2022 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 15: Body Double (1984)

15. VIDEO STORE DAY: This is the big one. Watch something physically rented or bought from an actual video store. If you don’t have access to one of these sacred archival treasures then watch a movie with a video store scene in it at least. #vivaphysicalmedia

“I do not do animal acts. I do not do S&M or any variations of that particular bent, no water sports either. I will not shave my pussy, no fistfucking and absolutely no coming in my face. I get $2000 a day and I do not work without a contract.”

I’ve said it before. Everything I find attractive in the opposite sex is Melanie Griffith: the toughness of Edith Johnson in Cherry 2000, the smarts of Tess McGill in Working Girl, the dangerous edge of Audrey Hankel in Something Wild and, well, Holly Body in this movie wearing a fringed jacket, smoking with short blonde hair? Have you seen my wife?

Wikipedia states that this is a “homage to the 1950s films of Alfred Hitchcock, specifically Rear Window, Vertigo and Dial M for Murder,” but this is a giallo thanks to the main character being implicated in the murder, misdirection as to what the real crime is and who the killer may be, and the fact that murder and sex have come together most horrifyingly as a drill penetrates a woman and the floor beneath her, dripping hot blood all over the protagonist.

Jake Scully (Craig Wasson) has lost his home, his lover and his last role, all because of the childhood phobias that have made him claustrophobia — hey another giallo moment — yet after taking a method acting class, he’s found a place in the astounding home of actor Sam Bouchard (Gregg Henry), who before he leaves for Europe takes time to show him a woman — Gloria Revelle (Deborah Shelton, Miss USA 1970, who was also in Bloodtide) — who strips down every night for whoever watches her.

That home is the Chemosphere house which is also in Charlie’s Angels.

Obsessed by this woman, Jake starts following her and even watches her be attacked by a mystery man. That same “Indian” steals her purse as Jake follows her to a rendezvous at a hotel where she’s about to meet another man who stands her up. He gets her purse back before his phobia traps him in a tunnel. She helps him escape his fear. They embrace. They kiss. That night, the “Indian” returns and kills her with a gigantic drill as Jake fails to save her; a huge white dog has stopped him. When he calls the police, Detective Jim McLean (Guy Boyd) tells him that his need to watch and not involve the police earlier led to Gloria’s death.

Later that evening, unable to sleep, Jake notices a woman dancing on a cable channel whose movements are the same as his mystery woman. Those movies and those curves belong to Holly Body (Griffith), an adult star who he works his way into meeting and then frightens away, just in time for the “Indian,” who ends up being Alex Revelle, the husband of Gloria, but also Sam Bouchard, to knock out Holly, who he paid to dance for Jake so that he’d keep watching and see his wife get killed, giving him the alibi that he was in Europe and the “Indian” was the real killer.

That reveal is so giallo it should make the screen turn yellow.

Director Brian DePalma was recovering from dealing with the censors over Scarface and women’s groups after Dressed to Kill. Much like Argento, who made Tenebre his most violent film yet after similar criticism — they both also tend to answer yes to the question “Do you like Hitchcock?” — DePalma decided to go hard instead of giving up.

He told the Philadelphia Inquirer “If this one doesn’t get an X, nothing I ever do is going to. This is going to be the most erotic and surprising and thrilling movie I know how to make… I’m going to give them everything they hate and more of it than they’ve ever seen. They think Scarface was violent? They think my other movies were erotic? Wait until they see Body Double.”

Originally, DePalma was going to have Annette Haven play Holly, but the studio bristled at an actual hardcore actress being in their movie. She stayed on to consult and explain what the world of adult was like. DePalma also wanted Sylvia Kristel for the role of Gloria and man, if that happened, this movie would have been too much for 12 year old me.

DePalma ended up ending his three picture deal with Columbia after this movie, which nearly got an X rating, saying “The only people crazier than the people who criticize me for violence are the people at the studios. I can’t stand that sort of cowardice.” As for critics, Ebert loved it, Siskel hated it and said it was splatter and everyone kept saying he hated women. Years later, the director would explain to The Guardian, “Body Double was reviled when it came out. Reviled. It really hurt. I got slaughtered by the press right at the height of the women’s liberation movement… I thought it was completely unjustified. It was a suspense thriller, and I was always interested in finding new ways to kill people.”

So yeah. It bombed at the box office. But it has a great rental store scene, the twist from the coffin scene to the real fate that Jake finds himself in is astounding and even the way the credits come in is absolutely genius. Throw in the wild notion that this movie briefly becomes a Frankie Goes to Hollywood video — man, DePalma loves that spinning dance camera and that scene is such a wow, look, there’s Brink Stevens, Annette Haven, Cara Lott and Lindsay Freeman moment — and you have a movie that I’ve thought about since I first saw it as a teen. Watching it again as an old man, I see the sadness creep through the sin, the voyeur being when he starts watching and gets to actually making it.

Also: that same dance set was reused for Fright Night.

It’s funny because Argento and DePalma always get compared to one another. DePalma said in an interview “Actually the only film I’ve seen of Argento’s is The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. That is the only film of his I remember ever seeing. I know I get compared to him a lot, and people think I took this or that from there or here. But, I actually only remember ever seeing that one film of his. I’m not a student of giallo films at all. I know Martin Scorsese showed me some Mario Bava films back in like the 70s or something.”

Sure, alright. Maybe we should compare the shot for shot moments in Tenebre and Raising Cain

I digress.

Both are extremely talented and have dealt with the same criticism. Both made poorly advised movies late in their career. Both even married actresses from their films. Both used Pino Donaggio to compose their movies, Argento with Trauma and DePalma more than once.

They should just get together and have some wine and be friends.

Looking back at Body Double, I am astounded by how much DePalma got away with and how much art he still worked into this. It’s sleazy and hard to defend, but that just makes me enjoy it beyond what I should.

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