What does it take for a film to become a cult classic? It doesn't always require high production values or flawless execution. In fact, these might even be a detriment. Don't Answer the Phone certainly qualifies as a cultish movie, and does lack a certain something in the quality department. But it's entertaining, and features a sublimely outrageous (and fun to watch) performance by Nicholas Worth.
Worth plays the serial killer Kirk Smith, who works by day as a photographer, and has a penchant for killing his beautiful young models. And also prostitutes, and random women whose houses he breaks into. He also likes to call in to the radio show of psychologist Dr. Lindsey Gale (Flo Gerrish), pretending to be a Puerto Rican with emotional issues. For him, it's all a lark, and perhaps a way to prove himself after growing up with a disapproving and stern father. The police are on his trail, however, in the persons of Lt. McCabe (James Westmoreland) and Sgt. Hatcher (Ben Frank), a couple of cops who, perhaps, don't play by the rules.
Smith is able to outwit the cops for quite a while, and gets the better of the cat and mouse game. He stalks and kills one of Dr. Gale's patients, and then kills another girl on the air after calling in to her show later. Interspersed among the killings are the bumbling attempts by the police to find the killer, and an unlikely romance between Dr. Gale and McCabe. There's a surprising amount of humor in the film, and it never takes itself too seriously, which is one of its saving graces. The producers seem to know that this isn't top quality filmmaking, and get on with the business of enjoying themselves.
Don't Answer the Phone isn't really interested in the mystery portion of the story. The audience knows who the killer is from very early on. The film works more like the Italian giallo films, it's about the experience. Mostly, that experience is watching misogynistic violence and scantily clad women, and at times it seems destined to be merely a crude T&A movie. Nicholas Worth saves it from that fate, however, with his electrifying (though admittedly cheesy) performance. He brings in lots of background and motivation to the character, often through ad lib monologues, looking in the mirror or wandering around his house. He imparts a depth and energy to the role that transcends what was written for it. In many ways, Don't Answer the Phone is an inept film, but its moments of greatness (and even some moments of silliness) make it enjoyable nonetheless. Recommended, especially for fans of seventies slasher films.
The video is 1.78:1 widescreen, and does have some issues, typical of low budget films of this era. We see film scratches and lens dirt pretty much throughout. The colors are rich and smooth, however, and the flaws are minor enough that they don't detract from the viewing experience. Please note that this is a check disc, so no comment can be made on the quality of the final product.
Audio is Dolby digital 2 channel, and sounds fine, though one might hear a slight hiss from time to time. No subtitles or alternate language tracks are included. Please note that this is a check disc, so no comment can be made on the quality of the final product.
There are a number of extras included. They are:
Katarina's Nightmare Theater
A short intro of the film is presented by Katarina Leigh Waters, a la the creature feature hosts of old.
Audio Interview with Star James Westmoreland
This is a wide ranging interview with Westmoreland, who plays McCabe in the film, discussing his film career, including working on Don't Answer the Phone. He seems an interesting character, though he does have quite a high opinion of himself. This is interesting.
"Answering the Phone" - Featurette with Star Nicholas Worth
This is an interview, coming in at almost fourteen minutes, with Nicholas Worth, who plays the killer, Kirk Smith. He is a real presence, and a fascinating speaker. He talks about his career, service in the military, and working on Don't Answer the Phone. Very engaging.
"For What It's Worth" - Bonus Interview Footage
This is about nine minutes worth of additional footage from the interview with Worth above, talking about many of the cult films that he has been a part of. Also very good.
This is a cheesily fun trailer for the film.
Commentary with Director, Writer and Producer Robert Hammer
This is the most substantial extra included, a commentary with filmmaker Robert Hammer, assisted by Shane M. Dallman of Video Watchdog. They discuss all the ins and outs of the film and its production, sparing a little time for each of the main cast. The film was shot on a super low budget, in eighteen days, without permits, and with heavy input from Nicholas Worth. This is quite an enjoyable commentary, and of interest to film buffs.
Please note that, though it appears to have a full raft of extras, this is a check disc, i.e. one without normal packaging or artwork, so no comment can be made on the quality or quantity of extras included in the final product.
For the most part, Don't Answer the Phone is not a great film. It has wooden performances, a risible plot, and loads of misogyny. But it also has a lot of what genre fans are looking for: beautiful women, cool kills, a fascinating villain and a certain level of goofiness that makes it somehow endearing. Taken as a whole, it's a fun film, and deserving of its place in the cult movie universe.