Don’t Answer the Phone

June 4, 2011 at 5:10 am (8 Heads, Don't Answer the Phone) (, , )

Don’t Answer the Phone – 1980 – United States

Don’t Answer the Phone is director/writer Robert Hammer’s only film (unless he’s a pseudonym). Character actor Nicholas Worth’s (Darkman, Swamp Thing, Hell Comes to Frogtown, Barb Wire, Scream Blacula Scream) performance compliments the hammy yet dark script that mixes horror and hilarity in an alarming way. Rape and torture aren’t my flavor but this wild flick transcends assumptions.

A Nam vet/Jesus freak/weight lifter/porno photographer rapes and murders women while in a camo jacket and silk stocking mask.  Speaking with a crappy Spanish accent, he avidly calls the radio show of a foxy lady psychiatrist. The psychiatrist thinks scar tissue on the killer’s brain has made him crazy, especially after he strangles a hooker on the air. Bumblingly tracking him are a good-guy cop and his wise-guy partner. After the cop and psychiatrist collaborate to thwart a young girl’s suicide, romance blooms, spurring the killer deeper into a psychotic rage. The plot’s bloody climax plays like a pro wrestling match until the cop blasts the killer a dozen times in agonizing slow motion, uttering venomously “adios creep”. Interestingly, the credit roll has no music.

All that is ho-hum. More compelling is Don’t Answer the Phone’s ambiguous tone. Disturbing material (rape, schizophrenia, drug use) is contrasted with comedy to striking effect. In a particularly grim scene, the killer speedballs with a hooker and then murders her as a baby wails in the background. Shortly after, the cops crash a whorehouse causing a gay man wrapped in cellophane to run screaming hilariously and a woman to snort pounds of cocaine because it can’t be flushed down the broken toilet.

Don’t Answer the Phone is further lightened by strange and amusing characters (melodramatic psychic, sleazy porno editor, perverted homicide detective), the most ridiculous of which is the killer himself. He prays and pumps iron while muttering and grunting. In an unforgettable monologue (possibly adlibbed) he brags about killing a black pimp and calls himself a honkey. I’m pleased Nicholas Worth made a career from unlikable and vile characters because he plays them with serious panache and his large expressive face is constantly engaging.

Don’t Answer the Phone benefits from uncomfortably unclear intent. Examining the parts individually, it’s cheap and clichéd, worsened by bland music and photography (although the images of seedy L.A. stand out). But style (purposeful or not) manifests in the mood swings of the madcap writing and direction. Don’t Answer the Phone is crazy, messy, and yanks out all stops. Flicks like this are why I watch exploitation.

Rating: 8/10 Shrunken Heads. See it with an open mind.

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