Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Women of Elmore

Fantasy artist Larry Elmore was one of the major reasons TSR, Inc. and its roleplaying games became as popular as they did. His iconic fantasy images, particularly the paintings and character designs he created for the "Dragonlance" property, fueled the imaginations of a generation.

Elmore's lines grace my two latest releases--"ROLF!: The Rollplaying Game of Big Dumb Fighters (Revised and Expanded... Because Bigger IS Better)" and "Houseboat on the River Styx". I am celebrating by presenting a selection of beautiful women from his drawing board (hopefully the first of many Elmore "exhibits" to brighten your Wednesdays here at Shades of Gray).

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Saturday Scream Queen: Joanna Pettet

A British-born actress, raised in Canada and trained in New York City, Joanna Pettet had a long and busy career, stretching from the early 1960s through the mid-1990s, appearing in TV shows and films of just abput every mainstream genre. Horror roles of note include multiple appearances on "Rod Seling's Night Gallery" series, "Welcome to Arrow Beach", and a great starring turn in haunted house chiller "The Evil" during the 1970s.

Pettet's last horror movie appearance in 1983's "Double Exposure," one of those films with a cast better than the material deserved. As the 1980s wore on, she kept busy with recurring roles in television drama series and multiple guest-shots on "Fantasy Island" and "Love Boat", but parts where she had even the smallest chance to show her talent became fewer and farther between.

In 1995, Pettet retired from acting after her only child died from a fatal heroine overdose.

Pettet was one of the many talented actresses who throughout her career got roles that called for her to primarily just look beautiful rather than act. As a result, she is one those people whose face we recognize when we see it on the screen, but can't put a name to. In the end, her greatest claim to fame has become that she was one of the last people to see pregnant actress Sharon Tate alive, visiting with Tate on the afternoon before the Manson Family brutally murdered her on August 8, 1968.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

A film with better performances than it deserved

Double Exposure (1983)
Starring: Michael Callan, James Stacy, Joanna Pettet, and Seymour Cassel
Director: William Byron Hillman
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

A photographer (Callan) on the verge of a mental breakdown starts having vivid nightmares in which he murders his beautiful models. When a mysterious serial killer starts making his dreams reality--by murdering his models in exactly the manner he dreamed--both he and the police become convinced that he is the killer.

"Double Exposure" is a fairly run-of-the-mill low-budget murder mystery/sexual thriller that features substandard dialogue but better-than-expected acting from the cast members. Time and again, Callan, Stacy, Pettet, Cassel, and the extensive supporting cast of suspects and victims prove the truism that a good actor can make even the worse lines sing.

Callan in particular is good. He presents a believable performance as a man who is coming apart at the seams, and manages to make a character who might come across as slimy likable--given that he's a guy in his forties rutting with women half his age--which makes the maybe-dream-sequences all the more effective and shocking when he turns from nice guy to killer. The violence during the kill sequences is also startling because it mostly comes with very little build-up.

There are two major flaws with this film that the actors can't overcome, however.

The first are the painfully boring stretches of padding, with the worst of these being a pointless sequence of the characters dancing the night away at a disco. If not for the shuttle feature on my DVD player, I may have given up on this movie at that point. Yes, there was a tiny bit of plot that unfolded during the long--oh so long!--disco scene, and it helped set up the twist ending a little, but it was nowhere near enough to justify the torture of sitting through that scene. Even with liberal application of the shuttle feature, it was too long.

The second is the way the story is executed. As mentioned above, the film has a twist ending in-so-far-as who the real murderer is. However, the lines between the main character's reality and dreams become so blurred that even the viewer can't keep track of what's what. At roughly the halfway point of the film, I decided that I was watching a really bad attempt at making a film like "Hatchet for the Honeymoon" where the hook of the story isn't who-dunnit but rather how the psycho killer will ultimately meet his end. The level of padding, though, was so severe that I almost didn't stick with the film to the end. The only thing that kept me watching was several inconsistencies in the timeline of the killings versus where the photographer seemed to be at the time... they seemed a little too deliberate to just be sloppy writing, so stuck with the film to see if I had been right in my assumption.

It turns out that I was not, but that this film follows the more standard path of having one of the characters framing/exploiting the main character's unstable mental state for his own twisted purposes, in addition to serial killing that is. While there are clues to whom the actual killer is sprinkled throughout the movie, the revelation of the identity, the how, and the why really don't make a whole lot of sense, nor do they seem terribly plausible if one applies a little bit of thought.

Then again, this movie really isn't worth your brain-power, and watching it may just make you feel sad for the actors who are giving this poorly conceived crap their best efforts.