CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS: I first witnessed Brian DePalma's Body Double at the drive-in upon its initial release. That would have put me at just a few months shy of 19. I remember the film left me feeling like I'd just had unsatisfying cheap sex with an attractive stranger in an attractive setting...the kind of sex that is all the more disappointing because everything indicates that it should have been great...but it wasn't. Emptiness among the shimmer. Very L.A., right? And so is this movie.
I will get right to the verdict before I even present the evidence: this movie is a big hot steaming mess, but it's also very compelling. Now I watched it WITHOUT the benefit of director's commentary in FULL SCREEN mode (GIANT FAIL, BITCHES AT NETFLIX!), so I don't know what DePalma's intentions were, YET. But this movie is obsessed with four things: Sex. Porn. Vertical Blinds. Hitchcock. It's also a great 80s time capsule. But it's ice cold and makes no sense. Because DePalma seems to have decided that images supersede any semblance of plot, this post will be presented more visually than any other post I've done. Let's begin, shall we?
So, we begin with the credits superimposed over a sort of creepy but mostly tacky graveyard shot. The font are gooey, blood-dripping letters. Very Vampira. Then a Billy Idol/Vampira type girly-vampire-man in his coffin startles us by awaking suddenly, baring his fangs and staring into the camera. Staring. Staring. And the director yells "Cut!" Seems Idol/Vampira/acula is claustrophobic and is having some sort of panic attack. The sleazy director of the B Movie tells the actor to take the rest of the day off.
Cut to the 1st penetration scene: hot dog to the mouth (and hot dog to the camera) style. This film is filled with phallic symbols and penetration. While there is no queer quotient in this film to speak of, there are a few cute 80s guys, like this one with the short shorts and big thighs. Takes me back to the days of 80s gay porn, for sure...
Here we see DePalma aping Hitchcock with the obvious rear screen projection as the protagonist drives home to surprise his girlfriend with some hot dogs. The protagonist in this flick is a loser. He's creepy. He's skinny. He's an actor. He's kind of a rodent. Nobody really likes him, and neither does the audience. Well, long story short: the dude gets home and he's so stupid that he realizes his girlfriend is fucking some guy in the back of the apartment like 10 minutes after the rest of us do. He leaves all dejected, falls off the wagon, gets drunk, sleeps on his bartender buddy's couch, goes on some auditions, goes to acting class, and then basically winds up housesitting some super space age (via the 80s) bachelor pad for some other creepy douchebag who picks him up outside an acting audition.
None of the characters in this movie behave like people in real life. And perhaps that's the point. But since I didn't have the director's commentary, I don't know for sure. Ultimately, it disconnects the viewer from what's happening on the screen. Here's the swinging bachelor pad. It's some octagonal shaped house up on stilts in the Hollywood Hills. It's fucking lame.
So the creepy new bff of our creepy protagonist shows him the neighbor lady who likes to do sexy dances in the window for the whole neighborhood to see. She dances, she shakes her tush, shakes her titties, flips her hair...but that's not all. She masturbates, she opens her safe and takes out all of her diamonds in plain view of any pervy neighbors who might be looking out their nearby windows in her direction. She's a fucking retard, and we pretty much dislike her from the get go.
But our creepy protagonist and his creepy bff think it's HOT! Because they're retards too, in a retarded movie filled with people who have nothing whatsoever to do with reality or any fantasy world I'd ever want to have anything to do with. And yet, I'm compelled to keep watching.
Creepy protagonist is enjoying the circular rotating bed when he finds out he's been fired from his movie. So he decides to go down to the set to find out WTF happened!
This cap is very important to remember! Notice the new Billy Idol/Vampira hybrid in the background. This image returns later, so please take note. So creepy protag gets humiliated (again) and chewed out and thrown off the set for good.
Later that night Creepy Protag is busy peeping on his horny neighbor lady when he notices that, hey, there's some ugly cro-mag guy with a blow torch working on...the base of a satellite dish...at night...for no reason. The ugly cro-mag guy is peeping on the horny neighbor lady too. Creepy Protag suddenly feels protective of the horny neighbor lady, so the next day he stalks her through a Beverly Hills shopping mall.
The whole stalking sequence is excrutiatingly slow and just beyond believability...I mean, we didn't have as much technology back then, but we would know if some perv was following us like 5 feet behind. The whole execution, obviously paying "homage" to Hitchcock's Vertigo, falls flat. It's like bad parody. The only good thing about this sequence (the mall part, anyway) is the 80s fashion on display. Headbands and polos and feathered hair, oh my! :)
So, creepy protag follows horny neighbor lady to the beach, where she rents a hotel room and speaks to her lover, who apparently keeps jilting her, and all she does is grovel very badly for him. It's kind of sad. But then you realize how awfully weak and retarded and unfeministy she's being, and then you just wind up hating her. It's like, come on! It's 1984! Get your shit together, girl! You're rich, you're beautiful, and yet you're acting like a sniveling, groveling piece of shit. You suck! Also, this creepy protag peeping perv is practically breathing down your neck stalking you, and you haven't even noticed!
Oh, but she HAS noticed. And right there at the beach, at the orifice of a tunnel, the creepy peeping protag and the horny neighbor lady fall prey to their inner sexual urges and start to make out big time RIGHT THERE AT THE BEACH! They totally overdo it and she actually says: "No!....YES!" IT'S FUCKING RIDICULOUS. I was laughing my silly ho ass off! And it's shot like it's the most fascinating, erotic piece of cinema ever seen. It's tragic!
So then they keep going at it, and finally she pulls away and says "No, I can't! Not like this!" Like what? Like the stupid whore that you are? Ugh! She is very annoying!
