Brian De Palma's Hitchcock Double Take
Watching Brian De Palma's 1984 thriller "Body Double" one thing becomes very apparent and that is he loves Hitchcock. Now that's not a bad thing, Hitchcock was the master of suspense and Brian De Palma includes many Hitchcock style touches to "Body Double" even going as far as combining story elements of various Hitchcock's movies such as "Vertigo" and "Rear Window". But then there is something about "Body Double" which seems almost heavy handed, intentionally made to be compared to the works of Hitchcock and as such feels like it's a rip off, a clever one at that, but still a rip off which I am sure was not Brian De Palma's intentions.
After coming home to discover his girlfriend having sex with another man, aspiring actor Jake Scully (Craig Wasson - A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors) hits a stroke of luck when a new acting friend asks him to take over house sitting for him. Not only that the house he has to sit is a luxury pad and has a wonderful view of nearby apartments where Jake spots a topless woman seductively dancing. But his peeping tom tendencies also lead to him witnessing a murder and into the world of porn movies as he tries to discover who is behind the killing.
"Body Double" starts of by introducing us to Jake Scully in a series of scenes which immediately show the Hitchcock influence because not only does he have a crippling phobia, in his case claustrophobia, but also the driving scenes feel like they have come out of "Vertigo" with the moving background against a stationary car. It sort of works, it achieves that effect of making you think Hitchcock but it almost feels comical, a little bit wrong in it's imitation. And so it goes on as the story progresses with more Hitchcock touches from Jake spying on a sexy woman using a telescope to peer into her apartment through to various camera techniques to demonstrate the terrifying effects of claustrophobia.
It's not all imitation and Brian De Palma works some more contemporary elements into the storyline, such as Jake being a struggling actor who after witnessing the murder, a comically brutal one at that, finds himself working in the porn industry to try and get to the bottom of things. It gives it a different angle and with the occasional sex scene and brief moments of nudity it certainly doesn't feel like someone has just cherry picked elements from Hitchcock's movies and then spliced them together.
But it all feels a little obvious, a little too much like a heavy handed homage to Hitchcock and although the storyline does develop into a guessing game of "who done it" it all feels a little comical. The storyline itself isn't that bad, it's got some nice touches and although draws on the Hitchcock influence is surprisingly clever. You can guess who's behind it all but the way it leads you there and brings it all together for the big finale works quite well. Actually even beyond the big climax it continues to entertain as the credits roll.
The comparisons with Hitchcock continue with the casting and Craig Wasson as the main character Jake Scully feels like he has been told to create a more contemporary James Stewart from his performance. So we get the amiable guy, who smiles nicely and seems an honest chap yet because he is modern he has no qualms about going to work as a porn star despite not knowing what a cum shot is. It's a case of it sort of works because the character of Jake is simply likable and easy to follow but Wasson most certainly doesn't have the same presence and charisma of Stewart, although he pulls of the imitation driving scenes brilliantly.
Aside from Craig Wasson there are also the female characters with both Melanie Griffith as Holly Body and Deborah Shelton as Gloria Revelle delivering that sense of mystery and sexy to make their characters interesting, although Griffith's is quite amusing as a porn star and doesn't look at all comfortable when cavorting about topless. Adding to the old style Hitchcock homage is Guy Boyd as Detective Jim McLean who literally could have been plucked out of an old thriller and dropped into "Body Double" because he looks, acts and sounds like one of those 50/60 movie detectives.
What this all boils down to is that whilst "Body Double" is undoubtedly entertaining it left me a little confused and bemused. Brian De Palma's homage to Hitchcock feels at times a little heavy handed and I can't tell whether the heavy handedness was intentional. It makes it at times feel like a rip off yet has a strong enough storyline to make you think that the heavy handedness was intentional to make you compare various scenes and elements to Hitchcock. Which ever "Body Double" works to keep you entertained and interested and if you know your Hitchcock movies then there is fun to be had from picking up all the links.