Don't Answer the Phone!

...if you don't want to save big on home cooling systems!
Released:
1980

Director: Robert Hammer

Starring: Nicholas Worth, James Westmoreland, Ben Frank, Flo Gerrish

The Setup:

Psycho bodybuilder is raping and strangling women in L.A., and also obsessed with a local talk radio host.

Discussion:

I totally forget how I first heard of this movie, but once I heard that it has a bodybuilder who works out while screaming to his dead daddy, then goes and kills women in hideously sexual ways, then calls and harasses a local talk radio host—AND that it is supposed to be one of the most sick, perverted and generally WRONG movies out there—AND that the DVD has cut 10 minutes of the most disturbing footage from it—I am in a sort of frenzy. I ordered a used VHS version online, in order to get the uncensored version, and only once it had arrived did I see that the uncut version was now available in DVD. Isn't that always the way!

Okay, so the first thing we see is this guy lifting weights in front of his mirror, then, uh, shall we say, EXALTING in his own manly power, as a crucifix hangs prominently in the foreground. I'm on board! We then cut to a woman with a TRUE penis-head hairdo [above]. You know, where the whole thing makes a sort of bell shape and her part looks like the slit? And hers looks really SOLID, too. This is truly the best, most convincing penis-head hairdo I've ever seen. She is talking to her mother, although the voice we hear on the phone is clearly male. Maybe mom is an MtoF. Anyway, the killer walks in, camouflage jacket and stocking over his head, and simply stands behind her until she turns around and notices. I liked this—a refreshing [and effective] change of pace from the typical jumping-out thing. He strangles her to death, then rips open her shirt and feels her breasts, all the while laughing in this wheezy little laugh.

We now meet Dr. Lindsay Gale, a psychologist who runs a radio call-in show. You will notice a prominently placed Close Encounters poster in her studio. She takes a call from our killer, who adopts a bad Latin accent and claims to be 'Ramon." We then meet our rogue cops who have been placed on the case, Hatch and McCabe, who are the typical quite dim but take-no-shit 70s cops. They discuss that one of the penis-headed woman's breasts was bitten off, and they ask why he strangles women with a panty hose with a coin in it. McCabe theorizes that "The girl's response is probably simulated sexual excitement… He probably kept her squirming for some time… He bit off her breast and used every orifice." Now, you at home may be curious, because it seemed like we clearly saw him kill the woman first thing, and the cops are talking like he kept her alive and raped her. Well—we'll discuss this in further depth.

After we see Dr. Gale do some private counseling, we see our killer stalk the patient she just let out. There is a lot of humor to be found here, as every time the killer appears on screen, we have this synth score music sting ["Bwewww!"] that lasts about three seconds—and is repeated at least ten times in the space of two minutes. Once again, this killer takes the direct approach, just bashing through the door and heading right for the woman, who had just been sitting around doing a little breast-rubbing. I'd be interested to know what percentage of time real women spend sitting around doing nothing but rubbing their breasts. Anyway, when presented with an intruder, she grabs her teddy bear [this is an adult we're talking about] and cowers in the corner. The killer comes in and says "Daddy's home now… It's okay, Daddy loves his little girl," picks her up, and lays her on the bed. We then see him light a big candle and drip hot wax on her while doing that laugh thing—actually, we see him drip the wax, but we don't see it land on her.

So we return to Hatch and McCabe as they listen to a psychologist briefing the cops on the case over the killer's methods. McCabe listens patiently before politely breaking in with "Excuse me, Doctor, we can't rely on all this mumbo-jumbo psycho crap." They tell the cops they have to get to work, and then follows a montage of the cops all working busily—in the OFFICE [they're going to file and collate 'til they find that KILLER!], while we hear this amazing[ly lame] funky music with featured synths. We now return to our psychopath, who picks up Sue Ellen, this comely hitchhiker, and tells her how he's a photographer. We see his POV as he takes pictures of her, then he strangles her, once again clearly killing her before any sexual shenanigans begin. He says "Oooh—I LOVE IT!" to himself, then we hear more of that wheezy laughing, only he takes him stocking off and we see—he's really CRYING! Awwww, poor widdle serial killer.

We now join Dr. Gale just in time to catch her traumatizing one of her patients. The girl is telling the doctor how she has such a hard time kicking whatever drug she's on, and Gale makes her act out saying "Mom, Dad, the drugs are more important than you!" She makes her say this to everyone in her life, multiple times, until finally the patient breaks down! I love it. We need to traumatize more people in therapy. Then this psychic comes in to help the police, except that this is psychic as all-knowing swami—he even knows what's in the cops' drawers [DESK drawers, you sicko]. He gives an extended description of the killer's method, saying "he's choking her as he enters her," but again—we have repeatedly seen that he kills them outright at the start. It's odd.

SPOILERS > > >
More dirty talk occurs as the killer takes some of his photos in to sell to a guy who runs some kind of porno business. The pornographer likes how the killer's pics are out there, for example, the one—it's hard to make out the audio on my shitty VHS, but something is said about a kid, a dog, and "stuffing a candle up his ass." The pornographer then asks for some more mainstream pics, and requests "no amputees." The killer then picks up a prostitute, and after they've done their deed, makes her call Dr. Gale's show. He makes her talk about being a prostitute—then strangles her on air! And apparently Gale simply can't cut to a commercial for some reason. There is a relatively chilling moment when the killer picks up the phone and says, in a normal voice: "Did you hear that, Dr. Gale?" He then has a nice long talk with himself while gazing at his reflection. He's starting with the man in the mirror.

