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Case Number 25519: Small Claims Court

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Don't Answer the Phone! (1980)

Scorpion Releasing // 1980 // 94 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker (Retired) // April 6th, 2013

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All Rise...

Don't tweet Appellate Judge Tom Becker!

The Charge

RUN—If you must!

HIDE—If you can!

SCREAM—But he'll know you're alone!

The Case

There's a serial killer on the loose in L.A.! A stocky, daddy-damaged, religion-issued, 'Nam-scarred serial killer/rapist! The police are helpless because his attacks are so random—and their sleuthing skills so inept!

The only connection—and a tangential one, at best—is radio psychologist Lindsay Gale (Flo Gerrish, Over the Top). At least one of her patients becomes a victim of the lunatic, and Dr. Gale is beginning to wonder if one of her regular callers—"Ramone"—isn't, in fact, the killer himself!

Watching the 1980, California-based Don't Answer the Phone!, I couldn't help being reminded of another serial killer film from 1980, the far superior, New York-based Maniac. While that film was dark, edgy, and not a little despairing, Don't Answer the Phone! has a kind of silly feel to it. To be sure, it's plenty violent and has lots of nudity, plus an occasionally very good performance by Nicholas Worth (Swamp Thing) as the killer, but it's also aimless, with much of the running time devoted to the uninspired shenanigans of the two cops trying to crack the case.

The most memorable scenes are the killings. They're not especially well done, and the actresses playing the victims are so uniformly dreadful that you might think these are actually parody scenes. The killings themselves aren't terribly gory or explicit, but they are creepy—and, they give Worth, the most interesting actor here, the opportunity to do his crazy thing. Whether he's brutally kicking in a door, pretending to be a photographer's rep, playing "Daddy" to his victim's little girl, or photographing a young woman he'd picked up hitchhiking (Sue Ellen's big break!), Worth is uncomfortably compelling. It's not a dark, dangerous performance, like Joe Spinell gave in Maniac, or an iconic one like Michael Rooker gave in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, but it's entertaining as all get out. The fact that the women playing his victims give uniformly dreadful performances help Worth's work stand out even more; plus, writer/director Robert Hammer offers up a variety of sick 'n' silly scenarios for the murders.

But it's the shoddiness that you really take away from all this.

BCI Eclipse released this title a few years back. For this release, part of Scorpion's Katarina's Nightmare Theater Line, Scorpion ports the supplements from the earlier disc, including a commentary by director Robert Hammer and an interview with Worth. Evidently new to this release is a telephone interview with James Westmoreland, who plays the lead cop. The anamorphic image and mono sound are reasonable.

The Verdict

A lesser entry in the low-budget serial killer/sex maniac canon, Don't Answer the Phone! is worth checking out for fans of the seedy subgenre.

Not guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 65

Perp Profile

Studio: Scorpion Releasing
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
• None
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 1980
MPAA Rating: Rated R
• Cult
• Exploitation
• Horror
• Mystery
• Thriller

Distinguishing Marks

• Commentary
• Interviews
• Trailer


• IMDb

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