A popular exploitation flick unleashed during the height of the stalker/slasher craze, DON’T ANSWER THE PHONE was blasted by critics upon release, but has developed a strong fanbase mainly due to its star, Nicholas Worth. The film had been previously issued on DVD not once but twice in a heavily edited TV version, but now that problem has been redeemed as BCI presents this classick fully uncut with a handful of nice accompanying extras.
Kirk Smith (Nicholas Worth), a stocky, balding photographer living in California, spends most of his free time raping, mutilating and strangling beautiful young women, all because of his troubled childhood and an extreme hatred of the opposite sex. A Vietnam vet, Smith eludes the police as he stalks his way through LA, and he also taunts radio psychiatrist Dr. Lindsay Gale (Flo Gerrish) by calling her show and pretending to be the heavily accented “Ramone.” When Dr. Lindsay believes that the “strangler” has committed a murder over the airwaves, she alerts investigating homicide cops Sgt. Hatcher (Ben Frank) and Lt. Chris McCabe (James Westmoreland), the latter whom she forms a romance with. Strangler Smith later tracks down Dr. Lindsay at her home with sights on making her his latest victim.
Originally shot as “The Hollywood Strangler,” DON’T ANSWER THE PHONE (a title which has little to do with the actual story, but insisted upon by distributor Crown International) is very misogynistic lowbrow sleaze that’s definitely not recommended for the average viewer (Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide pleas “Don’t watch this movie!”) and on a whole is crudely made, thinly scripted and not very well acted. There is a lack of scares and suspense, and gore is substituted with the bloodless exploitive murders of lovely ladies, most of which are flaunted in various stages of undress. What makes these scenes not all that disturbing are the implausible ways in which most of the murders are set up, as well as the frequent comic-tinged overtones of the proceedings, generating a less than raw and realistic tone.
Worth is an actor of great talent, and he gives his character more than enough dimension. Without his performance, the film would be totally ordinary and unbearable. Worth plays Smith as a total nutcase with a lot of mental issues, as he's seen in private aggressively weightlifting and talking to himself, and whimpering like a baby or making animal-like noises when he’s in murder mode. Like the killer in NO WAY TO TREAT A LADY, Smith often pretends to be someone else to infiltrate his victims, and a unique characteristic is his penchant for strangling women with a large Vietnamese coin sheathed in an elastic stocking. Director Robert Hammer was at least able to capture the street sleaze and flamboyance of late 1970s Hollywood Boulevard, and his POV shots of the fiend on the prowl give the film some style, even if it’s not the most innovative technique.
BCI presents DON’T ANSWER THE PHONE in all its uncut theatrical glory, reinstating a good nine minutes from the previous two DVD versions. The transfer has the film in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement. The image is very clean with hardly any source blemishes on hand, and colors look pretty good as a whole, though on occasion appear slightly muted. The mono audio at times suffers from from hiss which can get fairly annoying.
BCI has adorned this disc with some truly worthwhile extras. First up is a running commentary with director Hammer, moderated by Shane M. Dallmann. The commentary is lively and entertaining as the director discusses his origins as a documentary filmmaker for rock bands and shares a lot of behind-the-scenes info about the independent, guerilla-like making of the film which would become known as DON’T ANSWER THE PHONE. Lot of fun anecdotes are unveiled, and Dallmann has a great grasp of the genre and carries the commentary very well (both Dallmann and Hammer introduce the film on camera, and when you watch the it with the commentary, they can be seen concluding it). A featurette entitled “Answering the Phone” (13:47) contains a solid interview with actor Worth, produced and directed by Bruce Holecheck and photographed by Nathaniel Thompson of Mondo Digital. Worth discusses his early days as a classically trained stage actor, his time in the service and his struggle to make a name for himself in Hollywood during the 1960s. He then describes his career defining role in what he originally saw as a “tits and ass” film, and how he added much of the interesting dialogue to flesh his character out and that he actually improvised to make it work. An Easter Egg will reveal an additional and welcomed eight minutes of interview footage with Worth talking about other films he was in, including what seems to be his favorite, Wes Craven’s SWAMP THING. The other extras on the disc are a still gallery and a Crown International trailer gallery: DON’T ANSWER THE PHONE, DON’T ANSWER THE PHONE/THE HEARSE combo, BLOOD MANIA and PRIME EVIL. (George R. Reis)
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