Then Hutch and McCabe decide they've got to take it to the next level. They hit the streets to interview the nice, clean, healthy-looking extras dressed as pimps, low-lifes and hos, some of them standing outside an establishment delightfully called "The Balled Eagle." While this is going on we have a further installment of our delightful synth-laden jazz/funk score. The cops then go into this brothel, where they ask to speak to some lead. The lady at the desk calls the cocaine dealers upstairs, even though the cops have assured her that they're not on the vice squad and pose no danger to her. This causes pandemonium at the house, with a bunch of various people in various fetishistic garb to run about comically, and then the cops go ahead and shoot a black drug dealer. They argue over who's going to have to fill out the paperwork on that one.

Meanwhile, our serial killer is at home with his shirt off [when we say 'bodybuilder' here we mean 'someone who lifts weights'—today this guy doesn't look much stronger or more muscular than Kevin James] and saying "Well Dad, are you proud of me now? Do I measure up?" He then drops a few N-bombs as he discusses what he did to this other fellow. But this is all getting to be par for the course.

Suddenly there's this whole scene with this woman, Lisa, who is about to jump off a building to her death, and Dr, Gale is trying to talk her down. It seems like we're supposed to know who she is, although I must confess that I haven't slightest clue [although about a month passed between when I watched the first part of this movie and when I finally finished it]. I think maybe she's Gale's drug addict patient. Anyway, Gale can't do the job, so McCabe gives it a try, and is successful! Gale promptly dumps Lisa ["I think you need more help than I can give,"], then she accepts McCabe's offer of a drink. Before too long, they're repairing to her house, drinking before the fireplace [did anyone in the 70s get romantic anywhere else?] and then having sex while carefully keeping the covers above their waists. McCabe, it must be admitted, was not difficult on my eyes, and it turns out in real life he was married to Kim Darby, of TV movie favorite Don't Be Afraid of the Dark and Halloween 6.

The next day our killer goes over to this model's house, gains entrance, and strangles her. Her friend comes out, tries to help, and ends up getting killed, too. He apparently leaves some clues that lead to the guy who buys his porn photos, who gives the cops his address. The snare is tightening! The cops break into his apartment, and all they can find is toys! Not sex toys. Then the guy comes home and they hold him at gunpoint—and he reveals that the IDIOTS got the wrong apartment, they want the one next door. He bitches them at for making a total mess of his apartment and demands that they clean up—and they threaten him with arrest! They then go next door and find a bunch of incriminating junk, including pics of McCabe in bed with Dr. Gale! He rushes over to her side.

But we already know that the killer is right there in her apartment. My favorite line is, after she realizes she's not alone, and the lights suddenly go out, she says "Who's there? Listen—I KNOW someone's there!" Oh, you mean the person who turned off the lights? And also, so, you know they're there—that means the jig is up, or what? And this woman is a mental health professional. He finally comes out and ties her up [seemed to me she had several opportunities to attack him], and she tries to whip out some of the ol' psychology on him. "Why are you trying to make me afraid of you?" she asks. "What does it do to you? How does it make you feel?" The killer admits that he takes a dim view of doctors since his parents were making him see doctors his entire childhood, when he could have been playing with the other kids, and he has a NOTABLE speech about a little puppy. Anyway, then McCabe shows up and there's a fairly boring shootout, and soon the whole thing is over, with a fairly tepid "Adios, creep."
< < < SPOILERS END

So it was a few minutes in before I started to realize "You know, I'm actually enjoying this!" I thought it would just be a weird and poorly-made creep-fest. I liked the way the killer came into the first victim's house and just stood there right behind her until she noticed, just what a bizarre sicko he is, all the salacious sexual stuff the cops and others say about his methods, the brusque-but-idiotic cops, Dr. Gale's intensely disturbing therapeutic methods—the whole thing is just so wrong-headed it's kind of impossible not to like, and it's directed with energy and verve. It seems obvious that the writers wanted to have some badass rogue cops who don't take any shit, but didn't know when they were crossing the line. I guess the same could be said for Dr. Gale and the all the sexual content as well. Personally, I find it kind of charming. This has a reputation as a really sick, misogynistic and perverted movie, but as I've been detailing, the vast majority of the perversion comes out in verbal descriptions of what the killer did to the women while they were alive—and we can see with our eyes that in reality he killed them almost right off. If the whole thing were done better I might think there was a subtext about how the detectives WANT to imagine him doing all those things. Furthermore, the woman ARE often topless [or soon to be] when they get killed, but the whole thing is nowhere near as concentrated on getting off on women's sexual suffering as Maniac or something like the original Toolbox Murders. I'm not saying that Gloria Steinem might really want to give this one another look, just that it [apparently] succeeded in using its verbal descriptions to make audiences believe they really saw something sick and violent, because the actual images on screen are comparatively tame.

So there you go—an energetic sexual stalker movie in the Maniac vein [meaning we spend a lot of time with our killer], but that has such off-kilter elements—some of them intentional!—that it really is quite entertaining and endearingly bizarre.

Oh, and none of this has any bearing on answering, or not answering, a phone.

Should you watch it?

I would. Definitely find the uncut version.

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