Tuesday, August 9, 2011

'Don't Answer the Phone' should be disconnected

Don't Answer the Phone (aka "The Hollywood Strangler") (1980)
Starring: James Westmoreland, Nicholas Worth, Flo Gerrish,
and Ben Frank
Director: Robert Hammer
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

A serial killer (Worth) is on the loose in Los Angeles, murdering hookers and photo models with unchecked savagery while taunting radio psychiatrist Lindsay Gale (Gerrish) with on-air phone calls. Will the homicide detectives in charge of the case (Frank and Westmoreland) catch him before his torment of Gale turns to murder?

Indifferently acted with cinematography and lighting to match, not to mention listless direction, the thus poorly written killer-on-the-loose flick doesn't have much going for it other than the graphic nature of its highly sexually charged murder scenes and the overall creepiness of the mad killer... and that's only if you watch the uncensored version, which is what is included in the "Pure Terror" boxed set.

There's little question that the creators of this film were trying to be as nasty as they could be, with the kill scenes each lingering on the pain and suffering of the victims as they are choked to death (with the one exception feeling strange as a result) and almost always following up with some disturbingly perverted behavior by the insane killer. In some ways, this film is worse than some of the "torture porn" films that have been so popular in recent years. It could even be considered a precursor to them, although it has more in common with Italian bloody thrillers from the hands of Dario Argento or Mario Bava than the more recent flicks.

This is one of those films where I almost feel bad for the actors in it. I've no doubt everyone was trying their best, but they were working with material so badly written that even the greatest actors would have a hard time saving it. James Westmoreland plays one of the dumbest, most obnoxious cops that's ever been presented as a heroic lead character in any film, and his partner--played by career bit-player Ben Frank who probably had hoped that this, one of his few large roles would have been better--is only slightly smarter; Flo Gerrish is so shrewish and shrill that you will find yourself HOPING she gets killed just so she will shut up--although, to the filmmakers' credit, when she finally does become a direct victim of the killer, it is a scary and well-done sequence and we are genuinely worried for the character as she is about to be brutalized, murdered, and raped; and Nicholas Worth's killer is so brutal and crazy and depraved and so over the top that he almost become a parody of the mad killers from the aforementioned Italian thrillers.

In fact, the script for this film is so bad that I've seen some reviewers comment on it as if it was a satire of slasher flicks and Argento-style thrillers. While that is certainly a charitable way to look at the film, I sincerely doubt that writer/director Robert Hammer was trying to make anything but a serious thriller.

In the final evaluation, "Don't Answer the Phone" might be fitting as part of a line-up for a Bad Movie Night centered on detective movies or Italian-type thrillers, but only if your viewing buddies have a tolerance for stupid cops and extended rape/murder scenes.


  1. Wow - this one obviously didn't work for you, Steve. I had a somewhat different reaction to it - and since the blog post is complete - and despite a plan to post some older backlog first - I decided to go ahead and post mine tonight (if you were interested in my take on the flick). Yours is a well-written review, though!

  2. I love horror and B-grade horror to be specific, but have not tolerance for slashers. The film's a shady excuse for those overlong killings and whats the point? Am I suppose to be excited by this? I mean, it would be uncomfortable to what this content with friends, so is it meant to be viewed solitary?

  3. I imagine the same sort of folks who sit down to watch "Hostel" or "Touristas" or any other "torture porn" film you care to mention would sit down and watch this one together as well.