Film Review: Body Double (1984)

Release Date: October 15th, 1984 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Brian De Palma
Written by: Brian De Palma, Robert J. Avrech
Music by: Pino Donaggio
Cast: Craig Wasson, Gregg Henry, Melanie Griffith, Deborah Shelton, Guy Boyd, Dennis Franz, Al Israel, Barbara Crampton, Slavitza Jovan

Delphi II Productions, Columbia Pictures, 114 Minutes

Review:

“I do not do animal acts. I do not do S&M or any variations of that particular bent, no water sports either. I will not shave my pussy, no fistfucking and absolutely no cumming in my face. I get $2000 a day and I do not work without a contract.” – Holly Body

Having now seen all three movies in Brian De Palma’s neo-noir trilogy from the early ’80s, I’d have to say that this one is the weakest but it is also the most fun. But I’ll explain what I mean.

The first two movies in De Palma’s noir thrillers came out back-to-back. This third film, however, came out after he did Scarface. I feel like I need to mention that, as this feels like a weird amalgamation of the style from the other noir pictures, as well as the style from Scarface, which was poppier, livelier and had an early ’80s neo-noir aesthetic in its own way due to its use of lighting, shadows and neon accents. Scarface almost had vibrant giallo tones and they carried over into this movie.

I’ve talked about De Palma also tapping into Alfred Hitchcock for these films and honestly, this might be his most Hitchcockian of the lot, as it channels parts of Rear Window and Vertigo.

As simply as I can state it, Body Double channels Rear Window in how it explores voyeurism and it channels Vertigo in how it features two women appearing as one with some noir styled trickery.

This might also be tapping into Dial M for Murder due to the use of the phone as a narrative prop when the girl that the protagonist is obsessing over has a killer in her midst.

There’s really a lot going on in this movie and it’s a solid homage to all of these great things but it is very much its own film that taps multiple creative wells but still comes up with something refreshing and unique.

I thought that the plot was well conceived and executed and even if you can start to put it together fairly early, there is still a bit more to the big reveal than you’ll anticipate.

While this might be the worst acted of De Pama’s neo-noir flicks, no one in it is bad and the performances kind of add to the bonkers proceedings. I feel as if the performances are a bit hammy because the tone of the film called for that. And that’s not to say that this isn’t a serious movie, it is, but it seems pretty self aware that it is tapping into schlock territory while still being real cinematic art.

The film also uses some gore and it works well here. De Palma has used gore before; look at Sisters for instance, as that had some brutal moments in it. But the use of gore really adds something to the dreamlike quality of the film. While this takes place in the real world, there is something fantastical and magical about the look and feel of the picture.

On a side note: I love the use of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Relax” in this film. It briefly turns the film into a bizarre ’80s style MTV music video with a bit of sexploitation thrown in. It may sound odd for someone who hasn’t seen this film but it’s the moment where I realized that I love this picture. And it’s that moment where the film really commits to the bit and shows you that despite the harsh moments and violence, this is a film that’s really having fun with itself. It’s like cinematic masturbation of the highest regard.

And thinking about that moment, it really helps to set this film apart from the other two that are so closely associated with it. Where the first film was really dark and gritty, the second one started to let some light into it and then this third picture, really embraces the bright lights and becomes somewhat chipper, creating a lot of contrast from the beginning to the end of De Palma’s neo-noir work. In fact, the visual tones also remind me a bit of De Palma’s very lively Phantom of the Paradise.

Due to the length of this review, it seems that I have more to say about this picture than the other two, which I still feel edge it out. But I think that’s due to the fact that this gave me the most to chew on and it feels like the most Brian De Palma film of all-time, as he calls back to a lot of his previous work and his main influences.

Despite this being my least favorite of the three noir thrillers, it’s still a damn fine film and honestly, it’s probably the one I will revisit the most.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: Brian De Palma’s other neo-noir thrillers from this era: Dressed to Kill and Blow Out.

Film Review: Blow Out (1981)

Release Date: July 24th, 1981
Directed by: Brian De Palma
Written by: Brian De Palma
Music by: Pino Donaggio
Cast: John Travolta, Nancy Allen, John Lithgow, Dennis Franz

Cinema 77, Geria Productions, Filmways Pictures, 108 Minutes

Review:

“Ya know, the only trouble I ever got into was when I was too careful!” – Sally

After watching Dressed to Kill about a week ago, I didn’t want to waste much time before checking out another neo-noir thriller by Brian De Palma. I decided to go in chronological order so I picked Blow Out over Body Double but I do plan to watch that other one in the very near future.

