An actor named Jake Scully (Wasson) is struggling with claustrophobia (which cost him his most recent job in a horror flick)—and has found out his girlfriend is cheating on him. Left without a place to stay, Scully accepts a job as a house-sitter for a futuristic house with a 360 view of the high-class area of Hollywood. The best of it: a neighbor has a tendency to striptease in her room, visible for an eager voyeur. All well and good...until Scully notices that he isn't the only one watching.
His investigations leads to a murder mystery, which brings him smack-dab into the adult-film industry, encountering a porn star (Griffith) who may or may not provide a key clue as to what's going on.
Famous for 1) its constant homage to Alfred Hitchcock (particularly Rear Window and Vertigo); 2) its show-stopping sequence featuring "Relax" by Frankie Goes to Hollywood (which was a major hit but banned in the UK, and this film was the only way some audiences got to hear it); and 3) its intense invocation of Fanservice.
This film contains examples of:
- Absence of Evidence: One of the reasons Scully doesn't become a formal suspect in the murder (besides the fact he's lucky enough to pick up another couple of witnesses on his way to try to help) is that Gloria has an aggressive guard dog, that stops Scully from even getting upstairs. Detective McLean, not unreasonably, thinks this means that Scully wouldn't be able to kill Gloria without drugging or badly hurting the dog, which demonstrates on Scully and the other witnesses that it's prime health just a few minutes later. Which means that Gloria must have been killed by someone the dog knew. The only person mentioned that qualifies is Gloria's husband.
- Biggus Dickus: "I'm not just some stunt cock!"
- Bookends: In the beginning of the movie, Scully finds himself unable to act in a horror flick due to his claustrophobia. In the end, he's back in the film, and performs beautifully.
- Buxom Is Better: The Body Double has noticeably bigger breasts than the actress she's subbing in for, prompting Holly to note the latter will be getting far more dates when the film is released.
- The Cameo:
- Developing Doomed Characters: Poor Gloria.
- Disney Villain Death: Sam meets his end when his dog knocks him off a high place.
- Distinguishing Mark: Scully realizes that Holly has the same tattoo that the dancing "Gloria" had.
- Eureka Moment: While watching adult programming on leased access, Jake is stunned by Holly Body doing the same sex dance that Gloria was doing nightly.
- Expy: "Stunt Cock" is one of John C. Holmes, with Porn Stache to match.
- Fanservice: Gloria, especially when she and Scully make out. Holly is most definitely a Ms. Fanservice—but then, being a porn star, it comes with the job description.
- For Want of a Nail: if Detective MacLean had just shown Scully a photo of Gloria Revelle's husband - his chief suspect - Scully would have instantly identified him as the man who asked him to house-sit... and pointed out exactly how to spy on his neighbor, without mentioning that said neighbor was his wife. At the very least, it would have been rather suspicious.
- Frame-Up: an interesting variant. Scully isn't being set up as the murderer, he's being set up as the eye witness to the murder, in order to clear the killer.
- Home-Early Surprise: Scully comes home early to find his girlfriend having sex with another guy. They don't stop when he catches them.
- Hypocrite: Okay, Jake...so you get your nightly kicks by ogling a girl in her room—and when you notice some other guy's watching her, too...you assume he's a bad guy with malicious intent towards her?
- Jake also takes up stalking Gloria for a bit, to make sure she's safe...from the guy he suspects is stalking her.
- Idiot Ball: for some reason, it never occurs to Scully, who is a professional actor, that Gloria's distinctive stalker might be wearing 'movie' makeup to look that way, until the very end.
- Irony: meta-wise. Melanie Griffith played Holly Body without a body double - every scene where Holly is topless, that's really her. Right from the start, DePalma made it one of the conditions of being cast in that rolenote , as he felt it was an important part of the character. Griffith has stated that DePalma made every effort to ensure her comfort (both physically and mentally) before and during shooting, including several long conversations about what she was comfortable doing.
- Long List: Holly has one of porn acts she won't do. In short, she's fairly vanilla.
- Not So Different: The vampire flick and the porno have the same production values - the comparison is not an accident.
- Out Of Job Into The Plot: The director firing Jake from the Z-grade vampire movie (but not quite having the stomach to tell him outright) leads to the Home-Early Surprise, Sam's too-good-to-be-true offer of a nice place to stay, and the rest of the plot. Jake's renewed confidence gets him rehired on the movie by the end.
- Police Are Useless: But then, Jake's a bit of a hypocrite, which completely ruins the credibility of his account to them....
- Product Placement: The porn magazines during the adult public access show giving review blurbs like Screw Magazine are real mags. The "in the gutter" blurb is the type of lavish praise Al Goldstein would have given.
- The Reveal: Holly was the "body double" of Gloria—and she was the one dancing every night.
- Slut-Shaming: thoroughly averted, despite one of the main female characters being a porn star.
- Spiritual Successor: Arguably even more so than any other film of De Palma's (even Dressed to Kill), this film is a blatant Homage to the style and subject matter of Alfred Hitchcock. In particular, this film borrows heavily from Rear Window (Scully's voyeuristic activities while house-sitting) and Vertigo (his phobia getting him in trouble, and his obsessive-yet-protective desire for Gloria—and guilt over her death—leading him to investigate another woman, Holly, to find a possible connection).
- Spoiler Title: If you know what "body double" means in Hollywood-speak, it's a pretty good tipoff to the fact that, at some point, a woman we think is Gloria is a double for her.
- The Stinger: sort of. Over the ending credits, you see Scully shooting another scene in his So Bad, It's Good vampire movie. In particular, Scully having to hold very still while the lead actress is swapped out for a body double. Brian DePalma said in the Behind the Scene documentary (you can find it on the DVD) that this was one of his favorite scenes that he filmed. He originally wanted to use it as the opening, but he thought it was too big a clue to The Reveal.
- Stylistic Suck: The vampire film Jake is the star of is so cheesy that you'll wish it was real — think Billy Idol doing a softcore horror film.
- This Is a Drill: This is how Gloria Revelle is done in.
- Unwitting Pawn: Holly had no clue her erotic dance routine was part of an elaborate murder plot.
- Villain Ball: Sam would've gotten away with his plans, if he hadn't decided that Holly had outlived her usefulness.