Wednesday, July 19, 2017

#2,386. Double Exposure (1983)

Directed By: William Byron Hillman

Starring: Michael Callan, Joanna Pettet, James Stacy

Tag line: "Smile and say die!"

Trivia: Michael Callan's younger sister appears as an extra in the mud wrestling scene

The pre-title sequence that opens 1983’s Double Exposure, in which an undercover cop, posing as a hooker, is stabbed to death by an unknown assailant, convinced me I was in for yet another ‘80s slasher film. The very next scene, however (which plays during the credits), had a dream-like quality to it (slow-motion, stuttered movements, etc), and all at once I changed my mind; clearly, Double Exposure was going to be a psychological thriller.

Ultimately, the movie has elements of both subgenres scattered throughout it, and there are moments when it is simultaneously chilling and brilliant.

But more than anything, Double Exposure is a Goddamn jumbled mess.

On the surface, things seem to be going well for Adrian Wilde (Michael Callan). His job as a freelance photographer affords him the opportunity to hang out with a bevy of gorgeous models, and he’s dating the beautiful Mindy (Joanna Pettet), a younger woman who might just be the love of his life. But appearances can be deceiving; in fact, Adrian is tormented nightly by violent dreams in which he murders the very models who work for him. To make matters worse, these nightmares seem to be coming true; several girls have turned up dead, all finished off in the manner his dreams predicted.

Adrian opens up to his psychiatrist, Dr. Frank Curtis (Seymour Cassel), in the hopes he can somehow make sense of the situation. Adrian also tries talking to his brother B.J. (James Stacy), a professional stunt driver, but B.J. is busy dealing with his own issues, including a failed marriage and the loss of an arm and a leg in a recent accident.

As AdrIan wrestles with his subconscious, the bodies continue to pile up, and it’s only a matter of time before the detectives investigating the murders, Sgts. Fontain (Pamela Hensley) and Buckhold (David Young), will come knocking on his door.

But is Adrian really a serial killer, or is he a victim of circumstance?

The various kills in Double Exposure are inspired, to say the least; aside from the pre-title sequence mentioned above, we’re also treated to an impressive POV scene (shown from the killer’s perspective, of course) during which a hooker (played by future Oscar-nominee Sally Kirkland) is murdered. Yet as good as these moments (and several others) are, the film’s best kill takes place in the middle of the woods, and is so gruesome that you won’t soon forget it.

Along with the violence, Double Exposure also works as a psychological thriller, with Michael Callan turning in an extraordinary performance as a man on the edge, wondering if he’s actually committing murder, or if it’s just his mind playing tricks on him. Also strong is James Stacy as Adrian’s troubled brother B.J., and while I didn’t think the film’s romantic subplot was particularly well-developed, Joanna Pettet shines as Adrian’s love interest.

Unfortunately, even when taking its better elements into account, Double Exposure is a hard film to recommend. There are times when we’re not sure if what we’re seeing is a dream or reality, and large chunks of the movie feel as if someone spliced scenes together in random order, hoping they’d make sense. In addition, the police investigation into the killings (established during the pre-title sequence) is practically ignored until the final 20 minutes, and Cleavon Little, who portrays Fontain’s and Buckhold’s foul-tempered superior, is totally wasted in what proves to be a very insignificant role (he’s on-screen exactly 3 times, and in his last appearance his character has a pointless argument with Sgt. Fontain).

Some of the issues that plagued Double Exposure can be easily explained: initially, the goal of its director, William Byron Hillman, was to shoot a new movie that would also feature sequences from a little-known film that he and star Michael Callan made 10 years earlier, called The Photographer (which had a plot similar to this film's). When the studio behind The Photographer threatened to sue, Hillman and company found themselves with several plot holes that needed filling... and fast! According to an interview he did for the DVD release of Double Exposure, Callan, who also produced the movie, did some uncredited writing as well, and the additional scenes he’d concoct at night were often shot the very next day.

Naturally, with a production as frenzied as this one seemed to be, it’s no wonder the movie has its problems. But knowing this doesn’t make Double Exposure any less disjointed or perplexing, and while I admire Hillman and Callan for cobbling together some truly remarkable scenes, the film, as a whole, still falls short of the mark.

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