Sunday, September 10, 2006

Smile And Say Die

Michael Callan’s career as a light leading man in acclaimed fare like MYSTERIOUS ISLAND and CAT BALLOU was long gone by the time he co-produced and starred in 1982's DOUBLE EXPOSURE. It's one of those films that has fallen into obscurity after a brief theatrical run under the Crown International banner and then to videocassette, where its dusty, sundrenched box sits ignored on video store shelves. Which means I can't resist it.

It’s easy to see why Callan took the job as star; he has lots of showy acting moments, and he makes out with many naked babes, including fortysomething Joanna Pettet. His credit as post-production supervisor suggests that he and executive producer Frank Silverman (note his prominent title card) may have had more to do with DOUBLE EXPOSURE’s final cut than writer/director/co-producer William Byron Hillman. Amazingly, it appears to be a remake of an earlier Hillman/Callan film called THE PHOTOGRAPHER!

Freelance photog Adrian Wilde (Callan) is plagued by sweaty nightmares in which he slaughters various models and prostitutes with a knife or an icepick. Meanwhile, those same models and hookers are being murdered by a mysterious gloved killer who also targets an undercover policeman posing as a hooker. The morning following each dream, Wilde frantically explains it to his shrink (Seymour Cassel) and to his rascally brother B.J. (James Stacy), an ex-stunt driver with one arm, one leg, one ex-wife and a bitter attitude.

Hillman’s screenplay isn’t very good, but it contains lots of “actory” scenes that must have lured several of Callan’s friends; DOUBLE EXPOSURE’s cast is quite impressive considering the material they have to work with. Despite the perceived red herrings, the list of suspects is actually much shorter than you think, when you mull over how few people know the details of Adrian’s dreams. Vestron Video’s pan-and-scan print does the cinematography and direction no favors, not that Hillman is any rival of Dario Argento’s. The movie is paced and structured like a giallo with an occasional swipe from the slasher movies that were popular at the time.

Callan chews some major scenery as he battles mood swings and wakes up after lovemaking sessions with young women covered in sweat. He went back to TV guest shots and soap operas after this last gasp at movie-leading-manhood. As absurd as the plot is, at least Callan’s scenes with Stacy feel authentic, as though the two really were quite close. Stacy, the former star of TV’s LANCER, did lose his limbs in a 1973 motorcycle accident, and though he continued to act for several years afterward, Hollywood sadly has little use for a one-armed, one-legged actor outside of roles specifically calling for one. MATT HOUSTON’s Pamela Hensley co-stars as the detective pursing the killer’s identity, along with Robert Tessier, Misty Rowe, Cleavon Little (in a thankless role as Hensley’s orders-barking chief), Don Potter, Joey Forman, Jeana Tomasina (THE BEACH GIRLS), PLAYBOY’s Kathy Shower as a mud wrestler, SNL’s Victoria Jackson in her first film, Debbie Zipp, Sally Kirkland, Joanna Frank (THE SAVAGE SEVEN) and Terry Moore.

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