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Film / Body Double

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"I like to watch."

A 1984 erotic neo-noir thriller directed by Brian De Palma, starring Craig Wasson, Melanie Griffith, Gregg Henry, Deborah Shelton, and Dennis Franz.

Jake Scully (Wasson) is an actor who's struggling with claustrophobia (which cost him his most recent job in a horror flick) – and has just discovered that 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 Hollywood Hills. The best part is a beautiful female neighbor with a tendency to strip-tease in her bedroom, visible for an eager voyeur. All well and good... until Scully notices that he's not the only one watching.

His investigation 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.
  • All Just a Dream: There's sufficient evidence in the film that the entire story is a fantasy by Jake as he's trying to psyche himself to do the scene.
  • Body Double:
    • Sam had hired porn starlet Holly Body for several nights to pose as his wife in their bedroom, while Jake develops an infatuation with her.
    • At the end of the movie, a nude body double steps in for the actress in the Shower Scene being filmed for the Film Within a Film Vampire's Kiss.
  • 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.
    • Likewise, the opening scene establishes Jake Scully's claustrophobia while playing a vampire in a coffin. By the end, Jake must face this fear while Sam attempts to bury him and Holly in a shallow grave.
  • Buxom Beauty Standard: 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:
    • British dance-pop act Frankie Goes to Hollywood appear as themselves opposite B-movie scream queen Brinke Stevens and pornographic actresses Cara Lott and Annette Haven.
    • Slavitza Jovan (Gozer of Ghostbusters (1984) fame) as a saleswoman.
  • Claustrophobia: Jake Scully's defining character flaw/"weakness" for himself to finally overcome by the end of the film. Jake freezes up whenever in small or enclosed spaces, like in a coffin on a movie shoot or in a tunnel.
  • 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. Holly, disguised as Gloria, plays the role of Shameless Fanservice Girl, stripping and masturbating behind a large, undraped window.
  • Film Within a Film: The film opens with Jake Scully filming a scene inside a casket for a horror movie called Vampire's Kiss, establishing his claustrophobia. He is subsequently fired from the film and his part recast because of this, but wins back the role by the end of the story.
  • 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. Alternatively, had Jake simply phoned the police at the outset of the "break-in," instead of running down the hillside to try and play hero, cops could have arrived earlier and prevented the murder altogether; Det. MacLean still finds Jake at fault for the murder, in part, for this very reason.
  • Frame-Up: An interesting variant. Scully isn't being set up as the murderer, but 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, you get your nightly kicks by ogling a girl in her room—and when you notice some other guy's watching her, 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.
  • Out of Job, into the Plot: The director firing Jake from the B-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.
  • The Peeping Tom: Jake becomes infatuated with Gloria, after Sam show him the telescope inside the ultramodern Chemosphere.
  • Police Are Useless: Deconstructed. The police are shown to be both fairly competent and more qualified, but Jake deciding to take matters into his own hands hinders them from preventing a murder and aids the killer in a bit of misdirection.
  • 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.
  • Proscenium Reveal: The opening sequence shows a graveyard and a vampire sleeping under a grave. As the camera closes in the vampire, he does a Jump Scare at the viewer, but freezes in place. The director whispering "Action, Jake!" reveals that Jake had a claustrophobic panic attack.
  • The Reveal:
    • Holly was the "body double" of Gloria—and she was the one dancing every night.
    • Sam is the ugly "Indian" and Gloria's husband.
  • Same Language Dub: Deborah Shelton (Gloria) had her voice dubbed by Helen Shaver.
  • Shower Scene: Seen being shot as part of the Film Within a Film after Scully is fired and recast in his role and at the end of the movie, when he wins the role back, obviously intended as another Homage from De Palma to Hitchcock (with a sleazier bent to it).
  • 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 ( greedy husband using his acquaintance in order to set him up as a perfect witness for the murder of his wife, Scully's 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: 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.
  • Symbolic Glass House: Both the house Jake stays in and particularly that of his neighbor need to be large and open by design, as Jake becomes a voyeur who spies on his mysterious neighbor getting undressed all the time, but he also becomes ensnared in a mystery as a result.
  • 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.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Detective McLean tells Jake Scully in no uncertain terms that he holds him responsible for Gloria Revelle's death.
    Det. Jim McLean: As far as I'm concerned, you're the real reason Gloria Revelle got murdered. If you hadn't have been so busy getting off by peeping on her, if you'd have called the police about the Indian, Gloria Revelle would still be alive.