Don't Answer the Phone (1980)
By: Mr Intolerance on April 1, 2009  | 
DVD
BCI Eclipse (USA). Region 1, NTSC. 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 2.0 Mono. 94 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Credits
Director: Robert Hammer
Starring: James Westmoreland, Flo Gerrish, Ben Frank, Nicholas Worth
Screenplay: Robert Hammer
Country: USA
External Links
Purchase IMDB YouTube
Here's one for the stalk-and-slash crew, also for those in the Vietnam-vet-goes-nuts brigade. And it's not a very well-known one; I mean, it's not a film that'd leap straight your lips if either of those sub-genres was mentioned in conversation. It's pretty damned sleazy (that's a good thing), the acting and dialogue ain't the best admittedly, but still, there's something about this film that warrants your watching it.

After a brief introduction by the film's director, and the fella who moderates the film's audio commentary, the opening scene is one of our killer, who's a big, powerful-looking dude, and obviously barking mad from the outset, stripped to the waist in a darkened room dominated by a large crucifix – also he's admiring himself in the mirror, which is a little unusual, but certainly tells us of the vanity and egotism of the character. Pride goes before a fall, after all.

Being as this is an exploitation film, we can't waste any time waiting to see boobs and violence, and we get them almost immediately – the first murder/rape we see, but apparently the fifth in Hollywood in the a short space of time. The news guy on the radio tells us this information, and then lets this molten bronze droplet of wisdom slip: "The city's fifth rape and murder victim of the month was just found this morning, leading police to speculate that we may have a mad killer-rapist prowling our streets." Really? Do you think? We also have an inept scriptwriter, it would seem…

Intercut with our introduction to radio psychiatrist Dr Lindsay Gale, we see how the Killer (as he's referred to in the credits) approaches some of his victims, posing as a photographer and scouting for models, and with a much more lucid and sane demeanour than we've previously seen. He's calling Lindsay, and bragging about his crimes to her over the air, but through the unintentionally funny persona of "Ramon", a cringe-inducing exaggerated Latino accent.

His next target is a patient of Lindsay's, a vulnerable young woman who was molested by her father, and is undergoing therapy for it. He binds, tortures and…well…use your imagination as to what else happens. It's not too much of a stretch for you, believe me. And so the police get their taskforce on the job, and we get a montage of coppers doing office work – not the most exciting footage I've ever seen, and the soundtrack at this point sounds like someone bought a cheap synthesiser and was attempting to play it with their nose or something, with a bad 70s porno beat underneath. This is one of many directorial lapses the film contains.

Slasher film cliché #231: the investigating officer is a right-wing red-neck and the psychiatrist is a bleeding heart leftie, and initially they hate each other, and yet are forced to work together. Nope, never seen that one before… Can't tell how that one will pan out at all. Again, with predictable scriptwriting like this (hampered further by appalling acting which is only barely better than that in Ed Wood films), it's easy to see how this film has slipped into obscurity. In some regards it's a bit of a shame, because it's not a total stinker, and actually better than some of its more lauded contemporaries like The Prowler (a movie so boring I practically had to resort to the Lodovico Technique in order to stay conscious while watching it) – it has some odd, quirky moments and Nicholas Worth's performance to recommend it. Y'know, it suddenly dawned on me WHY this tale of the brutal misogynistic narcissistic sociopath photographer and killer who cruises the streets looking for victims seemed so familiar – it provides a reasonably detailed blueprint for the plot of Murder-Set-Pieces, which bears many similarities to this film, but amps up the violence and gore exponentially, and doesn't have the police investigation sub-plot.

Anyway, the Killer has lured yet another naïve young thing back to his lair under the pretence of being a photographer. He manages to convince this poor mid-west girl with an eye for the main chance to pose chained up, but when she gets weirded out by the introduction to the shoot of the crucifix I mentioned earlier she wants out – exit wannabe starlet, stage left. Worth's performance reminds me very much of Joe Spinell's in Maniac, but a lesser version, but in Worth's defence, Spinell had Bill Lustig for a director, and had had a great deal more screen experience and presence, and was a larger than life character anyway, and had more to draw on. Worth runs through the whole gamut of the emotions of the nutcase: the maniacal giggling while committing atrocities, the abject hysterical crying with remorse after the deed is done, the bizarre idiosyncracies, the almost pitiable personality, if it weren't for his homicidal misogyny.

