Dont Answer the Phone. Or Watch This Movie.

I don’t normally do movie reviews, but this popped into my head as I was watching the movie Don’t Answer the Phone. a 1980 thriller/slasher flick.

This review, such as it is, is presented as a play of sorts, and I hope it is as funny as it sounded in my head and 1am. Let me know what you think.

It is 10:45pm and the wife and I are heading to bed. I push the button on the TV to turn it on before pouring myself between the sheets. Once in bed I start looking for the remote, and its nowhere to be found. After moving sheets and blankets around I figure I knocked the remote to the floor behind the headboard. Retrieving it would mean getting out of bed and crawling around on the floor, in the dark, searching for the remote. Not getting it would mean being stuck on IFC.

The wife comes in to join me in bed;

WIFE: What are you doing?
ME: What do you mean?
WIFE: You’re staring into space, and you look lost.
ME: Oh, just trying to decide if I want to get out of bed and get the remote. I think it fell behind the headboard.
WIFE: Ooookay, good luck with that, I’m going to sleep, goodnight.
ME: Well, it looks like a movie is starting so problem solved.
WIFE: (reading name of movie) Don’t Answer the Phone. Whats it supposed to be?
ME: A slasher flick. Some detective hunts for some whacko killer, and Oh, look, the killer gets a solo bill in the credits. “Nicholas Worth as The Killer.”
WIFE: Ok, I’m going to sleep.
ME: Ok, ‘night.

The movie jumps into the action pretty quickly, with the killer taking his first victim:

ME: Um, why is he wearing a mask? He’s a killer. He’s going to kill her. Why’s he wearing a fucking mask?
WIFE: Will you shut up.
ME: Sorry.

This movie was made in 1980, so you expect the sets and surroundings to be dated, but it all looks ancient. In the outside scenes there are lots of shitty Ford Pintos, and the costume designer seems to have said “Yeah, I know disco is dead, but everyone should wear polyester suits and big, fat ties, and the women should wear enough makeup to look like a overly made-up french whore.”

After the first kill we meet the lead detective, Chris McCabe. The guy playing McCabe is the only name I recognized during the opening credits.

WIFE: Jeebus, that guy is a terrible actor.
ME: Thought you were going to sleep.
WIFE: Hard to sleep with all your commentary, groaning and sighs.
ME: Sorry.
WIFE: Really, though, this guy is bad. What’s his name?
ME: The actor’s name is James Westmoreland.
WIFE: Actor? He’s wooden. Its like a tree trying to act. No, its like a tree, trying to act like a different tree, only its supposed to be acting like a detective.
ME: Yeah, he’s bad. Wait til you see the Lab Guy. That guy is even worse. He’s supposed to be a sarcastic smart-ass, but his lines come out like he’s never even heard sarcasm before. Sadly, I think they are the two best actors in this movie.
WIFE: What about “the killer?”
ME: Hahahaha. He tries, bless his heart. But, if I were a woman, and this dude was “attacking” me, I’d die laughing before he could kill me. Plus, he wears a fucking mask. I don’t get that.
WIFE: Maybe he doesn’t want her to see his face while he’s killing her, you know because of guilt.
ME: You watch too much criminal minds. Your point would be valid if you presume the folks who made this move thought that deep about it. I think he’s wearing a mask because whoever wrote the screenplay is 13 years old, and thinks killers should wear a mask.
WIFE: Whatever, I’m going to sleep. For real this time. Try to keep the bitching at the movie to a minimum, k?
ME: K, ‘night.

Lt McCabe,’s partner, Sgt. Hatcher- played by Ben Frank-, is supposed to be a gritty, hardened cop teaching, and learning from, his superior. Frank is abysmal. He tries to play the part like the Big City detectives in Ed McBain novels, but he comes off like a Columbo that lost most of his cognitive ability from heavy drug use. Then there’s the absolutely forgettable Flo Gerrish as Dr. Lindsay Gale. She plays a psychiatrist who talks to the killer in her job as a radio show host. Gerrish can’t act, and her dialogue sounded like they cribbed lines from a couple of self-help books, and sprinkled it with some Hallmark Card platitudes. All delivered with the skill of a no-handed chainsaw juggler.

Another 20 minutes of movie passes wherein tree dude, sarcastic lab guy, Dr Hallmark and drug-addled Columbo try to act, and fail miserably. During this time is also when the writers and director take the elegant simplicity of a slasher flick out back and beat the everloving shit out of it. They try to CSI/Criminal minds it, introducing myriad reasons for The Killer’s psychosis, and there’s lots of dialogue about prints and semen and other evidence left behind by the killer. All of which, save for the finding the killer part of their detective work, have zero bearing in the end.

