Models on film are eye candy, but models in a horror film are slasher fodder, and star/producer Michael Callan gets more than his fill in DOUBLE EXPOSURE, a Crown International release given the special edition treatment courtesy of Scorpion Releasing.
Photographer Adrian Wilde (Michael Callan, THE CAT AND THE CANARY) shoots centerfolds, high profile advertising campaigns, and exciting driving stunts. He also has plenty of easy bimbos throwing themselves at him. All that’s missing from his life is meaningful relationship; he is unable to form meaningful connections with women. Oh, and he has terrifying nightmares in which he brutally murders his models (who soon turn up dead afterwards in real life). Could he also be responsible for the brutal murders of a number of Los Angeles prostitutes (and one police officer in decoy drag) being investigated by Fontain (Pamela Hensley, BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25TH CENTURY) and Buckhold (David Young, MARY MARY BLOODY MARY)? Adrian’s psychiatrist (Seymour Cassel, FACES) is not so sure that Adrian’s nightmares are only in his mind anymore, while Adrian’s stuntman brother BJ (James Stacy, SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES) – the character, like the actor, lost an arm and a leg in an accident – is adamant that his brother is innocent. As Fontain and Buckhold close in on the club where Wilde and the dead models have all been seen – in between getting chewed out by their chief (Cleavon Little, BLAZING SADDLES) just to pad out the investigation storyline – Adrian’s nightmares get more vivid and he worries for the safety of his new love: Mindy (Joanna Pettet, THE EVIL).
DOUBLE EXPOSURE is a mess of a thriller; but it’s an entertaining mess. Hillman and Callan had previously collaborated on the similarly-themed black comedy THE PHOTOGRAPHER in 1974 (Grindhouse Releasing reportedly has the uncut negative materials for this film). According to cinematographer R. Michael Stringer (on the disc’s first audio commentary), he was hired to shoot new footage built around scenes from THE PHOTOGRAPHER before it was decided to abandon that approach and shoot an entirely new story; however, actor/producer Michael Callan (on the disc’s second audio commentary) tells us that someone involved in THE PHOTOGRAPHER threatened to sue them if they reused any of the footage from that earlier film, so Callan re-wrote the project as it was being shot. Without this knowledge, I would have thought that the Fontain/Buckhold/Police Chief scenes came from a different film, since Hensley and Little maintain an energy in their scenes that makes it seem as if they are in their own film (rather than trying to find continuity of character in a handful of filler scenes). Callan and Stacy have a convincingly fraternal relationship here and their scenes together are compelling, and Callan seems to enjoy going off the rails for his nightmarish murder scenes (as well as a monologue rant to photos of his victims).
The murder scenes are novel (and one is startlingly abrupt and graphic), and the nightmare/reality merging scenario helps cover the disjointed scripting (as does the score by Jack Goga [THE LAST DETAIL], who had also composed music for THE PHOTOGRAPHER). Adrian’s romantic relationship with Mindy is less developed, but Pettet is charming as usual (and does her only screen nudity here), while co-star Misty Rowe (THE HITCHHIKERS) belies her initial bimbo persona and gives a sweet performance as a centerfold model who hits it off with BJ. The off-kilter atmosphere also allows for some comic tone shifts that seem more appropriate to a romantic comedy drama, and the sibling relationship between Adrian and BJ probably could have been dropped into such a film with Pettet and Rowe in pretty much the same parts. The cast also features Don Potter as Adrian’s comic relief gay assistant, Robert Tessier (STARCRASH) as the proprietor of “Le Hot Club,” (with L.A. LAW’s Joanna Frank is his alimony-demanding ex-wife), and future Oscar nominee Sally Kirkland (ANNA) as a prostitute. Playboy Playmate Jeana Tomasina (BEACH GIRLS), Debbie Zipp (THE CHEERLEADERS), former SNL comedienne-turned-batshit-crazy Tea Party activist Victoria Jackson (CASUAL SEX) appear as some of Adrian’s models. Playboy Playmate Kathy Shower (FRANKENSTEIN GENERAL HOSPITAL) appears as a mud wrestler, and Terry Moore (MIGHTY JOE YOUNG) figures into an infidelity nightmare in which Adrian gets blown away by a jealous husband (Ken Scott, FANTASTIC VOYAGE).
