Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Double Exposure (1983) dir. William Byron Hillman

Logline: Adrian (Michael Callan) is a photographer plagued by dreams that he's been slaughtering his models during their photo shoots. When the models actually do start turning up dead in the various ways he has dreamed, Adrian begins to doubt his own sanity-- though this won't stop him from courting a little romance on the side. Even deranged psychopaths need whimsical love montages.

Crime in the Past: I can't get too specific here, because I didn't really understand it. Something about Adrian and his brother B.J.'s mother and how she scarred them for life.

Bodycount: 9, all pretty as a picture.

Themes/Moral Code: Putting aside the fact that the film primarily concerns itself with the murder of sexualized women, it also has conflicted feelings about strong women. One scene featuring an awesome female cop upstaging her male partner by telling an uncooperative bartender to "fuck off" hard cuts to a scene in a lady's mud wrestling club. The film switches from admiring the strength of a female character's resolve and attitude to admiring women who can show off physical strength (I guess) in a highly sexually-charged environment sans most of their clothing. One of the female mud wrestlers is then challenged to tussle with Adrian's brother B.J. (James Stacy)-- a man missing two of his limbs-- in her mud pit. Though physically overpowered by B.J., this mud wrestler turns the match around by kissing B.J. passionately, bringing down his guard and allowing him to be pinned. Despite her triumph, this isn't exactly what I'd call an empowering moment-- the progression of these scenes seem to suggest that the power of woman's sexuality is ultimately more powerful than her personality (after all, the female cop had to tell the bartender off because he refused to cooperate with her-- a problem this detective also seems to have with her male superiors at the station).

Killer's Motivation: The film sets us up from fairly early on to believe that Adrian really is the killer, so of course he's not. It is, rather, his one-armed, one-legged stuntman brother, B.J. His motivation, given in an unclear piece of exposition at the climax, involves something to do with his mother, sex, disability, and "all those hookers and sluts." I'm less than interested to re-watch this scene and piece it all together, because no matter what the entire conceit is preposterous. Apparently (and if I followed all this correctly), B.J. would listen to Adrian's descriptions of his murderous dreams and then quick run out and commit the murder in precisely the same fashion. Hmm. Regardless of this, if Adrian was the killer (as he spends most of the film believing) his justifications for his alleged actions fall eerily close to B.J.'s own: in one scene, as he rants and raves in his groovy bachelor pad RV, Adrian snarls that one of the dead models was a slut, always teasing him without delivering, and so deserved what she got (though, full disclosure, he then switches gears and laments that another of the dead models was an innocent but, heck, he just couldn't control himself). So our hero feels essentially the same way about women as our killer does. Great!

Final Girl: The final girl is Mindy (Joanna Pettet), who is also Adrian's new girlfriend. He courts her by ceaselessly badgering her after they share an elevator until she agrees to go on a date with him. (She denies him many times before agreeing, so let this be a lesson to creeps everywhere: "no" actually means "maybe, ask again right now until you frighten me enough so that I give you my home address"). Their first date is some wine in the parking lot of a furniture store, which Adrian drives them to in his RV. It's easy to see why her heart was won. She doesn't do much in the film (besides work at a nursing home and staying very easy to please), but she does manage to save a restrained Adrian from B.J., who is about to drive an ice pick into his brother's neck, by stabbing him in his neck first (and this is after she was already stabbed and assumed dead herself!). Mindy is pretty tough in this moment, but follows it up by collapsing in tears onto Adrian's lap. She's too bland and dependent to leave much of an impression. (Again, I favor the sharp-tongued female cop, who would have made a superb heroine).

The Good, the Bad, & the Cheese: Here's another instance where an American slasher ends up closer to a North American giallo. For all the evidence you need, simply glance at the above poster. We have a gloved killer, a story that takes place over several days in the world of modeling and photography, a generally sleazy atmosphere, and a protagonist who doubts his own sanity. These are some delectable yellow ingredients, and the film combines them well. It has a certain creativity when it comes to its murders-- the best being a "rattlesnake in a trash bag" trick played on a model's head-- but these scenes are most notable for their brutality. A scene featuring one of Adrian's many lady friends being stabbed and slashed in his RV is ghastly in its use of queasy yet realistic gore effects, but even the subtler murders (a prostitute being choked in a back alley; a model being drowned with a pool skimmer) only replace graphic intensity with emotional disturbance. Yet as extremely violent and disquieting as those moments might be, the film is not afraid to mix in some unquestionable cheese, too (almost everything to do with Mindy; see above). Double Exposure is one of the more competently made slashers I've watched this month, even if it's not the most logical, entertaining, or socially progressive. Director William Byron Hillman has gone on to direct only a few more features, most recently Quigley (2003), starring Gary Busey as a billionaire reincarnated in the form of a Pomeranian. Hillman's interests have clearly shifted. 

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