Another entry in my growing collection of Brian De Palma movie reviews, this time the director’s much admired thriller from 1980. This is probably the movie that borrows most from Italian Giallo, a genre of stalk and slash thrillers made famous by directors like Mario Bava and of course, Dario Argento. It also borrows heavily from Hitchcock (especially Psycho), another of De Palma’s regular influences.
A house wife (Angie Dickinson) trapped in a sexually unfulfilling marriage, finds herself yearning for an affair and confesses as much to her psychiatrist (Michael Caine). However following a chance encounter at an art gallery that leads to a one night stand, the housewife is brutally murdered. A hooker (Nancy Allen) turns out to be the only witness.
A very of-it’s-time experience initially, with some explicit nudity and rather awkwardly handled sex making early scenes resemble a porn film. However once the killer strikes things shift into gear dramatically and De Palma’s cinematic flair spreads it’s wings. This is another movie that is visually captivating and often ingenious … a stand out art gallery sequence and a tense subway scene both showcasing a director at the top of his game. Add to this a murder-mystery plot that twists and turns wonderfully and even when you discover who the killer is, re-watching certain scenes reveal clever little details and clues. The acting is mostly adequate with even Michael Cain proving limited and at times a bit wooden … although Nancy Allen proves much more enjoyable. However like the Giallo the movie tips it’s hat to; acting and performances aren’t the big draw, more so tension and style and well, the occasional bloody murder. The movie lacks the body-count of a fully fledged Italian thriller, and retains it’s own quirks, with the inclusion of a geeky science student (Keith Gordon) and a stereotypical Police chief (Dennis Franz). As a package though this delivers a gripping narrative with some genuinely impressive sequences, worthy of it’s legacy.
The Blu-ray from Arrow Video boasts a rather soft-focus but otherwise clean image. Colours are rather muted and overall it’s simply acceptable with no real ‘wow’ factor. More note-worthy is the sound, with a dramatic, perfectly implemented orchestral score and crisp dialogue, both in stereo and a punchy 5.1 HD Master Audio. I should add that the movie is uncut for the first time in the UK. Extras are plentiful with several featurettes, including a detailed making of as well as a photo gallery. There’s also a detailed booklet included that covers the director’s influences and an analysis of the movie by critic Maitland McDonagh. Again no commentary from De Palma which would have been great but as it stands this is decent treatment for a somewhat forgotten classic.
A struggling actor (Craig Wasson – A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors) finds himself looking for somewhere to crash following the discovery of his girlfriend’s affair, but soon descends into an underworld of voyeurism, sex and a who-dunnit murder mystery.
I’ve always admired the movies of prolific film-maker Brian De Palma and consider some of his output all time classics (Carrie, Scarface, The Untouchables). He has a distinctive visual eye and can put his skills to a number of genres. However it’s when his movies attract comparisons to the movies of Alfred Hitchcock and also Italian shock maestro Dario Argento that I become the most interested. Body Double bares a strong resemblance to both film-maker’s works but also has a perfectly sleazy tone that references a different time and is very much a celebration of 80s excess and exploitation. The story for what it is isn’t that well done and is fairly obvious and easy to predict especially if you’re at all familiar with any of the cast. However what is fun is De Palma’s cinematic eye that can make even mundane sounding sequences, like a journey through a shopping mall or a beach front terrace, enthralling due to some clever camera work and genuine tension. Craig Wasson is likeable if a rather unsympathetic character, and I’d forgotten just how much fun Melanie Griffith used to be and is adept here at delivering some great lines which are probably too explicit to repeat. Yet the movie is on a whole, especially considering De Palma’s impressive catalogue; a bit of an oddity and takes some alarming shifts in tone and style leaving me wondering what was the grand plan here…it really does feel a little thrown together. For a piece of 80s genre sleaze however, I’d still say give this a chance.
The Blu-ray suffers from a few smudgy scenes, especially towards the end of the movie for some reason … but this 4k restoration is otherwise decent looking with strong colours and some nice detail both in close-up and in De Palma’s grand wide shots. Dialogue is also crisp and free of lip-sync that I could see, and is delivered in the original stereo as well as a 5.1 soundtrack, which although not really making much use of surrounds is effective, especially in the lengthy ‘Relax’ sequence (spot the cameo by Holly Johnson). This collector’s edition from Indicator boasts a 40 page booklet that has an in-depth interview taken from 1984 as well as a ‘Brian De Palma’s Guilty Pleasures’ segment exploring the director’s influences. The Blu-ray itself comes with a series of featurettes with interviews with cast and crew, some archive, others more recent and proves invaluable for those interested in film-making and that of the movie itself and it’s legacy. Surprisingly no commentary which would have rounded this release off superbly but as it stands this is above average treatment for probably one of De Palma’s lesser efforts that still makes for a worthy purchase.
I had heard good things about this one, that it was a clever murder mystery with one of my favourite actors, John Cusack, who always impresses. So sitting down to it, we have a group of strangers whose varying circumstances cause them to end up stranded at a motel during a rainstorm. With all roads flooded and the telephones not working, they must come together as a killer starts to murder them one at a time.
This classy setup, albeit unoriginal, plays like a cross between an Alfred Hitchcock movie and an episode of Tales From The Crypt, with the setting reeking of dread and tension and each character pointing the finger at the next. Yet this is also a movie that isn’t exactly what it appears to be, and soon events transpire to completely baffle and surprise this viewer. Cusack is uniformly great as the Limo driver / ex-cop who tries to keep everyone calm and figure out what’s going on, joined by an equally brilliant Ray Liotta as a Police Lieutenant escorting a prisoner. A supporting cast of otherwise unknowns also make the grade, and I was certainly caught up in the mystery – but felt somewhat cheated by the outcome, of which I wont spoil for you here. It just came across to me as somewhat too clever and mischievous, ultimately spoiling for me what was beforehand a workman like but entertaining thriller.
But as it stands, this is still a very enjoyable and unique movie with some great moments and keeps you thinking about it well after the credits roll. I just felt it was trying to be a little too clever for its own good.
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