Degenerate rich siblings Seth (Leif Garrett) and Angelina (Greta Blackburn) use a sex chat-line to lure horny singles into bed before slashing them with a straight razor. Eager young Assistant D.A. Stacy (Shawn Weatherly) is assigned to investigate alongside hot-headed cop Dan (Richard Hatch). The latter is especially invested after Seth murders his cop girlfriend. With few clues and time running out till the killers strike again, Stacy and Dan seem at a loss until a surprise informant leads them to enact a desperate plan.
Erotic thrillers rose in the Eighties to become one of the dominant film genres in the Nineties supposedly, as many critics charge, in reaction to the AIDS crisis. Suddenly the freewheeling sexual mores of the Seventies gave way to panic and paranoia. This new uneasy atmosphere gave birth to a subgenre whose governing ethos was casual sex could kill you. Beneath often glossy surfaces and titillating thrills their outlook was cautionary, at times even conservative, taking to task certain social scenes and sexual subcultures. Here Party Line tries to do for sex chat-lines what earlier films did for the singles' bar, namely use it as the backdrop for danger. Given folks flirting on the phone-lines have no idea who they are really talking to there is potential in the premise scripter Richard Brandes engineers from a story by Tom Byrnes. But this cheap and tacky production is uninterested in psychological depth.
When we eventually discover the psycho siblings were abused by both their parents the plot does not do anything with this reveal. It is just a throwaway tawdry detail in a one-dimensional exercise in sleazy thrills. Yet even the sleaze falls flat. William Webb's 80s TV style of direction renders scenes intended as provocative or transgressive simply insipid. His murder sequences are similarly blunt and dull. Brian De Palma he is not. Meanwhile the narrative is surprisingly sprawling, given the slight premise, overpopulated with superfluous subplot characters. Alongside the dueling pairs of psycho-killers and investigators you have Richard Roundtree wasted in the stock stick-in-the-mud police captain role, Dan's ill-fated romance with a flirty policewoman, Stacy's deteriorating relationship with the self-serving D.A. and a host of horny idiots who all fall victim to the siblings. Strangely, rather than the leads, it is one such deceptively disposable supporting player who cracks the case. Jennifer (Patricia Patts), a chubby teenage babysitter who spends her spare time phone-flirting with Seth. She not only side-steps a potentially fatal in-person encounter with the killer but takes the initiative to hand Stacy and Dan a vital clue. Less sensibly she also gatecrashes their stakeout at the singles’ bar. One half expects her to turn up with a handgun at the climax and put paid to Seth once and for all.
Battlestar Galactica's Richard Hatch fails to convince as a tough-as-nails cop despite having a prominent poster for Sudden Impact (1983) in his living room. He shares a clichéd dynamic with future Baywatch actress Shawn Weatherly as the ball-busting assistant D.A. who inevitably dons a tight red dress to lure out the murderer. Having previously played a convincing psycho kid in cult horror Devil Times Five (1974) Leif Garrett here transitions to a more mature madman. Often dismissed as a lightweight Garrett is quite good in the role despite the filmmakers' seemingly repeated attempts at humiliating the faded Seventies teen idol by making him don a wedding dress, perform multiple sniveling self-loathing monologues or groove along with a crowd of 80s fashion victims to some lousy pop music.