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  Don't Answer the Phone! ...He'll know you're alone!
Year: 1979
Director: Robert Hammer
Stars: James Westmoreland, Flo Gerrish, Nicholas Worth, Ben Frank, Pamela Jean Bryant
Genre: Horror, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 2 votes)
Review: You know those films? Those really sleazy films, the ones you wouldn't even sweep under the carpet for fear that the smell would be too bad. Or the ones you wouldn't dump out in the back alley because then all the pimps and prostitutes and drug-dealers that live in your area would complain to the council that you were bringing down the tone on the neighbourhood. Yeah, cool eh? Well Don't Answer The Phone! is one of those movies.

Meet Kirk Smith (Nicholas Worth), a fat, slimy blob of lard who has oozed out of the Vietnam war and is now on the rampage raping and strangling his way through Hollywood's mentally unstable women, all of whom happen to be patients of psychologist and daytime radio personality Dr Lindsay Gail (Flo Gerrish). When he's not murdering vulnerable, pretty women Smith is either lifting weights or talking to his dead step-father in mirrors. He's also a photographer, selling porn-shots to some slimy dirt-bag publisher who's even plumper than he is and also taking pictures of his dead victims (for his own "personal" use, you understand). Two bumbling, scuzzball detectives are scraped from the bottom of the pervomatic frying pan and put on the case, Lt. McCabe and Sgt Hatcher (James Westmoreland and Ben Frank respectively), neither of whom are particularly liked by the open-minded doctor. Just for the record, Hatcher has the distinctive curly, receding hair and slept-in clothes that are trademarks of an alcoholic batchelor. But that is just my personal opinion....

When Smith lures a prostitute to her death with some speedball he calls Dr. Gail as she dies, forcing the psychologist to listen to the victim's cries. McCabe and Hatcher now realise that Gail is the big connection in this case. They cruise the red-light district looking for the victims pimp who has undoubtably seen the killer: after all, Smith did bust the poor guy's head open with a bottle. When they raid his brothel (a particularly amusing scene featuring pro.s dressed as schoolteachers and Nazi officers, and a client wrapped in plastic) they end up shooting him. The only lead they have on this case is now dead.

When Gail has no luck foiling a suicide attempt, McCabe steps in and saves the day with his no-nonsense approach. Rather than feeling bitter about this Gail falls in love with him. Meanwhile Smith is on the loose again, this time blagging his way into a woman's pad under the pretense that he's booked to take some pictures of her. She's understandably disgusted with his portfolio prompting Kirk to remark:

"You beautiful chick! You love it!" (Ah, the halcyon days of misogynist cinema!)

Then he kills her, as one tends to do under pressure. When her housemate enters, Smith kills her too before sloping off and leaving his porno pics behind.

Bad move, Smith! The two narcs have the fat porno-publisher identify the pictures (after Hatch takes a couple for himself) and then rather stupidly raid an accoutant's office by mistake. Meanwhile Smith's slapping poor Dr. Gail about telling her how he wet the bed until he was eighteen, had "ass-problems" and killed his puppy dog when it shat all over the floor. So yeah, I think I can understand his pain. Still the cops turn up just in time to rescue her from Smith, and McCabe, in a scene that obviously influenced the conclusion of House At The Edge Of The Park (another classic sleaze-fest, at least in its uncut version), shoots Smith into the swimming pool..... in ultra slooooooowwwww motion. Ever-cool, McCabe utters "Adios creep."

One of the sloppiest things about this movie are the vast amounts of loose ends left dangling. In fact, the only things that are really tied up are the stockings around the victims' necks! And even these aren't really tied up. The stockings are what originally lead the cops to the idea that they may have a vet on their hands, yet this part of the plot is soon discarded when the killer begins using his huge, hairy hands and, in the drugs scene, a telephone. Yeah, the telephone. Don't Answer The Phone!, right? (He'll Know You're Alone, as the tag-line goes.). Well the telephone also has little to do with the movie either. Apart from the killer phoning Gail's radio show a couple of times there is bugger all else related to telephones in the movie. Early on in the picture, Smith pretends to be the father of a former victim of child abuse, a factor that could be further explored (perhaps Smith could have masqueraded as his victims' worst fears?) but instead just ends abruptly. Plus there's the religious motif: what the fuck has that got to do with anything? It's never really explained why Smith has a shrine in his studio or why he violates his victims with candles. It just happens.

But most disappointing is the Vietnam angle. Veterans are ripe pickings for psycho flicks as they've usually been through a lot, enough to make them crazy. Yet apart from a brief mention relating to the murder-method, there is absolutely nothing else here. In fact the killer reveals to Gail at the end that his problems stem from the fact that he used to wet the bed up until he was eighteen and had "ass problems" (Really!). Perhaps he went to Vietnam to impress his dominant step-father who seems to have been a big (negative) influence on Smith's life but, alas, this also is left hanging in the wind.

There's quite a prominent conservative line in this movie, not too far from that one in Death Wish. Dr. Gail is the bleeding heart liberal and the cops are the right-wing crusaders. When Gail fails in foiling the suicide attempt, McCabe steps in and saves the day with some hard-talkin', as opposed to Gail's pussy-footin'. When Gail attempts to understand the killer's problems she is brutally beaten (and believe me, it's quite a brutal beating), the message being that there's only one law these people understand. It takes a magazine full of bullets to stop the killer who, incidently, is strong enough to snap handcuffs. The movie is also extremely sexist, to say the least. All the female characters are so weak and vulnerable, all perfect victims ranging from heroin addicts to airheads to the merely mentally unstable. And Gail is useless under pressure, needing a real man to save her ass.

Don't Answer The Phone! is certainly not a regular "stalk 'n' slash" film by any means, although it is sometimes lumped in with that genre (It's original title was The Hollywood Strangler; the Don't... motif was probably used to cash in on other Don't movies from this period.). The movie doesn't concentrate on the actual murders as such, but on the killer himself. He's not just a faceless murderer like many others of this era, but instead seems to have genuine problems, although as mentioned earlier these are not fully explored. The movie's repulsiveness comes more from the grubby seediness that pervedes it from start to finish. It looks as if the actual print has been used as wallpaper in a chain-smoker's beadsit it's that grubby. However it's not quite as sleazy as some folk suggest; not nearly as scuzzy as say The Exterminator (another classic vet. film that was evidently concieved in a septic tank). It's not the best film of its type, but it's by no means the worst, not by any stretch of a diseased imagination....

aka The Hollywood Strangler
Reviewer: Wayne Southworth

 

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