Scorpion’s dual-layer, progressive, anamorphic transfer presents this Crown International title for the first time on video in its original Panavision (2.35:1) ratio. I’m not familiar with how this film has looked in its panned-and-scanned forms (it was released on VHS by Vestron and the fullscreen master popped up legitimately on a couple DVD sets by Mill Creek, who licensed the Crown library and sublicensed several titles to Scorpion), but the scope presentation is well-composed (however, the framing mainly gives the actors breathing room in which to enact mostly long take dialogue scenes). Cinematographer Stringer admits that he overlit several night scenes and interiors because he was using Fuji’s high-speed film for the first time, but blues and reds stand out strikingly against the sunny California backdrops. Splice lines are occasionally visible at the top and bottom of the frame, but there is little print damage. The Dolby Digital mono audio provides a clear rendition of the dialogue and Goga’s score. The film is playable with optional “Katarina’s Nightmare Theater” bookend segments by Katarina Leigh Waters, as well as two audio commentary tracks moderated by her. The first track features cinematographer R. Michael Stringer and his wife Sally (who was the film’s script supervisor). They mention that Stacy was upset that director Hillman allowed Callan to be put at risk during the stunt driving scenes (in which the actor takes photographs with the car whizzing around him), and that Pettet was panicked about her nude scene. They also point out the various family members of the cast and crew who appeared in the rest home scene – actually Sally Stringer’s parents’ home – including Stacy’s father (formerly a stuntman). Stringer mentions that the anamorphic shooting format was sometimes a hindrance (a killer’s POV shot strangling a victim required two stand-ins to play the left and right hands of the killer on either side of the camera because of the distortion of the wide angle and the anamorphic lens; the victim’s arms in the same shot are elongated by the same distortion). Stringer mentions working under cinematographer Gary Graver as focus puller on several Al Adamson films (and some of Graver’s later cinematographer and directorial efforts), and having to take over as cinematographer on a project when Orson Welles called Graver to Paris (Stringer ended up working under Graver on Welles’ unfinished THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND). Stringer had also previously worked with Cassel in John Cassavettes THE KILLING OF A CHINESE BOOKIE and OPENING NIGHT. Sally Stringer also mentions that she got her start in film under Welles, having been a theatrical stage manager at first and hired by Welles as script supervisor the day she walked on to set looking for her husband.
The second commentary track featuring actor Michael Callan and co-moderator Scott Spiegel seems to have been a last minute bonus since Waters only mentions the Stringer track in the introductory segment. Callan speaks warmly about his fellow cast members – particularly Stacy and Pettet – and reminisces about the scripting (including an underdeveloped character aspect that muddles the ending), shooting (including a couple night scenes grabbed without permits), and he seems very proud of the final product. Callan also points out his kid sister – now a big public relations agent – as an extra (and his assistant) during the mud wrestling scene, and mentions that Potter was his roommate in New York. Spiegel has some jokey interjections, but generally seems to be simply in awe of all of the resources that Callan was able to pool for the film. There is some overlap, but Callan seems to have been more engaged with the actors and the story, with Hillman focusing on the technical side of the shoot (so the Stringers input are most welcome to fill in that aspect). Callan also appears in a short interview (10:38) in which he describes his early career including his first Broadway job in THE BOYFRIEND with Julie Andrews, followed by WEST SIDE STORY, which lead to a seven-year contract with Columbia Pictures. The remainder is filled out with short comments on his experiences with several of the DOUBLE EXPOSURE cast members. The film’s theatrical trailer (2:50) and trailers for DEATH SHIP, THE SURVIVOR, THE HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW, DON’T ANSWER THE PHONE, FINAL EXAM, HUMONGOUS, and THE INCUBUS round out the package (a promo reel following Katarina’s closing remarks features clips from more upcoming titles). (Eric Cotenas)
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