I was almost ready to make the crawl under the bed to get the remote, when some actual good acting happened:

WIFE: Are you crying?
ME: Yes.
WIFE: Um, why? Is the movie that bad?
ME: Yes, it is that bad. This scene, though, had the best acting in the entire movie, by some female patient of the Dr lady. It was pretty strong acting, believable, and much , much too good for this movie.
WIFE: So you’re crying?
ME: Well, I’m joyous that the hour and a half this movie has drained from my life isn’t a total waste. Also, i got some Vicks vap-o-rub in my eye.
WIFE: [rolls eyes, goes back to sleep]
ME: I’m going for a cigarette.

I went out to the garage, lit up, let the dogs out, and thought “I’m going to get the remote before crawling back into bed. Can’t watch another minute.” By the time I’d finished my smoke, and let the dogs back in, I’d forgotten about the remote. I went back to the bedroom, and slid back under the covers:

WIFE: Did you get the remote?
ME: Shit.
WIFE: [light chuckle as she rolls over]

So, we’re a little over half-way through the movie now, and it hasn’t gotten any better. The Killer kills everything, the detectives hunt the killer, the dr lady regurgitates platitudes, and everyone slings bad dialogue like a cage full of monkeys throwing feces. Again, I think this movie was written by teenage boys, because every other word is Fuck, and how the expletives are used sounds juvenile. But, I soldiered on;

WIFE: Are you still watching this movie, and does it ever end?
ME: Yes, still watching. I’m invested now, I have to see it through to the end. Plus, there were some boobs.
WIFE: [groans, rolls over]

To be fair to the movie, the plot stayed together okay. Well, except for the fact that The Killer was the sloppiest serial killer ever, and left everything but an ID at the murder scenes, and the cops were bumbling around like drunken keystone cops. And, the alternating theories of PTSD, and religious fuckery as The Killer’s underlying problem. Neither of which were visited with any detail, and the religious bits seemed forced. That said, the writers did a fair job of connecting little things like The Killers phone calls to the psychiatrist’s on-air show, and the fact that The Killer selected victims from patients of hers. Another decent job was done connecting The Killer’s obsession with lifting weights to a) his overpowering strength when killing women, and b) to the climax.

Finally, its almost over. As one could have predicted after watching 11 minutes of this movie, the climax takes place in the Dr lady’s house, where the killer has broken in and tied the Dr lady to a chair. Dr Lady tries to talk The Killer down by asking him, get this; if he had a puppy. The Killer immediately breaks down and starts crying about the puppy he once had, and I thought “That was dumb, Dr lady. Asking The Killer about a puppy he had? Sure he’ll probably remember the puppy fondly, but when he gets to the part where the puppy died, he’s gonna be pissed, and you’re gonna be fucked.” Sure enough, his initial reaction of sadness turned to rage. Not because the puppy died, though, but because the puppy shit on the carpet. Apparently, in addition to war-related PTSD and his twisted religion, the guy has OCD, and hates unclean things? Oh, well, whats another plot point 10 minutes before the end. And, enter the detective to save the day:

ME: Oooooh! Oooowww!
WIFE: Wha? Huh? What the fuck did you wake me up for.
ME: Ow, Ow, Ow, Ow. The cop just shot The Killer in the junk!
WIFE: [grrr]
ME: God, this dialogue is ridiculous. I think they made this movie just for the scene a minute ago where The Killer called Dr lady a cunt.
ME: You awake still?
ME: Oh My God! That is some bullshit!
WIFE: Dammit! What?
ME: He just broke his hancuffs, from behind his back, just by twisting it twice.
WIFE: Well, he lifts a lot of weights.
ME: Yeah, but he just GOT SHOT IN THE JUNK! Guys that get shot in the junk should be on the floor, in a fetal position, crying. I would be.
WIFE: Yeah, you would be.
ME: Ha fucking ha. Oh, Christ, really?
WIFE: What now?
ME: He not only broke the handcuffs, but he tried to attack the tree dude, and tree dude shot him. Like 8 times.
WIFE: in the junk?
ME: Everywhere
WIFE: Did he die?
ME: God, I hope so. If I had to sit through a sequel, I’d probably shoot myself in the junk.
WIFE: What I saw of it was pretty bad.
ME: Oh, look. In the ending credits The Killer is listed as The Strangler. I guess calling him The Strangler in the opening credits would have given too much of the movie away. “Yeah he’s a killer, but how does he kill?” That, or this movie was made by a collection of people too stupid to tie their own shoes.
WIFE: I’d go with that. [rustles around, picks up her pillow to fluff it] Hey, look! The remote was under my pillow!
ME: [groans, rolls over]

About 3am my eyes flew open, I sat up in the bed, and thought; “Why the fuck did they call it Don’t Answer the Phone? He didn’t call before killing, and answering or not answering a phone had nothing, at all, to do with the movie. Unless you count the dr lady answering the radio call-ins, and even then the tagline “He’ll Know You’re Alone!” makes absolutely no sense. Answer the phone if you want, I don’t care, but don’t watch this movie.


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