Don’t Answer the Phone! (1980)

Director: Robert Hammer
Writer: Robert Hammer, Michael Castle
Producer: Robert Hammer, Michael Castle
Music: Brian Allred

Starring: Nicholas Worth, James Westmoreland, Flo Garrish, Ben Frank.

There is a killer on the prowl in Los Angeles who sexually assaults and kills women by strangling them with a Vietnamese coin buried inside a stocking. Kirk Smith (Nicholas Worth) is a photographer and he roams the streets looking for nice looking young women, luring them into his home with an offer of capturing their beauty on film. Little do they know that once captured it’s never let free.

Don’t Answer the Phone begins simply enough, and cuts right to the meat and bones of this misogynistic piece of celluloid. A nurse arrives home after a hard day at work and quickly proceeds to drop her stockings and starts to get out of her uniform. Little does this nurse know that the killer is waiting and watching inside the house! When she goes to answer the phone the killer-to-be waits for her to end the call and then pounces on her. He strangles and rips open her uniform exposing her breast, and wheezily chuckles.

When the police arrive at the house and investigate the crime scene it is revealed that the woman was sexually assaulted as well as strangled. The method used to strangle the woman points to a Vietnam Vets. Why ever did they let these men back from Vietnam? They seem to be more trouble than they are worth, aren’t they all murders?But it quickly becomes apparent that the police aren’t that up on things. I’m not really sure if it’s down to bad writing, or if they wanted to portray the police as almost bumbling idiots. It’s hard to imagine these guys being able to catch anyone when they dismiss a psychologist assessment as “mumbo jumbo”, and then send the men to catch the killer with no real evidence or clues, just general procedural work. They get clues from the crime scenes, but never really seem to follow up on them. I guess they are just waiting for the killer to mess up. Lucky for the police though, they aren’t short on bodies because the killer bought a whole bunch of stockings on sale!

One could quite easily label Don’t Answer the Phone as poorly acted, and I would not be one to argue against that. But there is perhaps one shining light in this resume destroying excuse for a film, and that is Flo Gerrish who plays the role of Dr. Lindsay Gale. She is the only actor in the film that either, seems to take the role seriously, or actually succeeds in portraying anything close to a capable portrayal. Sure I’ve seen worse, but usually in pieces that know full well their limitation and don’t try to be something they aren’t, a good film.

Lindsay Gale is a psychotherapist who has a radio show to help listeners with their problems. But little does she know though that one of her callers is the killer, who is calling under a false name with a fake accent. We know things aren’t going to turn out well for her, and it’s just a matter of time. So when we see Kirk waiting outside her clinic, then following one of her patients home this is really not looking good. If you need anymore convincing… the patient is soon dead!

Of course, as with all crime drama’s there is usually one small detail that links all the murder victims together, and it’s reassuring to know that Don’t Answer the Phone is no different. Although, the only thing that the victims have in common is their relative state of undress just before their murder. Now claims of misogyny have been leveled at a lot of stalk and slash movies, and I’m not usually one to do so, but there is something oddly disturbing about Don’t Answer the Phone. We don’t see too much of the women before they are murdered, and when we do they are undressing. While the women are being killed we quickly shown clear views of their breasts, and in some cases underwear. So there isn’t much more to the women on the screen really, except for the doctor. Oh, and if you expect some graphic murders you are watching the wrong movie. At least some brutal murders would command some revulsion towards the killer. Don’t get me wrong, we know full well the killer is disturbed but when he is more often being shown working out bare chested, pumping iron while glistening in sweat…

When the Kirk picks up a hitch hiker and warns her against the dangers of hitch hiking (oh, the irony!), she still manages to jump at the opportunity to pose for him. It’s apparent though that Kirk knows how to turn on the charm, in between satisfying his urges as a hate filled sadistic killer. He manages to talk the hitchhiker into getting into handcuff, and then quickly attacks her as she starts to get suspicious. He photographs his victims as he kills them and sells some of the less extreme ones to publishers of pornography and such.