Another reason why I wanted to get into this one was to see how it measures up to Dressed to Kill, as it came out just a year later and it featured some of the same players in Nancy Allen and Dennis Franz. Also, this re-teams Allen with this film’s lead, John Travolta. The two also starred alongside each other in De Palma’s 1976 adaptation of Stephen King’s Carrie.

While this is the second film in a row where Allen plays a lady of the night, this character is very different from her character in Dressed to Kill. Here, she is more ditzy and too trusting where in Dressed to Kill, she was sharp as a tack and weary of those around here. I actually really like her in both roles and despite playing similar characters, they’re both different enough to show her range as an actress. And honestly, I’ve underrated her work and didn’t really recognize her ability until seeing her in De Palma’s films.

John Travolta is also on his A-game here and in fact, he’s dynamite. This may be one of the top two or three performances I’ve seen from Travolta and it’s surprising to me that not too long after this, his career sort of floundered and he didn’t bounce back till 1994’s Pulp Fiction.

The real scene stealer though is John Lithgow, who just has the uncanny ability to play crazy, really damn well. He’s played these types of characters multiple times but this is the oldest example of it that I can think of or that I have seen. He’s got the incredible ability to be a lovable patriarch on one had and to be an absolutely chilling bastard on the other. And here, with De Palma’s direction, he is a pretty intense predator that exudes danger from his very presence.

The fact that Travolta’s day job in this film is as a sound engineer for slasher pictures actually adds a lot to the film’s tone and narrative style. While this isn’t a slasher picture, it does present Lithgow as a slasher like character, as he stalks his prey (pretty women) and brutally murders them.

While this film shares a similar tone to Dressed to Kill it is less cerebral and is more of a straightforward political thriller. That certainly doesn’t mean that it is lacking. It still carries on De Palma’s Hitchcockian vibe that has been alive and well in his pictures before this. Because of that, though, this film has an energy and a style to it that is enthralling and intriguing. And despite channeling Hitchcock, De Palma’s films still have a certain panache that is all their own.

Looking at Dressed to Kill and Blow Out side-by-side, I prefer the former. But that doesn’t mean that Blow Out is less of a film. Dressed to Kill was more my cup of tea because it’s damn twisted, somewhat taboo and a bit darker.

That being said, Blow Out is still a fantastic thriller and in the upper echelon of Brian De Palma’s oeuvre.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: Brian De Palma’s other noir-esque films: Dressed to Kill and Body Double.

Film Review: Dressed to Kill (1980)

Release Date: July 25th, 1980
Directed by: Brian De Palma
Written by: Brian De Palma
Music by: Pino Donaggio
Cast: Michael Caine, Angie Dickinson, Nancy Allen, Keith Gordon, Dennis Franz, William Finley (voice, uncredited)

Filmways Pictures, Cinema 77 Films, 104 Minutes

Review:

“Doctor, I am not paranoid. Bobbi was making threats over the phone. She said she’s going to hurt me. My patient was slashed to death. And now my razor is gone. Now you don’t have to be a detective to figure it out, do you?” – Doctor Robert Elliot

I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this picture but if Brian De Palma’s early films are any indicator, I knew that this would be bizarre, artistic and intelligent.

And it was those three things but it was also damn compelling and honestly, damn impressive.

I loved this film and it’s a shame that I hadn’t seen it before this. It was intense, melodic, sweet, scary and most importantly, intriguing.

While this picture is very De Palma-esque, maybe the most De Palma-esque of the man’s work, it is also very Hitchcockian, as the narrative and the shot framing displays a young De Palma’s callback to Hitchcock’s style and tropes.

Still, this is very much De Palma’s composition and not a cheap attempt at trying to emulate one of the masters before him. Honestly, it comes off as a respectful homage that creates a familiar framework that De Palma could then artistically build off of.

This is also very much a noir story. It has twists, turns, mystery, secrets that evolve and a shocking reveal when all is said and done. It’s pretty damn impressive that they were able to do some of the stuff they did in the time that this was made.