I must say, Lindsay has a bizarre way of treating her patients. Have a look at the way she tries to help a drug dependant young lady; definitely odd. Mind you, we shouldn't laugh, the police have gotten to the point where they've employed a rather flamboyant psychic, Mr Demetrious, to help with their investigations. Grasping at straws? I think so.

The Killer, it would seem is selling off his photos of his victims to a local pornographer. I don't think the fella realises that what he's buying is genuine snuff material. Further to the snuff motif, the Killer gets some drugs and a prostitute, and once he's got the hooker high, gets her to call Lindsay on air, and then makes what is possibly the world's first broadcast snuff phone call. If in no other way, he is, in this, an innovator. The hooker's pimp tries to exact some retribution on his arse, but given the fact that our boy is a Vietnam vet, and a big one, (in real life, apparently Nicholas Worth, the actor playing the Killer, was a close combat weapons trainer in the paratroopers) he doesn't have too much of a hope.

Lindsay hands over the tapes of the phone calls to the cops and the hunt for our killer heats up…slowly. The director is capable of giving us some good set pieces, but man, he has no idea about how to build up tension. The pace of this film plods at times, to its detriment – it's not deliberate pacing, it's just really slow. At least a good ten to fifteen minutes of Don't Answer the Phone could easily have been snipped, with nothing lost in the telling of the story.

Mind you, when we get to the point where our two cops bust a brothel, for some reason the director decides to play the comedy card, relying on racial stereotypes of Black and Hispanic types as coke-snorting criminals – probably wouldn't see this shit too much today (I don't think that the copyright holders of Don't Answer the Phone are likely to be bothered by the re-make crowd all that much anyway). Watching the assorted pervs running out of the building did make me wonder what sort of experiences the director must have had in such an establishment – a cavalcade of cliché which pretty much ruins the tone of the film; yet, at least it livened it up.

Detective McCabe, the leader of the investigation into the Strangler, after initially being quite hostile with Lindsay ends up being very jiggy with her indeed. That'd be that cliché I was talking about before. If you hadn't seen it coming a mile off, you'd have to be a total clod. Plot device? Never. Our killer is still on the loose however, and down to do badness to nubile young chickadees, while L.A.'s finest is getting his nob polished. This last act of the film is getting increasingly goofy, the sleazy, grimy atmosphere of the earlier parts of the film falling to the wayside, unfortunately. Comedy has started becoming the order of the day, and it weakens the film due to being too overt. This could have been introduced in a much less heavy-handed fashion.

Our killer eventually fucks up, not scouting out his target with his usual thoroughness, and the director again cranks this increasingly interminable film up another notch. He's killed a little too indiscriminately, and left behind some rather telling evidence – notably his "portfolio" and his camera, which should be enough for the bumbling coppers to nail him, as they head off to question a certain pornographer about his activities.

The net tightens, and then, well, you'll have to scope out the rest for yourself. But if you can't guess who the Killer's next intended victim is, I'm just going to assume that you either haven't been paying attention, or that this kind of film genre is new to you.
Video
A reasonably soft image with some shimmer, but it is presented anamorphically in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio.
Audio
The deafening electronic score certainly marks this film as a product of its time. Otherwise, the soundtrack is quite serviceable apart from some really annoying hissing during the quieter moments of the film, which helps to ruin the tension. Generally speaking it's nothing special, although given the nature of the film, that kinda makes sense. 5.1 surround wouldn't be doing this film any favours, and would probably detract from its grimy feel.
Extra Features
There's a full-length commentary with writer/producer/director Robert Hammer, an interview with actor Nicholas Worth called "Answering the Phone", a bunch of trailers for Don't Answer the Phone, a Don't Answer the Phone and The Hearse double-header, Blood Mania and Prime Evil. There's also a stills gallery, but seeing as I watch DVDs for the fact that they are MOVING pictures, I've never understood the reason why people would even be vaguely interested in such a thing. Apparently there's an Easter egg on their somewhere, but I'll be damned if I could find it.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Well, it's not Maniac, although it does cover similar ground, and it certainly aims for a similar level of sleaze. What hampers it in realising that level is the fact that the film is very restrained in terms of its violence, which given the film's subject matter is kind of necessary. The gore and general nastiness that characterises a film like the aforementioned Maniac isn't here; the grimy sexual content is, but it's significantly weaker. It's this general restraint on top of the poor, exaggerated acting and awful script that occasionally conspire to lessen the film's impact and make it seem somehow laughable at times, and makes it unsuccessful in its intent. B-range? Possibly lower, to be quite honest. It tries admirably, but ultimately Don't Answer the Phone fails.

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