Don't Answer the Phone! Review

Made in 1979 Don’t Answer the Phone! dips its grubby fingers into what were then two of the most profitable pies: the Vietnam vet movie and the slasher pic. Being a low budget B-movie cash-in it’s hardly a startling reinvention of the forms, but then it is an interesting – if ultimately unsuccessful – hybrid. Ostensibly a serial killer film we meet the man in question before the opening credits have finished unrolling; first striking a Christ-like pose in the mirror, and secondly dispatching of a nurse – this being an exploitation flick – in a state of undress. It is, therefore, not simply about the attempts to catch him but also trying to understand. In addition to the nods in the direction of Halloween and the like we also have the approach of In Cold Blood or 10 Rillington Place bolted onto the cop movie.

There are three narrative strands, in fact. As well as following our rapist/killer and the police officers on his case, we also have radio psychologist Dr. Lindsay Gale with whom our strangler is obsessed and whose patients he is knocking off. Thus we have three differing tones to cross-cut between: the murders point the film in the direction of trashy exploitation; the procedural is given an oddly irreverent feel, full of flip remarks and “half-assed sarcasm”; and the doctor allows a more serious side, even if it is of a cod-Freudian bent. Moreover, it’s the cross-cutting which creates the tension – you can guarantee that these strands will finally converge in time for the final act.

It’s a setup which therefore also prompts some expectations and it is here where Don’t Answer the Phone! falls down. It should be offering some form of explanation and building up the suspense as it goes along yet never quite arrives at either. On top of the allusions to Christ we also see our killer alternately act decidedly ordinary and breakdown in tears. Plus there are various rip-offs direct from Taxi Driver - the mirror scene, the adult cinemas, the prostitute and her pimp – yet it never quite comes into being. Rather there’s a reliance on Nicholas Worth’s performance and in all honesty there’s something fascinating about him. Despite the assembly of nods and steals, he has a certain singular (which perhaps explains why the credits proclaim this as his debut even though he’d tallied up a sizeable CV by this point). Certainly, the character remains a cipher owing to the weaknesses of the screenplay, but he’s an interesting cipher nonetheless.

The police side of things feels similarly underdone. Psychological profiling and forensic examination are both toyed with, yet never to any satisfying degree. It feels as though they’ve been thrown in without any understanding, hence the cod-Freudian aspects. Of course, this is a B-movie and we shouldn’t expect too much, but then Don’t Answer the Phone! perks our interest in raising such issues and can’t help but disappoint when it does nothing with them. Moreover, there’s a hamminess to this aspect with the various attempts at cop banter not quite ringing true. Is it trying to be tongue-in-cheek perhaps? Or maybe going for a more human spin on what are essentially generic creations? Again, it doesn’t quite hit the mark, but then it also offers a slight modicum of interest. Indeed, Don’t Answer the Phone! isn’t a great success by any means, yet at the same time remains a cut above the “routine sickie” tag it attracted on its initial release (that particular quote coming from Time Out).

The Disc

Whilst Don’t Answer the Phone! isn’t the greatest of films it certainly deserves a better DVD treatment than the one it gets here. The second time the film has been released on disc in the UK, it’s doubtful that this Anchor Bay offering represents any kind of genuine improvement. The film comes in panned-and-scanned form and taken from an awful print. Soft and murky, the onscreen activities are often indistinct especially the night scenes. Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised if the disc is using the exact same master as the one for the previous DVD release issued back in September of 2002.

As for the soundtrack, here we find choices of DD2.0, DD5.1 and DTS. The latter two most definitely need to be avoided as these have messed up beyond believe. All of the sounds have been buried into the mix leaving only an indistinct murmur. In comparison, the DD2.0 offering sounds pretty good, though it really isn’t much better than the picture quality and again I doubt that it marks a big – if any – improvement over the original release.

The extras are perfunctory at best and amount to some brief film notes, a handful of biographies and picture gallery made up of screen captures.

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Last updated: 19/04/2018 07:13:25

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