By Richard Winters
My Rating: 6 out of 10
4-Word Review: Sex through a telescope.
During the 70’s and 80’s director Brian DePalma, a fan of Alfred Hitchcock, made a lot of stylized thrillers using many of Hitchcock’s trademark devices. He even storyboarded every shot that he did just like Hitch. Unfortunately a lot of these films had rather flimsy plots and characters and were over-directed, drowning out what little story there was. DePalma tried so hard to imitate Hitch that he ended up showing no original vision himself and made the viewer crave even more at seeing a genuine Hitchcock film. This film, which I first saw when it was released 26 years ago, I felt was the best of DePalma’s Hitchcock imitations. Upon viewing it a second time many years later I found a lot more holes despite one clever twist and some good camerawork.
The story is about Jack Scully (Craig Wasson) who is a struggling out of work actor who is offered a place to stay by a man named Sam (Gregg Henry). The house is a very modernistic place looking almost like the Space Needle in Seattle. Jack is offered the home on condition that he takes care of the place while Sam is away on business. During his stay Jack becomes obsessed with the attractive neighbor lady named Gloria Revelle (Deborah Shelton) who he watches through a telescope. She does an erotic dance in her bedroom each night at the same time while wearing a revealing negligee. The dance itself is not real exciting and would probably bore most people after a minute or two, but Jack becomes hooked on it and watches it endlessly night after night. Eventually he starts following the woman around during the daytime and even tries to start up a relationship with her. He also begins to notice another man, who is very creepy looking, is also following her and eventually he witnesses him murdering her, but Jack becomes convinced there is more to it. With the help of a porn star named Holly Body (Melanie Griffith), who he meets along the way, the two set out to try and solve the mystery.
Wasson makes for an incredibly weak male lead. This helps somewhat because the character is very weak, but it is hard for the viewer to relate or care about him. His best scenes come during his endless auditions and rather thankless treatment he receives from directors, producers, and acting coaches. These are one of the few scenes that the film gets right as it hits the nail right on the head showing just how degrading working as a low paid, nameless actor can be in Hollywood. The porn star character is also weak as she is too cliched and predictable making her more annoying than anything despite the fact that Griffith plays the part pretty well. The character was based on real-life porn star Annette Haven who gets listed in the credits as a ‘technical advisor’. I did like Gregg Henry though who makes for a great sleazy villain as well as Dennis Franz in a small, comic relief type role as a brash, stressed-out B-movie director.
The film also has a lot of rather implausible elements that prevents the viewer from getting as involved in it as they should. One of the biggest ones is when Jack sees Holly Body performing in a adult video that he has rented and becomes convinced that she may be connected to the case when he sees her do the same type of dance that the neighbor lady did, so in order to meet up with her he auditions as the male lead in her next X-rated production. Now I’m not completely sure how casting in these productions work, but having some guy with no experience starring and having sex with the industry’s biggest female star at the time seems to be a bit of a stretch. I would also think that a guy who was not used to having sex in front of the camera and with everyone staring at him might get nervous and be unable to ‘perform’ especially in what was still the pre-Viagra age.
The porn scenes themselves aren’t too interesting, or exciting. This industry is no longer quite as underground, or taboo as it once was, so the shock factor is gone. The characters and situations are handled in such a placid way that the viewer is given no real insight into the business, or the people who work in it. The industry has evolved a lot in the past twenty-five years, so the scenes here become irrelevant.
There were a few things that I did like. The scenes where Jack follows Gloria around in the shopping mall are pretty well handled despite the fact that I think they could have had a little more action here and there also needed to be more customers in the background. However, the bird’s eye view, which is another patented Hitchcock type shot, showing Jack following Gloria around who is also being followed by the killer is good. This part also features the one definitive moment from the film that I remembered after all these years. It involves Gloria throwing away her old panties when she buys some new ones and then having Jack fish through the garbage, retrieve the panties, and put them in his pocket as a sort of ‘souvenir’.
Some of the shots during the actual murder are also really innovative especially the way the camera captures the giant drill, which is the killer’s weapon. Probably the best shot of the entire film occurs when the killer drives the drill into the victim, which then goes through her body as well as the floorboards and then pops out of the ceiling from the floor below. Yes, it is rather gory, but I still thought it was a really cool shot anyways. I also thought the innovative design to the house that Jack stays in had potential, but I wished they had shown a little more of the place from different angles and given us more of a feel of the inside instead of having all the action occur in just one room.
Overall the film is slick, but very shallow and superficial. The neighbor lady especially seems like a male fantasy. DePalma gets too hyper with the camera. I really don’t like his ‘spinning camera’ shots. He spun it around Jack and Gloria as they kissed and it was tacky and cliched. Once, in the film Blow Out, he spun the camera around so much in one scene that it started to actually make me feel dizzy and nauseous. The film has a scene during the closing credits showing how a body double is used during a film production, which is amusing and interesting, but a bit out of place for a thriller. You walk away from the movie wondering how much more entertaining it could have been had Hitchcock himself been able to direct it.
My Rating: 6 out of 10
Released: October 26, 1984
Runtime: 1Hour 54Minutes
Director: Brian De Palma
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Available: DVD (Special Widescreen Edition), Amazon Instant Video