housesit by Sam (Gregg Henry), a fellow actor who feels sorry for the down on his luck thespian, Jake ends up staying at an extravagant home (it looked like a flying saucer on stilts) located in the Hollywood Hills. While his new living quarters may have everything a youngish man living in the mid-1980s could want: a rotating bed, cordless telephone, a fully stocked bar, cable tv (the video for "House is Burning" by Vivabeat can be seen playing at one point), it's the spectacular view that grabs the bulk of Jake's attention; a view that is enhanced greatly by a strategically placed telescope. Made aware of a sexy brunette woman who lives across the way, and her proclivity for dancing seductively in her bedroom every night at midnight, Jake, taking a break from watering the plants, decides to watch her do her thing. Interrupted after she had just finished inspecting the integrity of the diamond-encrusted strap on her left shoe by mysterious man in a hat, Jake witnesses an argument between the two that leaves the woman a tad frazzled.
Concerned for her safety, and of course, extremely turned on, Jake decides to keep a watchful eye on her after spotting her being followed by a menacing-looking dude in a ponytail. This sequence, the what I like to call "the posh outdoor mall/panties in the trash encounter" (I know, as far as titles to sequences that appear in Brian De Palma films go, it needs a little work), was my favourite stalking scene in the entire movie. The way Jake was right on top of his subject, the point-of-view camera angles, and the ultra chic local (a sort of open air promenade for rich people) all combined to create one intense shopping experience.
Keen observers will notice that the modest slit on the back of his subject's off-white dress would reveal the back of one of her knees with each womanly step. Turning into a sort of back of the knee peepshow for anybody lucky enough to be walking behind her, Jake drinks in each sway of her hips like he were a booze-starved alcoholic.
When I saw that Gloria Revelle (Deborah Shelton), we discover her name after we see the contents of her purse, had dropped the panties, the same panties we watched her try on and purchase with the intensity of a thousand suns, in the trash, I thought to myself: What a waste of a perfectly good pair of panties. However, when Jake rescues the barely worn panties, in clear view of Gloria (who is busy tipping the mall's valet), from the crumpled grip of their soon to be trashy tomb, I cried misguided tears of joy. In all my years of looking at stuff, never have I seen a decision this logical, this sane implemented in a movie before. I doubt Will Smith would ever star in a movie where he ends up pocketing a pair of panties that weren't his. Of course, the hallowed panties end up shining an unsavoury light on him later in the movie. And even though a square detective (Guy Boyd), one straight out of a 1940's film noir, has the nerve to call him a "pantie sniffer" during questioning, I'm sure everyone will agree that his impromptu pantie adoption was the correct course of action.
The rescued panties aside, everything that happens after Jake enters the mall was filmmaking at its finest. The beach/tunnel chase, the fact that the sequence was mostly dialogue-free, the bizarre make out session (complete with aggressive neck kissing), the sly smirk Jake sports every so often as he's following Mrs. Revelle, the close call with "The Indian" in the elevator (one that was filled to the brim with freshly scrubbed yuppies), they all came together to fashion one seriously gripping slab of suspense cinema.
Recovering from a dog bite and the mental strain that normally transpires after one sees a bloodied power drill snake its way through a chunk of drywall, Jake does what most people do after experiencing something traumatic: He opens up a bottle of Jack Daniel's and throws himself head-first into the warm, non-judgmental embrace of pornography (the salacious images on the screen will not hurt you). While watching a bunch of trailers hyping the latest in adult entertainment, Jake notices something eerily familiar about the body of one of the performers cavorting about on the screen. Now, to the non-voyeur, the idea of noticing someone's body might sound ridiculous, but you've got to remember the peeper code, which is: "I like to watch." In other words, every inch of your body, yes, even the back of your tasty knees, whether you like it or not, have been meticulously cataloged in their depraved minds (a depraved mind is a fertile mind).
Not one to let a half-baked hunch go unexplored, Jake heads down to the local Tower Records and buys a copy Holly Goes to Hollywood on VHS (it was also available on Beta). After some diligent fast-forwarding, he soon discovers that the body in question belongs to Holly Body (Melanie Griffith), a svelte porno queen who seems to be modeled after Cara Lott (who appears briefly in a scene with Brinke Stevens). Determined to get close to Holly, Jake weasels his way into the adult film industry. Actually, all he did was make a phone call, show up for an audition, recite his two lines, and he was in.
When I first heard the thumping intro to the iconic "Relax," Frankie Goes to Hollywood's anti-ejaculation smash hit, playing on the soundtrack, which, up until now, has been awash with the tantalizing music of Pino Donaggio (an hypnotic masterwork, if I ever heard one), I thought to myself: Interesting song choice. Since the decor was bathed in every kind of animal print imaginable (my fave was the pink zebra print on the wall outside the washrooms), I would have went with something by Vicious Pink ("CCCan't You See"). Nevertheless, it made perfect sense to have Holly Johnson play the club's doorman. Leading Jake (who looked nerd-tastic in an argyle sweater) into the depths of an S&M nightclub featuring a bevy of neon maniacs in studs and leather, the FGTH frontman (along with fellow band member Paul Rutherford) serenade the impish actor, as he attempts to make a name for himself as a porn star.
The nightclub/adult movie shoot was merely one of many kooky surprises Brain De Palma (Phantom of the Paradise) throws at you in Body Double. I mean, I anticipated the stylish directing, and, not to mention, the satirical jabs at Hollywood (Dennis Franz plays a sleazy, De Palma-esque horror director). But the aforementioned make out session at that mouth of that ominous-looking tunnel solidified this film's standing as one strange and trippy ride. Getting back to the directing for a second, you'll be hard pressed to find another film that is this skillfully directed from this or any period. I'd even go as far as to put it up there with William Friedkin's To Live and Die in L.A. in terms of craftsmanship.
I'll admit, the overall configuration of her leather mini-skirt was sublime (the front zipper was to die for), as were the opaque tightnesss of her pantyhose (which looked extra opaque in the lighting of the Jake's garish ufo pad). Oh, and the casual manner in which she declared she wasn't into "water sports" was downright adorable (no "animal acts" either). They were all pluses as I carefully scrutinized Melanie Griffith's nuanced performance. (I won't lie, the actress can come off as a tad shrill at times.) But when it came to representing Reagan-era femininity, nothing comes close to topping the sight of Deborah Shelton walking in heels, driving convertibles, talking on the phone, window shopping, trying on panties, removing her sunglasses, adjusting the fit of her shoes, riding escalators, and brushing her hair in Los Angeles circa 1984.
Billed fourth in the credits, the gorgeous Deborah Shelton doesn't need to say a word (and apparently she didn't, as it's rumoured that Helen Shaver dubbed all of her dialogue in the film). Regardless, the sheer power of her delicate physique is enough to convey the thoughts and wishes of her character. If Deborah, as she looked in Body Double, walked down the street of any North American today, she would have to constantly worry about tripping over the passed out bodies of all the feckless degenerates unaccustomed to witnessing such a statuesque example of self-assured womanhood.
Oozing the quirky styles and idiosyncratic fashions of the period, yet, at the same time, not sacrificing one iota when it came to projecting an air of class and dignity, Body Double is one of the few films to successfully blend technical proficiency with a lurid premise in a way that seems effortless.
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