Double Exposure (1983)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2012-03-09 07:26

Written and Directed by: William Byron Hillman
Starring: Michael Callan, Joanna Pettet and James Stacy

Reviewed by: Brett G.

Smile and say "die!"

The opening title for Double Exposure features an obvious riff on Psycho, but letís get the obvious out of the way right off the bat: Double Exposure is no Psycho. It isnít even Gus Van Santís Psycho, even if it also recycles a few Hitchcockian camera tricks. I might even go so far as to say that Double Exposure only barely compares to the Bates Motel pilot, even if it does separate itself from the usual stalk-and-slash, body count fare that had piled up in 1983. This one at least takes its cue from Psycho more so than it does Friday the 13th, which would be excellent if it actually listened to the cue instead of drowning it out with its own lackadaisical and blurry plot.

Just as in Psycho, weíre dealing with a guy with mommy issues: model photographer Adrian Wilde (Michael Callan) has weekly visits with a shrink (Seymour Cassel), where he admits his problems with forming relationships with women. This, however, doesnít prevent him from hitting on a girl (Joanna Pettet) in the elevator on his way out one day, and her willingness to actually date a guy projecting such desperation probably says a lot. But I digress--the big problem here is that he canít stop having dreams about murdering the models that he shoots, a condition that would only be a minor inconvenience if these models didnít actually turn up in the morgue after these nightmares.

And so Double Exposure lurches on, often blurring the lines between dreams and reality, so much so that it teeters on being difficult to follow. Keeping up with who is actually dead and alive sometimes becomes an issue, and it doesnít help that Callan inexplicably keeps bagging and bedding chick after chick (it must be the perpetually visible patch of chest hair). His brother B.J. (James Stacy) isnít quite as lucky with the ladies; even though heís a Hollywood stunt-driver, heís also missing an arm and a leg, so most women treat him like an ogre. This doesnít stop him and B.J. from attempting to wine and dine them all the same, and Double Exposure sags under the weight of these bar-room courtships and ham-fisted conversations between the two brothers (B.J. is especially haunted by his bitch of an ex-wife). Itíd be a pretty inspiring story about fraternal bonding if one of them werenít apparently a homicidal maniac.

Maybe, anyway--Double Exposure really cheats with the line-blurring stuff, plus some murders are suspiciously shot from a POV perspective, as if to hide something. Narrative gracefulness isnít exactly one of the strong points here; even though there are a chunk of suspects in addition to Adrian (one is an effeminate photographer who looks to have wandered in from the set of an Italian giallo), his involvement practically basks in a neon glow, which means he couldnít possibly be the killer, right? Obviously, I wonít say, but I will say the eventual reveal makes little sense in terms of what the film has set up, a fault that would be easier to forgive if Double Exposure were riotously entertaining along the way. Instead, its monotony is only occasionally broken by the disco dancing, mud-wrestling, a big stunt car crash, and murders, most of which are of the strangulation/stabbing variety, save for one inspired use of a rattlesnake and a burlap sack.

In addition to a more psychological and somewhat story-driven approach than its slasher brethren, Double Exposure boasts generally better production values as well. Hillman opts for sleek scope photography and some bravura camera work at times, with the POV murder scenes being especially dynamic. Even its cast is kind of remarkable; Callan was mostly known as a TV guy, but his performance here is okay, if not a little overcooked (a scene that sees him lashing out at himself is especially corny). Heís surrounded by the likes of Cassel, Sally Kirkland (as an ill-fated hooker who thinks sheís getting a neck massage instead of strangled), Cleavon Little, David Young, and Pamela Hensley. The latter trio represent the police contingent of Double Exposure and only really pop up to confirm that these models really are dropping like flies. Also scattered in the cast is Victoria Jackson (before she made it to SNL and also lost her mind) as one of the models.

Among other things, even the filmís title doesnít make a whole lot of sense; it sets you up for something like Blow Up or maybe even Blow Out, but neither photography nor detective work play much of a role outside of some ill-placed incriminating photos late in the game. If De Palma was making Hitchcockian homages, then this is just a knock-off of that, and, like any copy of a copy, something gets lost among the way. It feels appropriate that Double Exposure has shown up in public domain sets over the years, but forget those since Scorpion Releasing has unleashed the ultimate DVD for this film, complete with two audio commentaries featuring Callan, cinematographer R. Michael Stringer, and script supervisor Sally Stringer between them. Additionally, youíll find an interview with Callan along with the filmís theatrical trailer, and since this is part of Katarinaís Nightmare Theater, the former WWE Diva (and now TNA Knockout) hosts the proceedings. The big deal here, though, is the newly restored anamorphic widescreen transfer that presents the film in that scope aspect ratio for the first time; while Stringerís cinematography is slick, itís still not exactly vibrant, and this restoration seems to be appropriately gritty and is mostly well done. If you must expose yourself to this film, this is certainly the release to track down. Rent it!

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