Monday, May 18, 2009

Don't Answer the Phone! (Robert Hammer, 1980)

The seediness of Hollywood circa 1980 is yet again explored with a graceless morass in the inappropriately titled Don't Answer the Phone! Inappropriate because the act of picking up a ringing telephone will not endanger your life in this film (the original title The Hollywood Strangler is much more apt). Anyway, it seems like every other movie I watch nowadays is either set in Hollywood or involves some sort of sordid underworld. And why not? I mean, the city has much to offer in terms of fostering the sleazy and the deranged, and it also serves as a magnet for all kinds of wide-eyed folks in search of the American Dream. It's when these two distinct forces collide with one another that the potential for exploitative drama really comes to the forefront. A slasher/stalker/irregular pantyhose usage film, writer-director Robert Hammer has made an unpleasant and deeply disturbing work of trashy cinematic art. Boasting elements that were genuinely gripping and others that were straight up awful, the extremely gritty endeavour is repeatedly rendered tolerable thanks to the outlandish and wonderfully insane performance of one Nicholas Worth (Swamp Thing), the excellent synthesizer score by Bryon Allred (Night of the Comet), and a bevy of alluring victims who all screamed and thrashed about in a realistic and convincing manner.

On the other hand, making things difficult for those of us who like their movies not to suck was everyone involved in the police procedural section of the film. Oozing a banal haze at every turn, the detectives played by James Westmoreland and Ben Frank left much to be desired in the not being total asswipes department, and almost singlehandedly managed to make one root for the serial killer. Even though I'm sure that some of the sicker twists in the audience were already down with his confused Modus operandi.

Oh, and I didn't like the way they mocked pornography, pimps, prostitution and psychology.

Similar to the plot of Angel, except without the occasional brushes with my old pal whimsy (no wisecracking drag queens or gruff yet lovable lesbians, either), a serial rapist/murderer is strangling his way through Hollywood's female workforce. Using a pair of pantyhose–with a large coin inside for choking leverage–the killer sneaks up on nurses in their homes and lures unsophisticated models to his photography studio.

In-between stalking, the killer calls in to a radio show hosted by Dr. Lindsay Gale (Flo Gerrish) to chat about his headaches.

The aforementioned detectives are the ones in charge of catching this lunatic, but like I said, their stance against the four P's (pornography, pimps, prostitution and psychology) and overall asshole aura really cramped my desire to see the strangling enthusiast get his comeuppance.

Attacking the role of Kirk Smith: pornographer by day, lady strangler by night, with the sweet tang of a demented tollbooth attendant with daddy issues, the late great Nicholas Worth chews up the scenery as the unbalanced war veteran. The scenes where Worth is alone in his studio lifting weights, talking to himself in the mirror and practicing his choking technique were definitely the highlight of Don't Answer the Phone! in terms of acting and overall creepiness.

Creating a terrifying portrait of a man who has lost touch with reality, the rotund actor gives it his all. Whether sweating profusely during his pimp beating tirade (a very Travis Bickle-esque moment), or getting ready to strangle yet another unsuspecting victim, Nicholas has to commended for elevating the lurid material. Seriously, the thought of watching this film without Nicholas Worth makes me shudder ever so slightly.

As it happens with the majority of films of this nature, the ability to enjoy the sexiness of its many attractive actresses was severely hampered by the fact they were constantly being murdered under chaotic circumstances. However, that doesn't mean I failed to relish their performances from a technical point-of-view. You know, like, who writhed the best or who twitched with the most conviction.

In terms of being gorgeous while having their breathing suppressed without their written consent, I'd have to go with Pamela Jean Bryant (Playboy Playmate April 1978).

Nevertheless, as far as being choked the best, the duo of Gail Jensen (ex-Mrs. David Carradine) and Joyce Ann Jodan were the most compelling when it came to dying at the hands of a serial killer.

