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Body Double

Year: 1984
Studio: Columbia
Director: Brian De Palma
Producer: Brian De Palma
Writer: Brian De Palma/Robert J Avrech
Cast: Craig Wasson, Melanie Griffith, Gregg Henry, Deborah Shelton, Dennis Franz

I don't know if De Palma ever had the position of modern Hitchcock in his sights, but there are so many similarities between this sleazy B movie and the 50's era thrillers from the Master of Suspense like Rear Window and Vertigo it's uncanny otherwise. The beautiful stranger (albeit in a state of undress Kim Novak would never have got away with) and the protracted scenes of the hero Jake (Wasson) watching her and following her around Hollywood and Beverly Hills are so like Hitchcock, some scenes will make you wonder if it's a remake.

But where Hitchcock had the social and censorial mores of the time to contend with, De Palma was living and filming in a time where porn was going mainstream because of VHS. And it's not just the characterisation of Melanie Griffith's Holly Body and the plot of her career as a porn starlet. The gilded, lurid pastels, excess of taste and gaudy fashions of the day all convey the mood of a straight to video thriller taking schoolboy glee in its nudity gratuitous nudity and violence.

The fact that the hero has crippling claustrophobia only make it seem more a Hitchcock reference, and when he and the heroine Gloria (Shelton) make out at the beach it's like a bad parody of a love scene from an 80s music video. I like to think even then De Palma was too clever and talented to believe sincerely in such laughable imagery – it's just one clue that makes me wonder if was all have parody rather than homage.

When struggling actor Jake gets the chance to crash in a beautiful octagonal house in the Hollywood Hills for a few weeks, his benefactor points out the beautiful woman in a house down the hill who dances naked in her room, easily visible through the telescope at the window.

After watching her for a few weeks and even following her all over Los Angeles trying to learn more about her, Jake is horrified to see a home invader break in and make as if to attack her. He runs towards the house but is too late when she's brutally dispatched by the fearsome Native American burglar, making himself the prime suspect in her murder.

Then the story goes on a strange tangent, one so thinly explained at first I thought there was a grindhouse-style missing reel. After watching a porno he sees the actress (Holly) dancing exactly the same way the murdered woman did.

Something makes him believe the porn actress was actually the one dancing – for his benefit no less – to try and lure him into the house for the real girl to be killed and him to take the fall. So he poses as a porn producer, promises the starlet the world and is on the verge of getting lucky when he tells her the truth to try and get to the bottom of the mystery by finding out who hired her.

The climax is as ridiculous and silly as it is Hitchcockian and almost best forgotten, but the rest is De Palma somewhere between the technical brilliance of Blow Out and a Playboy TV movie murder mystery.

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