Believe it or not, she gets more annoying. After a string of events that I haven't mentioned, the ugly cro-mag guy robs her safe and then attacks the horny neighbor lady in her posh 80s pad. This is the next big penetration scene in the film. Ugly cro-mag guy pretty much penetrates the screen with this big drill, and the horny neighbor lady screams and yelps and acts helpless and then trips over the bed and knocks herself out. It's like, by the time he finally kills her, you're cheering him on because she is so annoying. And the actual penetration, while not shown explicitly, is implied quite graphically, and in a very PHALLIC manner. I mean, you don't get much more PHALLIC than that. This scene is straight out of any one of those low-budget 80s splatter pics like Sorority House Massacre of Driller Killer. It's FUCKING RIDICULOUS. But hey, it's DePalma. Maybe he was Making A Point.
Enter Melanie Griffith (in one of her first starring roles) as A PORN STAR. Remember, this is the mid 80s. Home video is exploding and so is the new realization that YOU CAN RENT PORN AND WATCH IT IN THE PRIVACY OF YOUR OWN HOME! No more creepy porn theaters with sticky seats and nasty floors and ugly trolls on the hunt for desperate straight penis to suck off. (Sorry, ugly trolls!). So, here's how genius this movie is: after witnessing the brutal murder of the horny neighbor lady (and FAILING TO SAVE HER...LOSER!), creepy peeping protag is sitting around getting drunk and watching porn when he sees this Holly Hollywood porn chick do the SAME EXACT DANCE AS THE HORNY NEIGHBOR LADY DID IN HER WINDOW. Holy crap! This makes him realize, all on his own, that PERHAPS THE HORNY NEIGHBOR LADY WAS NOT THE ONE DOING THE DANCE, AND MAYBE IT WAS THE PORN STAR, AND MAYBE HE'S BEEN SET UP! Set up for what, you ask? Good question! I have no fucking idea!
So creepy peeping protag goes down to the Porn Office, which just happens to be holding auditions that day. And, this being straight porn, and him being male, he gets hired on the spot. NATCH!
Then there's an apparent INTERMISSION in the film while we are treated to a music video performance of Frankie Goes to Hollywood's hit single "Relax" starring our creepy peeping protagonist as well as Frankie Goes to Hollywood! (Oh, so here's your Queer Quotient). But it's actually creepy peeping protag's first big porn scene, which ends with him screwing the Melanie Griffith character, and making her kind of act like she actually came. Of course. Because this is starting to look like some straight loser's fantasy about his loser self as hero in some fucked up twisted fantasy, right?
Then all of a sudden creepy peeping protag is all slicked out in sleazy porn producer garb and lying to the porn actress and saying he wants her to star in his next big porn production. Melanie has this scene where she's like "I don't do this, I don't do that, I don't do anal, blah blah blah" and apparently back in 1984 it was so refreshing to see a young actress playing a sassy porn star and listing her do's and dont's that she got a Golden Globe nomination. Good for her! Not good for women, but good for her!
Then he takes her back to his pad and she climbs on top of him, because he's promised her a fabulous porn part that is just the be all and end all of porn roles...but by now it's all just a bunch of b.s., right, cauz he's trying to find out her connection to the dead horny neighbor lady. But pay attention, because this is when it all starts to come together. Holly Hollywood identifies the creepy peeping protag's creepy bff as the man who hired her to dance in the window and impersonate the horny neighbor lady. Then, pissed that creepy peeping protag's not a real porn producer, she leaves in a porn star huff.
She hitchhikes to get back to the Valley (I'm speculating), and gets picked up by the ugly cro-mag guy. Creepy peeping protag is right behind them, and he watches ugly cro-mag bash the porn star with a tire iron, right there in his Bronco, at a road block, with tons of cops around. But of course, no one notices. Ultimately, creepy peeping protag tracks down ugly cro-mag to a field beside a resevoir and they fight, but creepy peeping protag winds up in a real grave, claustrophobia hitting him full tilt boogie, and his ex-bff (who turns out to be disguised as the ugly cro-mag guy) burying him alive.
Then, the creepy peeping protag is back in the coffin having a claustrophobia attack...except he's not in costume, he's in the clothes he was wearing in the last scene where he was geeting buried alive.
He talks to the director and asserts his ability to finish the scene in spite of his fear, unlike the last time when he wussed out, which resulted in him losing his job, catching his girlfriend in bed with another man, getting duped by the fake bff, etc. So he goes back and does the scene.
Then we're back at the grave site, where he overcomes his claustrophobia, pushes the fake bff /cro-mag guy into the resevoir, and saves the porn star.
Then we're back on set at the shower murder scene (see above with the other Billy Idol/vampire wannabe in the shower with the actress-above left). Except this time a female body double with big fake hooters is standing in for Little Miss Muffet (again, above left) and the Billy Idol/girly vampire man is now our creepy peeping protag. And the porn star is in the studio, watching the scene being filmed, telling Little Miss Muffet that she's going to get LOTS of dates because everyone is going to think that the body double's big fake hooters are actually hers.
Then there's a gratuitous booby shot with blood and stuff as the credits roll.
This movie makes absolutely no sense to me. But, fuck if I'm not compelled to find a version of it with director's commentary and watch it and listen to WTF Brian DePalma thought he was trying to do. Because until I hear his side of it, I will not be able to dismiss it as total bullshit. And, as much as I just want to hate and dismiss Body Double outright...I just can't do it yet. It's a big hot steaming spectacle of style over substance, that's my take on it. Nevertheless, it's worth a look.
Plus, there is no homophobia in this film. That's refreshing (and rare) for a movie from the 80s.
UPDATE: I guess I was misremembering b/c there's no version of this movie with DePalma commentary. I did read, however, that he discusses the movie in depth in the book Double DePalma by Susan Dworkin.