Monday, October 4, 2021

We All Have a Bad Side

Readers, I have a very important question to ask, and I expect honest, relationship-killing answers:

Did you know about Doppelganger?

If you responded "no,", then have I got a treat for you!

If you said "yes, yes Emily, I've always known about this 1993 mashup of dissociative identity order tropes, mannequins in face/off masks reveals, gooey unexplained demon exoskeleton attacks, and nuns running phone sex businesses, but I guess I forgot to tell you", then you are dead to me.

Unless you added "oh! I didn't tell you because there's a dead cat." Then I'd say, well golly, you truly do understand.

Quick Plot: Holly Gooding is a poor little rich girl with a 5'4 problem: her titular doppelganger is making life VERY difficult.

After maybe stabbing her mother to death in the wealthy family's New York City penthouse, Holly flees to LA to sort out her trust fund and visit her institutionalized brother (who just might have murdered their missing father). Despite being, you know, NYC penthouse/trust fund wealthy, Holly decides to rent a spare room from struggling screenwriter Patrick Highsmith and his ill-fated cat Nathan.

Patrick is your typical nerdy earnest good guy writer type hero, meaning he's blander than the grape jelly toast he dresses up with mustard. Thankfully, he has a far sassier writing partner named Elizabeth who lends some fast-talking pop when needed.

As you can expect from any movie about a heterosexual man and woman suddenly living in close quarters, Patrick and Holly become intimate...or do they? After a wild night of dirty kitchen floor sex, Holly is apalled by Patrick's memory of the act and is forced to explain that her double sometimes slips into her life.

As Elizabeth cannily points out, men will put up with a lot of insanity if the sex is good. Maybe it's that Drew Barrymore's doe-eyed innocence is naturally irresistible, but Patrick accepts A LOT: her wild mood swings, a fast-talking FBI agent hiding out in a laser-lit empty apartment next door, and Holly's arrest for the murder of her brother.

I know I've gone into what seems like a lot of detail about the plot of Doppelganger, but it's necessary to explain just how insane this story becomes. Things start getting weird when Sally Kellerman (who I have to assume owed writer/director Avi Nesher a large, "I know where the bodies are buried" favor) shows up in a cameo as, I kid you not, a former nun now running a phone sex operation but still the preeminent LA expert on the subject of doppelgangers. For whatever reason, she keeps a Raggedy Anne doll on her work desk.

What. Is. Happening.

I'm going to spoil the ending(s) of Doppelganger, because I'm terrified I haven't sold it hard enough for anyone to sit through a few commercials on Tubi and stream it free of charge, and that would be a true shame. It's not every day that you stumble on a '90s thriller that whiplashes from soap operatic multiple personality disorder saga to latex face/off disguise reveal and ends with Drew Barrymore being ripped into two gooey monster halves that resemble what the spinal structures of the creatures from Mac & Me would look like in that famous Bodies touring display.

Didja get all that?

Doppelganger's poster looks like it's selling a sleazy pre-Lifetime-but-totally-Lifetime sexy thriller. The fact that Greg Nicotero and Robert Kurtzman's names show up in the opening credits should alert you that some practical FX are going to ooze onscreen, but when you're 80 minutes into a 90 minute non-supernatural film, IT'S A LITTLE BIT SHOCKING. Especially when you're still trying to come to terms with the fact that a half dozen characters (including The People Under the Stairs' Sean Whalen) have actually been Dennis Christopher's abusive psychiatrist in face puddy. THAT'S NOT HOW IT WORKS.

Avi Nesher showed up once before here: for the Cryptkeeper-less Tales From the Crypt movie Ritual, another film that had a lot of ambition in its style. Like Ritual, Doppelganger doesn't fully work as a film, nor does its gender politics age well in any way. There's a lot to squirm about in how the barely 18-year-old Barrymore is ogled by both the camera and every man she encounters, particularly her very own psychiatrist. The film considers him a monster because he dresses up in latex faces and murders at will, but you never get the sense that his lust is actually on trial.

Still, it's pretty hard to discover such bonkers and not walk away elated by its grand strokes.

Why has this movie been forgotten?

High Points
I'm a sucker for a grand, ridiculous reveal, and it doesn't get much wackier than a mannequin club...followed up by...
...whatever the hell this is supposed to be

Low Points
Seriously. This poor teenager has been sexually abused and exploited by her therapist, but it seems to only be considered a crime because he also went on a very bloody killing spree. Eff you, the '90s

Lessons Learned
The best prosthetics can do wonders with altering your facial structure, height, and voice

Common writers' afflictions include weak eyesight and being bad with names

The key to identifying which Drew Barrymore is nice and which Drew Barrymore is here evil doppelganger/rapist-murderer psychiatrist can best be identified by measuring the darkness of her lipstick

Your Moment of Zen
I was a teenager in the '90s, which meant I attended my share of awkward school dances where I, like so many of my peers, attempted to move my body to mediocre music in a way that made me look attractive. It's incredibly refreshing to watch actual hot people do the same and realize, in a true moment of enlightenment, that yes, I did indeed look stupid, but so does Poison Ivy-era Drew Barrymore because you know what? THERE'S NO WAY TO DANCE SEXY TO '90s PARTY MUSIC

The Winning Line
"You don't own me. You're not my father!"

Look! It's -
A fresh-faced (well, as fresh a face as I've ever seen) Danny Trejo as the sexually harassing construction worker whose catcalls are ickily subtitled "foreign language" as if no one in California has ever heard of this thing called "Spanish"

In case you couldn't tell, I realllllllllly enjoyed Doppelganger. It's terrible, dated, offensive, and possibly not that good a movie, but it's also WILD. You can survive a few ads for stock apps on Tubi. Give it a go.


  1. Wow. wow wow wow. I'm speechless. This sounds like must-see film. I can't wait to hit it.

    Regarding ads on tubi (and all other sites streaming or otherwise), I highly recommend adding AdBlock or a similar app to your browser. There's no good reason to put up with commercials ruining the magical tension of an unheralded classic like...DOPPELGANGER.

    1. Well, I usually watch Tubi via the Roku on my TV and not my laptop (save for grabbing screenshots) because I require Danny Trejo's face to be as large as I can manage. Not sure if it will work that way, but I appreciate the tip!

  2. Oooh... I'm torn... Tubi ads and Drew Barrymore are a strong 'NO!' from me... but dopplegangers and Sally Kellerman are a big 'YES!'

    October Challenge has me looking for obscure crap to watch... so it goes on the list.

    1. I don't understand how this isn't more of a cult classic (well, yes I do: the first 70 minutes are really just Lifetime) so OBVIOUSLY, I'm STRONGLY recommending it go on your list!

  3. Haha, well I guess I'm dead to you Emily because I never told you about this movie! Mostly because I'd forgotten about it (I know, crazy!) but I know I watched it once back in the 90's, I think on Sci-Fi. Didn't Drew's real life mom, Jaid, play her mom here? Anyway yeah, I didn't remember much of the plot till I read your synopsis. Have you seen Far From Home, the late 80's thriller she made with Matt Frewer as her dad? I remember liking that one, but it's another movie of hers that I only watched once, years ago.

    1. No Dorian, I haven't seen Far From Home, and how will I ever since I don't know if I CAN EVER TRUST YOU AGAIN??????

      But yes, that's Drew stabbing her real-life mom, who I think was kind of a monster so hopefully that was therapeutic. One of the many wonderful things to come out of this film!