Wednesday, August 10, 2011

If you want to live, better let the machine get it...

Don't Answer the Phone  (Crown International Pictures, 1980)

Before the Camera:

Nicholas Worth  (Swamp Thing)
James Westmoreland  (Stacey)
Ben Frank  (Hollywood Vice Squad)
Flo Gerrish  (Superchick)
Denise Galik  (Humanoids from the Deep '80)
Stan Haze  (Alligator)
Gary Allen  (The Hudsucker Proxy)
Michael D. Castle  (Galaxina)
Pamela Jean Bryant  (Scorpion)
Ted Chapman  (Bananas)
Chris Wallace  (New Year's Evil)
Dale Kalberg  (Scavenger Hunt)
Tom Lasswell  (Free Willy)
Don Lake  (Super Mario Bros.)
Gail Jensen  (Future Zone)
Victor Mohica  (Diplomatic Immunity)
Paula Warner  (Shampoo)
Susanne Severeid  (Van Nuys Blvd)
Hugh Corcoran  (The Manitou)
Corinne Cook  (Malibu Hot Summer)
Peter Fain  (The Cycle Savages)
David Osterhout  (Private Duty Nurses)
Jon Greene  (Maniac Cop)
Chuck "Porky" Mitchell
Sam Gluckman

Behind the Camera:

Directed by Robert Hammer

Produced by Michael D. Castle, Robert Hammer, and Michael Towers

Written by Robert Hammer and Michael D. Castle

Based on "Nightline" by Michael Curtis

From the heyday of the Post-Halloween Horror Boom comes this seamy entry, with top billed cop Lt. Chris McCabe (Westmoreland) taking a back seat to killer Kirk Smith (Worth). We start off watching Smith showing us he's a hands-on kind of killer, as he forgoes the blades wielded by so many of the screen psychos of the time and strangles his first victim, a nurse who made the mistake of not listening to the title when her mom calls. 
The first victim (Dale Kalberg), showing the kind of
contempt for buttons that can get you hired for a movie,
and the kind of contempt for cautionary movie titles
that can get you killed in a movie.

After that we crosscut between watching Smith as he lines up, stalks, and then kills his victims, and police duo McCabe and Hatcher (Frank) as they investigate the murder of the first girl in the rather slow and methodical way these things were done before forensics went super high tech and editing went CSI-showy. Smith eventually sets his sights on radio psychologist Dr. Lindsay Gale (Gerrish), who also just happens to be consulting on the serial strangler case being investigated by...yep, you guessed it - detectives McCabe and Hatcher. And even as the two plots bump into each other coming and going, bad ol' Kirk Smith is leaving a string of throttled bodies across the city. Can the madman be stopped before he strangles again?

Nicholas Worth moments after being told there wouldn't be a "The Phone's
Still Ringing: Don't Answer It 2"

Wow - this is horror at its most sordid - the kind of movie that prompted the phrase "I wanted to shower after I watched that movie" to spring up. 1980 was a pretty good year for this kind of movie, as the equally squalid Maniac came out that same year. But DAtP is nowhere near as graphically nasty as William Lustig's opus - there is a fair amount of nudity, and some violence here, and a lot of it is violence against women - but it's not buckets of blood and money shots by any means. On the negative side, it's not a thrill a minute; it truly does have some distasteful moments; and it must be said that none of the characters come off particularly likable, even the ones you're supposed to like.

Not like this.
Nonetheless, thanks to a locations list that must have read like a skid row tour schedule (see pics),

Like this.
a mise en scene that works overtime going for the grimy, and especially actor Nicholas Worth, who pulls out all the stops playing this character, this ends up a movie that rivals Maniac for sheer sweaty sleaze. Add in killer Kirk's lengthy monologues showing off his misogyny and racism and you have a movie that probably could not be made today, and perhaps a movie you might think shouldn't have been made in 1980. But one-shot filmmaker Robert Hammer brings something to the table that makes this a watchable example of a true grindhouse flick, and it garners a slight recommendation based on that and the late Nicholas Worth's committed performance. So, if you don't mind a bit of a cinematic wallow, by all means check this one out!

Let's Get Out of Here ?

At roughly 1:10:00, James Westmoreland no longer cares for the company of Chuck "Porky" Mitchell. And at approximately 1:15:00, James Westmoreland feels bad they harassed the mousy toy salesman.

Eye Candy ?

There are some attractive women in his flick, and to offset the squalid nature of the movie I will bestow Eye Candy status on one cast member in celebration of all the lovelies in the cast - welcome aboard Pamela Jean Bryant!

Buddha Man's Capsule Review

Buddha Man says: "Don't Answer the Phone makes its
connection, but there is a little static on the line."

Yep, you pegged that one, BM. And until next post, you Can Poke Me With A Fork, Cause I Am Outta Here!


  1. Craig,

    Good review and while you and Bhudda Man liked the film a bit more than I did--as you noted over on Terror Titans, I too reviewed this very movie today... we'll have to overlap more often :) -- but overall, we agree with what's good and what's bad about it, I think.

    It's interesting you mention "Maniac" in your piece... in a paragraph I cut from my review, I went on about both the 1980 "Maniac" and the 1934 "Maniac," both of which this film made me think of. (But, in my quest to keep myself from rattling on, that paragraph when into the "archive" for possible use at some future point.)

  2. This makes me think of the Carol Kane, Charles Durning classic When A Stranger Calls. "Have you checked the children?" Talk about a film that went off the rails with plotting. It became two different films. This one sounds like two strangers passing on a corner.

  3. Steve - Thanks for the kind words! I'd enjoy doing dual/duel reviews sometime! I'd like to read the Maniac paragraph - any chance you might edit it back in - after all - it's your blog - and you can always reuse it later if the need arises!

    MB - You know, it does have a bit of the same vibe, sorta. WaSC is a much less sleazy affair though - one of the greatest opening 20 minutes in film, followed by another 80 that seemed pretty boring to me when I watched it on Showtime thirty years ago! Another one I should try again! Thanks for coming by!

  4. Both Dale Kalberg (Nurse) & Pamela Jean Bryant, April 1978 Playboy Plamate (Sue Ellen) passed away far too young. They were hardly great actresses but both had great tits!

  5. my goodness, this movie is sooo silly. The scene where Worth started to cry made me giggle, and there are other pretty funny scenes. Nevertheless, the whole movie is a mess, the acting is bad and I would have loved if director Hammer would have taken it seriously.
    Brill review, Craig!

    1. It does get pretty goofy - but I still think there's something about this movie that makes it a worthy watch for those so inclined. Guess this is my Valentine!