Don't Answer The Phone (Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack)
Released by: Vinegar Syndrome
Released on: January 31st, 2017.
Director: Robert Hammer
Cast: Nicholas Worth, James Westmoreland, Flo Gerrish, Ben Frank
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Kirk Smith (played incredibly by busy character actor Nicholas Worth) is a deranged Vietnam vet, drug-using, power-lifting psychopathic killer that preys upon women, some of which he meets through being a "figure model" photographer, others he out-and-out stalks, using techniques obviously lifted from jungle warfare. In between victims, he calls a daytime radio show hosted by therapist Dr. Lindsay Gale (Flo Gerrish), usually as Ramon, complete with overly-florid Mexican accent.
Believing himself to be incredibly clever and unstoppable, he taunts the Dr. mercilessly with details of his personal life, but stops just short of out-right self-incrimination, at least until he has a prostitute call in to the show so he can strangle her on-air! During all of this, the bumbling duo of homicide Lt. McCabe and Sgt. Hatcher (played by James Westmoreland and Ben Frank, respectively) have numerous mis-adventures trying to catch the killer, before Lindsay shows up at the police station with some vital information that could crack the case, and an uneasy partnership ensues, soon blossoming into one of a more intimate nature. Quicker than you can say Police Story, Kirk has abducted the Dr. and it's up to McCabe to save the day, leading to one of the most memorable closing lines in exploitation film history.
Don't Answer The Phone is a pretty schizophrenic film, in that it's story and screen time is split between focusing on the character of the killer (the first third of the film gives one the impression that he will be on-screen most of the time) and those of the policemen, Dr. Gale, and her patients. The result of all of this is that the film only really seems to come alive when Worth is doing his thing, but what a thing it is! Not only is he incredibly physically imposing (imagine a power-lifting Frank Black), but his whole demeanor is unsettling, and that's when he attempts to appear outwardly normal, because when he goes into overload, it's wild. He cries, he giggles like Muttley, he gives endless monologues (to himself) extolling his utter strength and superiority to all that are around him, he pounds his chest and points, asking his (deceased?) father if he "measures up", and he even gives a wholly unexpected diatribe about the pimp he just smacked over the head with a bottle.
Given all of this, it's not surprising that the film sags when he's not in it. The police procedural aspect seems like a cross between 70's buddy/cop pictures like Super Cops, Busting or even Freebie And The Bean (these are funny guys, but they're no-nonsense when it comes time to pump somebody full of lead), but the end result is somewhere closer to TV police shows of the era, albeit with grittier language. The main cause of this (besides the rather flat direction of one-timer Robert Hammer) is the absolutely shallow performance of James Westmoreland (aka Rad Fulton), who has zero personality, save for some smarmy one-liners, and that of Flo Gerrish, who makes for a not-so-exciting female lead.
However, the overall sleaziness of the tone of the film and Worth's insane performance more than makes up for the dryness of some aspects (thankfully, this is the uncut version, as opposed to the neutered one that appeared on Rhino's Horrible Horrors set), and it's also fun to see some very timely locations and theater marquees (Kirk's Ramon call is made in front of what would soon become the mecca of Hollywood hair bands, Gazzarri's, and he scores dope in front of a porn theater showing V: The Hot One. Marquees with displays for Alien and The Main Event are also on display), it's the lead performance by Worth that makes this a film not to be missed by genre enthusiasts.
Don't Answer The Phone comes to Blu-ray from Vinegar Syndrome in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer taken from a restored scan done in 4k from the original 35mm negative. The image quality here is really strong. The picture is nicely detailed and shows great depth and texture and it is more or less pristine. There's virtually no noticeable print damage here, but at the same time this is a nice film-like transfer with plenty of obvious film grain present. Skin tones look spot on and black levels are nice and deep, but at the same time the picture is free of obvious compression artifacts, edge enhancement or noise reduction.
An English language audio option is provided in DTS-HD with optional closed captioning provided in English only. The audio shapes up nicely. The single channel track is clean, clear and nicely balanced and there are no issues with any hiss or distortion. The score also has good presence here and a fair bit of noticeable depth to it.
Most of the extras are carried over from the old BCI Eclipse DVD release include a feature-length commentary from director Robert Hammer and long-time Video Watchdog contributor Shane M. Dallmann. Shane does a fine job of keeping Hammer on track, and has a keen idea of what fans of the film might like to know, including neat tidbits concerning the lack of shooting permits and the romantic leads dislike of each other. It is unfortunate, however, that no mention is made of the onscreen appearances from Chuck Mitchell (the title character from Porky's) and Victor Mohica (the title character from Johnny Firecloud), but overall it's a quick-moving and fun track. Dallmann and Hammer also provide a quick half minute long optional introduction to the film.
Even better is Answering The Phone, a fourteen minute interview with Nicholas Worth. Worth is quite a character in his own right, and his comments on how he crafted the character, while self-serving, are totally welcome and believable. While he is humble enough not to say "Hey, I'm the only reason people are still talking about this movie," it would be hard to disagree with him if he did. Also included here is a nine minute segment with Worth discussing other films he has acted in. The man is far from humble but he's definitely fun to listen to and given that he's appeared in so many projects over the span of his career, this is absolutely worth checking out.
To wrap it all up, we get a theatrical trailer for the film, a few TV spots, a nice still gallery and the film's score by Byron Allred available as a separate audio track. Animated menus and chapter selection are also included and as this is a combo pack release we also get a DVD disc that includes an SD version of the restored transfer and extras identical to those found on the Blu-ray disc. Both discs are housed inside a clear Blu-ray case with some nice reversible cover art. Also tucked away inside the case is a full color insert booklet containing a seven page essay on the film by Mike Gingold along with credits for the disc and a reproduction of the film's pressbook.
The Final Word:
A middling entry in the late-70's/early-80's psycho killer sweepstakes, Don't Answer The Phone is made absolutely essential viewing because of lead actor Nicholas Worth's insane performance. The film is given excellent treatment by Vinegar Syndrome on a Blu-ray that is completely uncut, beautifully restored and loaded with extras.
Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!