Montreal Film Journal


Oh, how I love Brian De Palma. There's something about his cinema that just gets me. I love directors who have edgy visual styles, whether it's Scorsese, Tarantino, John Woo or the Coen brothers. For some reason, I've only discovered De Palma recently, as in the summer of 1998. Of course, I had already seen his most mainstream outings "Mission: Impossible" and "The Untouchables", but that's about it. Both films dazzled me visually, but they didn't quite make me a diehard fan just yet. But when he came to my own Montreal to make "Snake Eyes", my attention was grabbed and I felt the need to get deeper into De Palma's filmography before the release of his latest. And as I watched great movie after great movie, I fell in love with De Palma's work. "Blow Out", "Scarface", "Carrie" and "Carlito's Way" all knocked me outta my shoes, and while "Body Double" is not in that league, it's a finely executed thriller.

From film to film, De Palma often returns to the same things. There's his beloved 360-degree pans, the impressive split-screen sequences, the elaborate set pieces, the B movie spoofs, and of course, his undying obsession with Alfred Hitchcock. "Body Double" might be his ultimate exercise in the genre. It borrows heavily from at least three Hitchcock classics. Craig Wasson stars as Jake, a flawed average guy in the tradition of the characters Jimmy Stewart played for Hitchcock. He's a struggling actor who loses his wife, his home and his job. Wasson is excellent in the part. His "ordinary" attitude make us identify with him, and his acting is always superior. At first, he seems to be doing Stewart in "Rear Window". From the window of a weird house on stilts a friend lend him, he peeps at a naked woman through a telescope, and happens to see that she is in danger.

And then, De Palma switches to ripping off "Vertigo", by having his hero following the mysterious woman. There's a brilliantly crafted Hitchcockian cat-and-mouse sequence, as Jake follows the woman, who's already stalked by a really creepy Indian. And then... well, I can't tell you much more without spoiling the movie's pleasure. This is a pure thriller using cleverly visual storytelling to take us through many twists, some incredibly unexpected. Let's just say that De Palma also pulls a few "Psycho", with a vampire shower scene (don't ask!) and one of the most gruesome murder scenes I've seen. There's also a weird part in which Jake stars in a porno flick scored on Frankie Goes to Hollywood's Relax, opposite Melanie Griffith. Phew! "Body Double" is not nearly as achieved as "Vertigo" (what is, really?), but it's still a must-see for De Palma fans.