Sunday, February 26, 2012

Cult Classics Revisited: DOUBLE EXPOSURE (1983)

(US - 1983)

Written and directed by William Byron Hillman.  Cast: Michael Callan, Joanna Pettet, James Stacy, Pamela Hensley, Cleavon Little, Seymour Cassel, Misty Rowe, Robert Tessier, David Young, Don Potter, Sally Kirkland, Terry Moore, Victoria Jackson, Kathy Shower.  (R, 95 mins)

Is it possible that someone, in 1983, gave the greenlight to a Michael Callan vanity project?  The winner of the Most Promising Newcomer award at the 1961 Golden Globes, Callan had a long career as a character actor in movies (most notably co-starring with Lee Marvin and Jane Fonda in 1965's CAT BALLOU) and was a regular guest star on countless prime-time TV shows in the 1970s and well into the 1980s.  In 1983, he made a couple of unexpected trips to the grindhouse with a small role in the legendary women-in-prison classic CHAINED HEAT, and the lead in the giallo-inspired slasher flick DOUBLE EXPOSURE, a vintage bit of Crown International sleaze that was a fixture on late-night cable back in the day.  Callan chews the scenery as chick-magnet photographer Adrian Wilde, who's concerned about his relationships with women despite his apparent ability to get more ass than a toilet seat.  The middle-aged, slightly paunchy Callan has more of an average everyman look than most cinematic leading men, which no doubt explains his busy career as a character actor.  As a protagonist, the Adrian Wilde character comes off as a bit of creep, yet women still throw themselves at him with wild abandon, as star Michael Callan no doubt exudes the level of raw machismo and dynamic animal magnetism that producer Michael Callan was looking for in his lead actor. 

As a serial killer offs Hollywood prostitutes, Wilde is plagued by horrific nightmares in which he kills his scantily-clad subjects, only to find out that those women have been killed in exactly the way they were in his dreams.  Is he the killer?  The bad dreams intensify and the murders continue as he begins a new relationship with the only-in-the-early-1980s-monikered Mindy Jordache (Joanna Pettet), after what can be politely termed a "meet-weird" in a parking garage.  Apparently, she finds it a turn-on when a guy aggressively corners her in an elevator, follows her through a parking garage, and then picks her up in a motor home for drinks outside a closed store.

"Heeeey, Joanna Pettet!  Whaddaya say we hop in my RV and have some wine outside a closed department store, huh?  Yeah, that's right.  You know you want this..."

DOUBLE EXPOSURE was a semi-sequel of sorts to the obscure 1974 film THE PHOTOGRAPHER, also from writer/director William Byron Hillman and starring Callan as Adrian Wilde.  It's not a direct sequel (although it was intended as such until Callan couldn't secure the rights to use footage from the earlier film) and you needn't see THE PHOTOGRAPHER to figure out what's going on in DOUBLE EXPOSURE.  It's rather restrained by '80s slasher standards, though it does have a few gory moments.  Plus, Hillman and Callan seem to have the right idea with the frequent nudity by a number of attractive women in the cast, which is mostly TV actors and friends of Callan's.  In some extraordinarily effective casting, the tragic James Stacy plays Adrian's stunt driver brother BJ, who recently lost his left arm and left leg in a crash.  In 1973, Stacy and his girlfriend were on his motorcycle when they were hit by a drunk driver.  The girlfriend was killed and Stacy had to have his left arm and left leg amputated.   He continued to work until the early '90s when he utterly imploded with alcoholism, a suicide attempt, and a child molestation conviction.  Callan and Stacy look eerily similar, so much so that in a few shots, until the missing arm was brought into view, I mistook Stacy for Callan.  Also appearing in the intriguingly bizarre supporting cast are Pamela Hensley (MARCUS WELBY, M.D., BUCK ROGERS, MATT HOUSTON) as a detective investigating the murders; an underused Cleavon Little as the irate police chief; HEE HAW's Misty Rowe as a model; longtime Howard Hughes girlfriend Terry Moore; and Seymour Cassel as Adrian's shrink.  Cult movie vet Robert Tessier shows up as a bartender; a pre-SNL Victoria Jackson has a couple of scenes as a racetrack model; future Playboy Playmate of the Year (1986) Kathy Shower is seen as a mudwrestler; and a pre-ANNA Sally Kirkland appears long enough to get naked as a soon-to-be-dead hooker.

Callan and near-lookalike co-star James Stacy

But really, DOUBLE EXPOSURE is pretty much The Michael Callan Show (he's also credited as "Post-Production Supervisor"). His shirts are unbuttoned or off, women fall into bed with him, he goes down on Pettet as the camera focuses on her reaching heights of ecstacy never before bestowed upon the female species, he does backflips in a pair of tight swimming trunks, and he gets a long scene where Hillman lets him have a totally over-the-top meltdown.  I'm sure Callan's a nice guy and he was never hurting for work, but he doesn't exactly scream "fashion photographer" as much as he exudes "used-car salesman" or maybe "small-time bookie" depending on how many buttons are undone on his shirt. 

Scorpion's new DVD, part of their "Katarina's Nightmare Theater" line, looks very nice in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, rescuing the film from those cheaply-priced 50-movie sets with mostly outdated VHS transfers. The apparently-retired (or at least, inactive in TV or movies since 2007) Callan, now 76, sits down with Scorpion's horror hostess, "former WWE diva and current TNA knockout" Katarina Leigh Waters, for an interview that mainly touches upon his early years and his thoughts on DOUBLE EXPOSURE and the cast members.  No mention is made of Stacy's legal troubles or personal problems, though Callan erroneously states that Stacy's motorcycle accident was a year before DOUBLE EXPOSURE when it was actually a decade earlier.  It's possible he was confusing it with THE PHOTOGRAPHER, which Stacy wasn't in, but it did come out a year after his accident.  He also can't recall Terry Moore being in DOUBLE EXPOSURE, and mistakenly says she played his mother in THE PHOTOGRAPHER (she didn't).  But other than a couple of 30-year-old brain farts that could happen to anybody, Callan comes off as a pretty genial guy.  He also takes part in a commentary with Katarina and cult movie fixture Scott "Still Coasting on EVIL DEAD II" Spiegel, in which they run out of things to talk about before the credits even start.  Lots of dead air and one-word answers from Callan, who just isn't very talkative, and Spiegel only seems interested in the sex scenes or where certain scenes were shot ("Was this on the freeway?").  It's not the worst commentary I've ever heard (thanks to the respectively hapless* and absurd** Walt and Bill Olsen for sitting this one out), but I bailed on it after about 25 minutes.  There's a second commentary (!) with Katarina and cinematographer R. Michael Stringer and script supervisor Sally Stringer that I didn't check out.

*  © John Charles
** © Marty McKee  


  1. How does Callan look these days? It's weird to think of him as 76.

  2. He looks like he's kept himself in pretty good shape. Hair's mostly silver, but he looks younger than 76.

  3. Maybe I need to go back and stick with that Callan commentary a little longer. I just read Paul Mavis' review on DVD Talk, and he says Callan gets audibly annoyed with Spiegel's fanboy oohing and aahing and eventually tells him "You talk too much." And apparently, on the other track, Katarina asks Stringer something about Seymour Cassel working with "John Cassavelle." Cassavelle?!