With Body Double, Brian De Palma has another of his "Hitchcock rip-offs", but in quotes as it's the easy critical thing that's already been said by others. The film is really a lot more cunning than that, and has a level of cunning wit that one could more associate with De Palma's early comedies that felt very much about skewering the style being homaged as opposed to incurious methods. If one looks at it as much as a big wink and a nod to films like Rear Window and especially Vertigo, with a lot of direct jabs at Hollywood and the whole method of acting and pretending, there's a lot on the table. It's also tasteless in its outrageous depictions of sensuality and seduction, not just sex which gets a lot of wicked moments that veer almost totally into what's being made fun of, and has a huge "gotcha" ending that works specifically for its shock value. It's own self-consciousness is a huge asset, as when De Palma is at his best or at least most assertive, in this case pushing the taboo of mixing regular dramatic fiction with soft-core porno to a limit with glee.
It's not even that one can't take it sort of seriously as a work of kind-of pop-art, as in taking in the outlandish brilliance of a much better-than-average paperback book, because De Palma is on his toes the whole time in crafting a melodramatic thriller. There's even an experiment in tension which starts as an long homage to the 'following' sequences in Vertigo, but then building to a high crescendo and then to another. In fact, Body Double is silent for a lot of the time, but as something that is worked into the main character. Craig Wasson is a perfect foil for the events that unfold around him as the "witness" to all that comes before his watchful eye in a befriended man's apartment. In what is, to be sure, fairly typical material for the director with the basics of the substance, the story calling back to Hi, Mom and Sisters especially (hence as well the connection to the knowing dips into comedy, of which both of those could be considered as), though this time the 'hero' is a of weakling with panic attacks at the moment to act, albeit already an actor. A murder is witnessed following a pivotal plot point and high-flying moment of romance (again, calling attention to its over-length), then the dive into porno comes around.
It's trashy, sure, but why shouldn't that make it more enjoyable if one's to get the kidding and sharp sensibility after a while? Wasson, looking a bit like a double of Bill Maher sometimes, has the expression of terror in his eyes, and a kind of strange guts needed to pull off a hilariously flawed pawn. De Palma also intentionally casts to type with both women and the villains, one for each being more deceptive (i.e. Henry's Brouchard and Shelton's Gloria, who are very much like "movie" caricatures from the craftiest and most seductive of film-noir), and with one 'villain' called the Indian, donning a face that's a riot just to look at, who at one point engages in a murder including the most blatant phallic imagery in any murder scene from the filmmaker. But, again, it all works exceptionally for rhythm and a sort of momentum build into even the smaller moments. As cheesily 80's as it is, I loved the whole music video Relax, where occasionally as De Palma almost makes us forget that a movie is being shot within this scene, the camera shooting Wasson and Griffith comes into view in a mirror. But that's just a sly joke, as opposed to the scenes where suspense and humor get the back and forth treatment, where you aren't sure whether to laugh or cringe or look at the screen through closed fingers peeking out.
I can actually understand some of the negative criticisms of Body Double. I probably wouldn't be so forgiving of it being so proudly 'B-movie' while appearing to be a big Hollywood crime-drama, if I wasn't at least intrigued on the outset from the sensibility behind it all. 'Guilty Pleasure' comes to mind as a defense, but I should digress into what it really comes down to- either you'll go along for a De Palma atmosphere that is wild and cynical and full of rough-edges, or you won't. In other instances with the director I've gone for the latter, but this isn't one of them. One of the best of 1984.