The stunning turn by Denise Galik, a shy patient of Dr. Lindsay's, should not go unmentioned, as her demise was painful to watch. Also, the strong kitchen table work of Dale Kalberg as a nurse, and the post-mortal twitching of Susanne Severeid (Van Nuys Blvd.) as a strung-out hooker were both first-rate.

I know all this talk of being murdered in an appealing manner smacks of tastelessness, but I can only judge what I see on-screen. I will say that the whole business at the massage parlour did add a bit of goofiness to the proceedings. Mostly because I spotted Don Lake (Bizarre, SCTV, Littlest Hobo) as "Man in Plastic" and a woman who looks exactly like the luminous Susan Saiger (Doris the Dominatrix from Eating Raoul).

A blog entry dedicated to Dale Kalberg's character in "No Contestes al Teléfono" can be found at Vivir en Tucson.



  1. I promised myself that I wasn't going to bring this up again...but...

    I feel like you're shoving the lack of films featuring John Larroquette at the HOSI right in my freshly shaven face.

    Instead of casually mentioning Mr. Worth's 5 separate appearances (as 5 different characters) on Night Court, why didn't you bring up his role of Bruno in Wes Craven's 1982 masterpiece, Swamp Thing...Or his turn as Pauly in Sam Raimi's chef d'oeuvre, Darkman?

    Why even bring up Night Court at all? Was it some subliminal way of saying, "John Larroquette, the star of Night Court, is not in this film that I am reviewing. Nor is he in any film I've reviewed in the past or in any film I plan on reviewing in the future."

    I can only assume you have made it your mission to revel in all things non-Larroquette in an attempt to get me to stop reading your reviews.

    Nice try. It won't work.

  2. One of the many nagging voices in my head has always told me not to rent/buy this movie. Now that I see the screen cap of the bloated, shirtless man in bed, I'm feeling pretty good about following orders.

    That said, irregular pantyhose usage films are always enjoyable, so maybe I should give it a try.


  3. The words I typed about Don't Answer the Phone! were actually written awhile back (complete with the casual allusion to Night Court). So there was no subliminal attempt on my part to mock your Larroquettian values. Sure, I guess I could have removed the Night Court reference upon learning about your intellectual boner for J.Lar. But that would have been cowardly, and, not to mention, a blatant example of bad Larro-eti-quette.

    Nevertheless, I apologize profusely for any hurt I may have caused you by putting the words "night" and "court" in parentheses. Of course I can't guarantee that it won't happen again, but I will definitely be more careful in the near future.

    Anyway, top-notch insanity, Mr. Canacorn. Your Menudo-esque dedication to John Larroquette's film career is one of the most unexpectedly off-kilter things I've come across in days.

  4. Billy: You should check out Don't Answer the Phone! on Drive-in Cult Classics Vol. 4. You get 8 Grindhouse-style flicks for under ten bucks.

    Oh, and Nicolas Worth may look bloated, but he's actually quite athletic in this flick. I mean, strangling people for a living can be rather taxing.

  5. Oh Yum-Yum, you know I can't stay mad at you...your apology is accepted.

    Did you get to see the sneak peek of GLEE last night? If not, you can go HERE and peep it on your pooter!

    I loved it! It's definitely more in the candy colored "Popular" world than the stainless steel "Nip/Tuck" universe. Oh, watch for another Canacorn favorite, Stephen Tobolowsky, as the swishy, pot dealing, scene stealing Sandy Ryerson!

    (Surprisingly, Stephen Tobolowsky never appeared on Night Court...)

  6. I always enjoy your posts whether I've seen these films or not. Grat writeup as usual.

    P.S. If you get the chance, please stop by my Sugar & Spice blog. Thanks. I appreciate it.

  7. Mr. Canacorn: I missed Glee. Which is too bad since I love swishy pot dealers.

    Oh, and this is what I got when I went to the FOX site: "Thank you for your interest in FOX.
    This episode is currently only available to viewers living in the United States."

    No fair.

  8. Hey, Keith. I visit Sugar & Spice quite regularly.