Following a long-running dispute with the American censors over his remake of Scarface (they were disturbed by its “cumulative violence”), Brian De Palma was determined to make his next movie as shocking as possible. “I’m sick of being censored. So if they want an X-certificate film, they’ll get a real X. They wanna see suspense, they wanna see terror, they wanna see sex? I’m the person for the job.”
Unsurprisingly then, all of these themes are found in abundance in Body Double, the 1984 thriller which sees De Palma take his love of Alfred Hitchcock to new levels: having reworked Psycho in Dressed to Kill, here he combines elements of not one but two of the master’s works, Rear Window and Vertigo. Craig Wasson stars as struggling actor Jake Skully, out of work following his dismissal from a vampire movie. Discovering his girlfriend with another man, he moves out of his apartment and goes to stay with a friend. But after striking up a friendship with fellow actor Sam Bouchard (Gregg Henry), Jake’s invited to stay at a flat Sam’s been minding while he takes a job in Seattle. As well as the free use of the opulent apartment, Sam points out the view it affords of a woman who performs an erotic dance every night.
Jake becomes obsessed by this woman, Gloria Revelle (Deborah Shelton), and starts following her around town. He then notices that he’s not the only stalker, as a scarred Indian man also appears to be tracking her. That night, Jake sees the Indian break into Gloria’s apartment and despite racing to her rescue, is unable to prevent a gruesome murder. He’s distraught, but while watching an advertisement for a movie starring a porn star called Holly Body (Melanie Griffith), is struck by how similar the dance she does is to Gloria’s. Disguising himself as a film producer, he arranges a meeting with Holly, determined to unravel the mystery.
Body Double proved controversial for its depiction of women and use of violence, but De Palma defended his actions, particularly his decision to show a woman being murdered by a power drill. “I do a lot of murder mysteries,” he explained. “After a while you get tired of the instruments. Agatha Christie must’ve dealt with this day in and day out. You can use a knife, a rope, but now we have electrical instruments – which are truly terrifying.”
The film stars Melanie Griffith, in one of her first starring roles, plus a former Miss USA, Deborah Shelton. One actress it doesn’t feature, however, is Annette Haven who, despite being originally cast as Holly, was rejected by the producers because of her own blue movie past. She later expressed some relief at the decision, explaining that she hadn’t wanted to be in a film with such gory violence anyway.
USA / 1984
Director: Brian De Palma
Writer: Robert J Avrech, Brian De Palma
Cast: Craig Wasson, Melanie Griffith, Gregg Henry, Deborah Shelton, Guy Boyd