Here is the transcipt from Darrell Buxton’s introduction to Brian DePalma’s excellent BODY DOUBLE from last Friday. This screening is part of a season of Brian DePalma films playing at QUAD over the next couple of months.
Next Up On the DePalma Hit List
Hello and welcome once again to Fright Club, our regular horror slot here at QUAD. Over the next couple of months QUAD is staging an irregular mini-retrospective showcasing the work of the often underrated American director Brian De Palma – and we’re kicking off with BODY DOUBLE, a movie I regard as De Palma’s masterpiece.
The film was released in 1984, but the really big movie news of that particular year was nothing to do with De Palma or indeed any of his contemporaries. For 1984 was the year when five long-unseen Alfred Hitchcock films, unavailable for screening for many years, were revived and given a worldwide re-release. The quintet comprising Hitch’s hidden horde was made up of ROPE, THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY, the 1956 version of THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, REAR WINDOW, and VERTIGO.
Treasures all, although it was those two last-named pictures that got most younger fans and critics over-excited; we’d read for years in film journals and reference books how REAR WINDOW and VERTIGO were essential Hitchcock, two of the works that absolutely defined all of his qualities as a great director. They certainly didn’t disappoint when we got to see them as part of the reissue programme, and both movies leapt instantly into my personal list of all-time great films.
Brian De Palma had become something of a controversial figure by the mid-80s, for various reasons – the two main factors being his perceived misogyny and the treatment of female characters in his work, the other was the charge often laid by harsh critics that he was a plagiarist, thieving his ideas and visuals from other filmmakers and in particular cribbing the suspense motifs familiar from Hitchcock. Ever confrontational and playful, De Palma recognised that by the early 80s these criticisms were reaching a frenzied peak. So, how to respond? Well, in the best way possible – by making a new movie that crudely shunted together the plots of REAR WINDOW and VERTIGO, and which centres around the most outrageously sexist depiction of the brutal killing of a young woman that he could possibly concoct. The result was BODY DOUBLE, and for me the sheer naked audacity of this film, coupled with its use of all of the director’s regular box of tricks by now honed to perfection, makes this a thrilling viewing experience.
Here at Fright Club we specialise in ‘horror’ cinema, and De Palma by 1984 had been responsible for a variety of titles which fit neatly into the horror category – the violent psychothriller SISTERS, macabre music industry spoof PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE, Stephen King adaptation CARRIE, the psychic mind-games of THE FURY, and more psycho fare in the stylish DRESSED TO KILL, which we’ll be bringing to QUAD for you soon. Even De Palma’s 1983 gangster opus SCARFACE works chainsaws and savage violence into its heady mix. But is BODY DOUBLE a horror film? It came out at a time when the stalk and slash/multiple murder spree movie had held sway for some five or six years, and despite it all focusing on a truly horrific killing itself, many would have come away from seeing this feeling something was lacking. It’s best viewed through a similar gaze as De Palma’s 1981 sleeper BLOW OUT, the two films adding horror movie tricks and visuals very effectively into standard paranoia thriller plotlines and thereby enhancing and heightening their overall effect. You could argue that SCARFACE does the same too.
And from a 21st century viewpoint, we’re now so used to filmmakers mixing and matching different elements, throwing their hapless characters from romantic pursuit, armed robbery, or western rescue mission into unimaginable nightmare territory, as seen in AUDITION, FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, BONE TOMAHAWK, to give just a few examples, that BODY DOUBLE can be seen as one of the antecedents of that type of genre jigsaw. DePalma knows what he’s doing here, and as proof he even cleverly and wittily manages to include vampires as an ingredient in the pot too! BODY DOUBLE might not be a conventional horror film, so let’s call it an unconventional one instead – certainly, it would be easy to show anyone half a dozen stills or screengrabbed frames from this and convincingly misdirect them that they were in for the horror ride of a lifetime.
So what is BODY DOUBLE? As I said earlier, it’s a colourful collision between VERTIGO’s obsessive lust and REAR WINDOW’s nosy neighbour antics, laced with shocks, salaciousness and sex, adding intrigue, conspiracy, and high fashion but creating something entirely original. Perhaps it also opened the door for the flood of straight-to-video ‘erotic thrillers’ that followed soon after, and without it there would certainly be no BASIC INSTINCT or FATAL ATTRACTION, possibly even no FIFTY SHADES OF GREY. On the subject of sex, it was rumoured at the time that De Palma might attempt to include actual pornographic scenes in the film – this never happened, but even setting part of his plot within the porn industry, and giving a big Hollywood acceptance to the fact that such a thing existed, seemed a big deal at the time. The role played by Melanie Griffith here almost went instead to adult film legend Annette Haven, and Annette can be glimpsed in the scene featuring the band Frankie Goes To Hollywood. The title BODY DOUBLE is a self-referential one, harking back to Angie Dickinson’s starring role in the director’s DRESSED TO KILL and the use of a stand-in for that movie’s steamy nude scenes. Speaking of nude scenes, if your eyes were popping out at the sight of Barbara Crampton in leather S&M fetishwear in FROM BEYOND here a few weeks ago, watch out for Babs in the first five minutes of tonight’s movie…
This film presents Brian De Palma as the master of all he surveys, and collects together all of his favourite themes and styles, perhaps even opening a portal on his own private obsessions and peccadilloes. BODY DOUBLE is daring, provocative, controversial cinema, an attempt to push the boundaries of mainstream movies and introduce a regular audience to something new and deliciously dangerous. It’s got one foot in classic Hollywood, represented by the Hitchcock allusions, the glitz and glamour, the film business setting, and Pino Donaggio’s typically amazing soundtrack – but another in a darker, more disturbing and challenging realm. If you’re a fan of the Bret Easton Ellis novel ‘American Psycho’, you’ll already be aware that this is Patrick Bateman’s all-time favourite movie, one which that ultimate scare figure of the times rented from the video store over and over again. Well we’ve managed to wrest a copy from Mr. Bateman’s tight psychotic grip this evening – I do hope he’s not lurking somewhere among you at the back there! I’m so thrilled that we’re showing BODY DOUBLE – truly one of the very best movies we’ve screened as part of Fright Club. It’s different, it’s glossy, it’s unusual – do sink into its luxurious pleasures and lose yourself in its tantalising terrors.