After Kirk sells some photo’s to a sleazy publisher, he goes and buy some drugs and takes a room with a prostitute. He makes the prostitute phone Lindsay’s radio show and strangles her on air. When the prostitute’s pimp goes to investigate why she is taking so long, he discovers the scene and attacks Kirk. But of course things don’t end that easily, and Kirk is able to beat up and escape the pimp.

When the pimp disappears leaving the crime scene the police find evidence of three blood types at the scene so figure the pimp must have been there and they go in search of the pimp (did I say they were bad cops?). This must be one of the cops favorite places to frequent and obviously doesn’t take his job very serious. Every woman he meets, whether prostitute of not, he is hitting on. And when they do manage to find the pimp they kill him, along with him dies their only clue to the killer’s identity. See, they don’t let me down!

Lucky for the police though, the killer gets too confident when he enters a womans house pretending to be there to take portfolio pictures. After he uses her phone he attacks her, only to be caught in the act by a scantily clad roommate whom he has to now kill also. But a neighbor hears the screams and he escapes in a rush, leaving his camera behind. This is the break the police have been waiting for.

When they managed to track him down to his house, they discover that he has a bunch of photo’s of himself and Lindsay Gale, who the police officer has become romantically involved with. It quickly becomes apparent that the doctor is the killers next target, but will the police make it in time, and do we care?

Don’t Answer the Phone is based on the real life case of the Hillside Stranglers who where stalking the Hollywood hills a couple years before this film was made. The victims would probably turn in their grave if they saw this film, and rightly so. Although, to be fair, Don’t Answer the Phone isn’t all bad. It’s fairly entertaining on a level, but it just fails to deliver on a number of levels. Not only is it poorly acted and written, it is rather tame on it’s gore quotient. Normally, if nothing else goes right we can look forward to some nicely executed death scenes, but not so with Don’t Answer the Phone. What we are left with, ultimately, are just some murders that seem to be placed more for the disrobing of the poor cast, and not a lot else. There are some ‘comic’ moments, or elements that I think are meant to be comic, but unfortunately they don’t really work as well as they might considering the acting isn’t that great in the rest of the movie.

BCI have released Don’t Answer the Phone in it’s fully uncut state, which his very commendable. The print is actually very nice as well, there isn’t too much grain or wear, but the sound could have been a better. Still it’s a nice release, with quite a few extras on hand as well, including a full commentary track by writer/producer/director Robert Hammer.

3 thoughts on “Don’t Answer the Phone! (1980)”

  1. I heard that Dale Kalberg who portrayed the nurse, the first victim strangled, the illusion that she was also post mortem raped, passed away. If true, it’s a shame, she had a great pair of tits.

  2. I concur on the lack of acting and editing skills. The scene where Playboy Playmate Pamela Jean Bryant is quickly strangled followed by the sound of her neck breaking is followed by her tits rising and falling as she breathes. And while it’s a fact that she had a nice rack topped by cute upturned nipples, she should have either held her breath for a few moments or the accepted take relegated to the cutting room floor and the scene re-shot. This was one of those comical scenes that wasn’t meant to be comical.

  3. With all of the great Hammer film classics, we expected more from this film. The scene portrayed by the late Mrs. David Carradine (Gail Jensen) where she was choked to death on the sofa was fairly well done. (A shame that such a cutie transformed into such a beast as she aged) However, Joyce Ann Jordan’s roommate scene was atrocious. Perhaps she died of fright; she could not have been one hand manually strangled in such a short time. Essentially, this film was T&A. Neither of those two cuties had much in the way of tits. Paula Warner, the 2nd victim tortured by molten candle wax had a nice rack, albeit, hardly trophy class but at least she, Gail Jensen and Dale Kalberg’s performances were passable. Paula Warner’s scene would have been better had the scene been completed by showing her being strangled after Nicholas Worth ripped her slip open exposing her tits. This film was very badly edited and the cut version is a waste.

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