"To meet him, you'd think he was just an attractive, ordinary, nice kinda guy. But on arousal he was susceptible to the most appalling fantasies. Violent nightmares racked his sleeping hours with such intensity he began to suspect the things he imagined must be true. Neither the shrink, nor his amputee brother, nor the lovely Mindy were able to help. And the worst of it was, all the girls he ever dreamed he'd murdered were lying in the morgue ..."
Adrian Wild seems to have it all. He earns his living from taking pictures of beautiful women for a living, and all the models seem to find him irresistible. He's popular, considerate and kind. He even drives a fancy mobile home the size of a small ocean liner. Yes, Adrian seems to be living the life of Riley. There is, however, one small problem: he thinks he's cracking up big time and with a looney-tunes psycho killer on the prowl even his shrink is giving him sideways glances.
Adrian's mental breakdown is to a backdrop of murder and intrigue. A barely glimpsed assassin in natty brown leather gloves stalks the night, clasping a deadly ice pick, and is making short work of the female population of Los Angeles. What makes things worse for the photographer - and all the more intriguing (and in occasionally baffling) for the viewer - is the fact that he has mood swings so severe it's like violently shifting sands. It's the easy going Adrian who charms Mindy (Joanna Pettet) when he bumps into her in a lift, persuading her to come out on a dinner date with him. However, it's also this charming Adrian who at first puts a pretty model at ease during a photo shoot, where she is required to go into the deep end of a pool, even though she can't swim; he offers to help her stay buoyant by giving her the pool net handle to grab hold of. But, as soon as she's out of her depth his face changes and turns into a mask of swarthy hatred, as he pushes her below the surface and she drowns. ... The thing is it was all a dream. Adrian wakes, drenched in sweat. However, worryingly, these dreams seem all too vivid. He confides in his brother, B.J. (James Stacy), a car stunt driver who lost both an arm and a leg in an accident (the actor really did lose these limbs in a motorcycle crash back in 1969), that "It's getting to be with the dreams, I can't tell when they're real ...". His concerns seemed to be well founded, especially when the model he dreamt about murdering actually turns up floating face down in the pool for real ...
The two cops assigned to the case of the serial killer stalking LA, Sgt. Fontain (Pamela Hensley - who will be a familiar face to those that remember the popular early 80's TV series' BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25TH CENTURY and MATT HOUSTON) and her partner Sgt. Buckhold (David Young), are called to examine the murder scene. They have a special interest in this case, as the killer stabbed a colleague of theirs (who was posing undercover in drag as a hooker) to death with an ice pick on Sunset Boulevard in the film's opening scene. After another model turns up dead, and they find empty canisters of camera film, they begin to put the pieces together. But will their sleuthing be quick enough to stop the killer? And are things really as clear cut as they seem?
DOUBLE EXPOSURE is that rare beast amongst early 80's slasher flicks, if not quite an original, it's certainly one of a kind - which is something to be commended in a subgenre that relies on conformity and repetition to keep itself afloat. However, this certain specialness is something of a mixed blessing. The film is a bundle of contradictions: by turn, gripping and then totally infuriating. The semi-linear narrative neatly mirrors the refractive nature of Adrian's fractured psyche, and it works particularly well in the first half of the movie, where dreams and reality are mixed up skillfully (it's not quite Elm Street, but this trickery doesn't outstay its welcome). Incidentally, the more supernaturally tinged atmospheric slasher flick, THE SLAYER (also from 1982), played similar tricks with that hazy, shape-shifting place between dreaming and reality. However, where DOUBLE EXPOSURE ultimately falls down is that this slightly psychedelic approach not only leads to much head scratching on the part of the audience, the film is missing a satisfactory and solid thriller denouement (more of which later).
Certainly, the performances are almost uniformly good - especially Pettet, who plays the long suffering love interest for who Adrian's desire waxes and wanes with alarming regularity (it's her that the audience identifies with most, as it's clear she doesn't have a clue what's going on for most of the running time either!). Michael Callan's intense performance as the troubled Adrian is a scenery chewing tour-de-force, as he manages to succeed in both the Jekyll and the Hyde character (although his saccharine sweet good guy is a little too nice at points, I kept expecting them to show him rescuing a kitten from a burning building or raising enough funds to do up the old folks ranch, or something). However, it is easy to see why the whole film has been dismissed as a bit of a ego-trip for Callan - unless beautiful women actually do prefer ruddy faced middle-aged men. Sally Kirkland (who slasher fans will best remember as the homicidal transsexual in FATAL GAMES (1983)) has a memorable, albeit brief, cameo as an unlucky streetwalker whose 'neck massage' goes a bit further than she had originally envisaged! Also, the fractious relationship between the two brothers is nicely done, the characters are certainly much more complex that the ones you'd usually find in the subgenre. It reminded me of the classic thrillers from the 70's like PLAY MISTY FOR ME. However, it'd be wrong to paint DOUBLE EXPOSURE as pure class, this is a prime exercise in grindhouse exploitation through and through - good production values (on a tight budget) and good performances certainly don't mask this. There's acres of naked female flesh and the gimmicky murders aplenty (one where a bubbly model is bitten to death by a rattlesnake placed in a plastic bag forced over her head is both ridiculous and disturbingly mean-spirited) .
Of course, the reason to stick with the film to the end is to find out what the hell has been going on. Obviously I wouldn't dream of revealing what happens here. Suffice to say that although the grand denouement isn't nearly over-the-top as, say, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME (1981), it is daft as the proverbial brush. The revelation of who the killer actually is will elicit a "oooh", at first; quickly followed by an "eh?"; and then followed by a slew of empties aimed squarely at the rolling credits - and, if you're anything like me, you'll be rewinding the tape looking back at the kill scenes and trying to put two and two together (and in the case of this flick making five). Put it this way, as far as logic goes the makers of DOUBLE EXPOSURE haven't got a leg to stand on! Cryptic enough for ya?
Still, credit where credit's due: DOUBLE EXPOSURE is, despite it's failings, a brave attempt to do something different in a subgenre that was, by the time it was filmed, all but mined out - and, for that reason, it's certainly worth seeking out.
BODYCOUNT 10 female:5 / male:51) Male stabbed in the neck with ice pick