Director – Robert Hammer
Cast – Nicholas Worth, James Westmoreland, Ben Frank, Flo Lawrence, Denise Galik, Stan Haze, Gary Allen, Michael D. Castle, Pamela Jean Bryant
Release Year – 1980
Reviewed by John of the Dead
Do not let this film’s title fool you, this is not a rip-off of When A Stranger Calls, but a misogynistic exploitation flick with a brutal serial killer. I went into this expecting the usual slasher formula, but that was not the case and I was instead given a truly haunting film in nature, but one that fails on many levels to truly deliver what I was expecting from this type of film.
Don’t Answer The Phone! follows a truly disturbed Vietnam veteran with a knack for torturing and killing women. He, named Kirk Smith(Nicholas Worth; Swamp Thing, Darkman), poses as a model photographer to acquire his victims, whom he sexually violates before strangling them to death. These grisly murders have acquired the attention of the hard-nosed smartass Lt. Chris McCabe(James Westmoreland), who meets psychologist Dr. Lindsay Gale(Flo Lawrence), whom Kirk regularly phones and harasses. Lt. McCabe is iffy on whether or not an “intellectual” can help him solve a string of murders, but things get awry when he learns Kirk has made her his next target.
This is not marketed as an exploitation film, but the title alone gives it away. Why? Well, because the title has really nothing to do with the film at all, and that is a classic sign of an exploitation flick. Hah! As I mentioned earlier, this really is not a slasher film. We know who the killer is, and there is really no mystery behind anything in the plot. Don’t Answer The Phone! is a brutal film with tons of boobage and as much sleaze as writer/director Robert Hammer and co-writer Michael D. Castle could fit in the film. While that alone would have me ecstatic about this film, it only sounds good.
Nicholas Worth is incredible as Kirk Smith and provides us with one of horror’s most brutal and despicable killers to date. Much like another 1980 film, Christmas Evil, we get a good look into the true psychosis our antagonist displays even when alone in his residence, away from any and all visual and physical temptations that would normally trigger such psychotic behavior. While Worth’s performance as Kirk Smith is stellar, I found his character, and many other elements of this film, hit and miss. I loved his performance, but some of his usage towards the end of the film seemed pretty bland despite him doing some pretty despicable things. His hatred for women is obvious, but I was never engaged by what he was doing and it came off to me purely as sleaze, without any substance whatsoever. Do not get me wrong, I love my sleaze, but it really must be…and I know this will sound funny…properly done. Whether incidental or purposeful, sleaze is always fun when it comes off the way that it should, and at times this film really suffers from ill-fated sleaze.
Director Robert Hammer may be to blame for most of this film’s un-properly executed elements, but the storyline itself does suffer from its own fair share of less-than-favorable ideas. For the first half of the film the story focuses on Kirk and develops his character rather well, then once his character is developed and ready to take us on a trip of epicness we are thrown into a love trist between Lt. McCabe and Dr. Lindsay Gale. I was not too surprised that this happened because most films throw in some type of sub-plot involving romance between two main characters, but from then on out the film became overly focused on Lt. McCabe and Dr. Gale. The romance between the two was not a complete waste of time, but the fact that it took away from what I though to be the real focus of the film, Kirk Smith, left me quite unsatisfied for the latter half of the film, especially the third act. Pacing issues arise at the lack of action from Kirk Smith, and we are instead forced to watch a courtship bloom for an overly long time. In all honesty, for a while there it seemed the story completely abandoned Kirk Smith, and lost all focus from then on out, including the scenes involving Kirk Smith from that point on. With a film that follows an undecided storyline such as this one it is hard for it to come out a positive watch.
Overall, this is a mediocre exploitation flick that had some positive moments but overall amounts to nothing special. We get a sweet killer thanks to a fantastic performance from Nicholas Worth, but that is about as good as this one gets thanks to poor writing and flawed execution