A mega-meta joke by Brian De Palma for his critics, acolytes and, above all, for himself, smoke and mirrors upfront -- a camera descends into a fake grave to find Craig Wasson, decked in vampire drag, paralyzed in a coffin until "Cut!" is barked to tip off the 8½ artifice. Not a director but a struggling actor, thus a nobody in Hollywood, Wasson finds himself heartbroken and homeless, childhood fears tormented in acting class ("feel-personalize-act" scribbled on a blackboard). Bud Gregg Henry happens to be housesitting a comically luxurious pad, so Wasson comes to crash amid rotating beds; basically a swanky aquarium, only the fish is doing the peeping, specifically at the neighboring condo, where Deborah Shelton slinks through a nightly gig in panties and stockings to Pino Donaggio's ululating score. Wasson follows the mystery gal into a Beverly Hills mall, De Palma completing the stalking triangle by adding the third figure, the villain in rubbery pancake, shades and fedora. The ominous purr of the tracking shots segues into a chase through a beachfront tunnel, where the hero's claustrophobia kicks in, a tilted, reeling p.o.v. to full orchestra accompaniment, before resuming back to frantic dry-humping with Shelton for a Vertigo gag, a spinning pan against a process shot. Wasson's lecherous telescope becomes the killer's corkscrewing drill as a phallic center, but one of the many doubles -- the universes of "legitimate" acting and porno fucking, both built around "performing," constitute the main doppelgangers. To find his "blood brother," Wasson parachutes into the XXX-cosmos, where the video for Frankie Goes to Hollywood's "Relax" guides him to Melanie Griffith, raunchy starlet and unwitting pawn in the story. "I like to watch," Wasson says, though De Palma's theme is the unreliability of the cinematic image, whether long-shot or close-up, and passive "watching" can only lead to tragic impotence, surely known to audiences expecting straightforward thrillers from the filmmaker. Murder is its own elaborate production in De Palmaville, and the hero's victory lies on taking the authorial reins away from the villain, the cure for emasculation, in the post-modern punchline, unlocked in the set of a grade-Z thriller. Cinematography by Stephen H. Burum. With Guy Boyd, and Dennis Franz.
--- Fernando F. Croce