What really solidifies this as a great movie, aside from the solid direction and story by De Palma, is the cast.

Nancy Allen really carries this movie once she becomes the focus. And honestly, I’ll always love Allen simply for being a huge part of RoboCop but I never really thought much of her as an actress. Not to say she’s bad, she’s perfectly fine. But in this film, she really got to do some daring things. Honestly, it has motivated me to check out De Palma’s Blow Out in the near future as it also features her under De Palma’s direction.

I was really impressed with Keith Gordon and Angie Dickinson as well.

Michael Caine also plays an very important role but it’s Michael Caine, so one should expect a damn fine performance because I don’t think I’ve ever seen the guy not deliver.

I’d love to go deeper into the story and analyze some of it but I don’t want to spoil this for anyone. It’s a film that needs to be seen without knowing much about the plot and a Google search will probably spoil some major details.

If you like De Palma, Hitchcock influenced cinema or neo-noir, than you’ll probably like this picture.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: other early Brian De Palma films, especially Blow Out and Body Double.

Film Review: Psycho II (1983)

Release Date: June 3rd, 1983
Directed by: Richard Franklin
Written by: Tom Holland
Based on: characters by Robert Bloch
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, Meg Tilly, Robert Loggia, Dennis Franz, Hugh Gillin, Robert Alan Browne, Claudia Bryar, Lee Garlington, Tom Holland

Oak Industries, Universal Pictures, 113 Minutes

Review:

“Mary, I’m becoming confused again, aren’t I?” – Norman Bates

I didn’t know what to expect from a sequel to a Hitchcock classic. Plus, this came out 23 years after the original, was made by a different studio and had a completely different vibe that embraced more of the slasher side than the classic suspense side.

The thing is, this also did a fine job of building suspense and ultimately, it was a damn good story, kept me guessing and wasn’t something that had an obvious outcome.

I really liked the script, I liked the curveballs and I loved that Norman Bates was actually reformed, even if circumstances pushed his buttons and made his resistance to his killer urges weaken over time. But is he the killer in this picture? You would be safe to assume so but the answer to that question isn’t a simple one.

Now I do feel like the ending of the film was a bit sloppy, after such a good story and great build up towards the finale. The ending felt like something that wasn’t decided upon until production had already started and the producers ended up meddling with things. I don’t know if that happened, it’s just a guess, but it had that kind of weird execution in the third act of the story.

The movie was written by Tom Holland, who would later direct Fright Night and Child’s Play. Kudos to Holland for penning a really compelling, smart script that really gave respect to the original movie while also showing respect to the audience. He also had a lot of layers to his story and explored what happens when a once insane man is clinically cured but has to later deal with the social repercussions of his past actions. How will he handle the hatred; how will he respond when pushed against a wall?

Another person I have to give major kudos to is Vera Mills. She really kills it in this, pun intended. Also, she truly committed to this picture and the slasher style killings. She does get taken out in this and that moment is one of the best in the film. Vera goes out like a friggin’ champ and it was cool to see her do that scene.

Meg Tilly was adorable in the film and it was hard to not crush on her character, just as Norman did. She is not who she seems to be at first glance but she develops mutual feelings for Norman and wants to genuinely support him. Sadly, she gets pulled into his chaotic orbit.

Even though a few things I’ve said here may be seen as spoilers, they are very minor ones, as Holland’s script isn’t as simple as it may first seem on the surface. Plus, just because someone dies in this, doesn’t mean that they’re just some victim. In fact, this feels more like a Clue whodunit mystery than a straight up serial killer thriller. And just when you think you’ve got the answers, you realize that you don’t.

It was great seeing Anthony Perkins return to his most famous role. Even within the context of his past crimes, Perkins is so good in this role that you feel for him emotionally. You know he did horrible things but you also get the sense that he is trying his damnedest to move forward and to truly be a good person. When he’s poked and prodded, you get angry for him. I just don’t think anyone else could have made this work quite like Perkins did.

On paper, Psycho II is a film that should have never been made. The original should have been left alone. But this is a very rare gem, as it’s better than it has a right to be.

The film isn’t as good as it’s predecessor because really, Psycho is a perfect film. But this is a damn good examination of psychological rehabilitation and it somehow makes you care for a man that was once a cold blooded murderer.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: The other Psycho films.