PURE TERROR MONTH: Don’t Answer the Phone (1980)

If any movie has earned being on the video nasty list — this one is on the Section 3 group of films, which couldn’t be prosecuted for obscenity but were liable to be seized and confiscated under a less obscene charge — it’s this movie.

This is the scummiest movie I’ve ever seen outside of films like Waterpower and Bloodsucking Freaks. Every single character is a horrible person, even the protagonists. It feels like you could take a Silkwood shower after this and it wouldn’t be enough. You’d still feel dirty.

Former paratrooper and powerlifter — who would later become a born-again Christian — Nicholas Worth plays Kirk Smith, who is also a veteran and bodybuilder. He has talent — well, when it comes to the lighting and composition of his pornographic photos, which have the ability to offend everyone, even scumbags like, well, everyone else in this movie. When he’s not grunting and lifting weights, he’s calling the talk show of Dr. Lindsay Gale (Flo Lawrence, who is also in SchizoidOver the Top and The Lords of Salem). When he gets on the air, he speaks in fake accents and complains that he has migraines and blackouts.

All of that would be fine if he wasn’t stalking and killing women right and left, not unlike the Hillside Stranglers of real life. That makes sense, as this movie was shot under the working title of The Hollywood Strangler. None of this was shot with permits, either.

It gets worse. He not only kills women, he has, well, intimate relations with their dead bodies before conducting religious ceremonies, trying to talk with his dead father and crying.

Two detectives — Hatcher (Ben Frank, Death Wish 2) and McCabe (James Westmoreland, who was in Stacey and was married to Kim Darby) — are on the case, but it feels like they’re just as horrible as anyone else in this movie, overworked and on the edge.

There’s also a porn dealer named Sam Gluckman, played by Chuck Mitchell, who would one day by Porky himself from Porky’s, a role that is packed with more class than this movie. The sheer amount of salaciousness and scum in his scenes nearly fills the scene with bile.

Dr. Gale and McCabe quickly go from love to hate. Neither actor liked one another much, so Lawrence — who played Gale — ate a bunch of onions and Westmoreland — who was McCabe — didn’t shave on the day that their tender and romantic scene was shot.

Of course, it ends with Smith attacking Dr. Gale and McCabe saving her, shooting the strangler many, many times before he falls into a swimming pool, upon which the hero — such as this movie is — says, “Adios, creep!”

Director Robert Hammer is a one and done wonder. Sure, he made documentaries on Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and The Steve Miller Band, but that’s it. Otherwise, he became a CFO for several companies.

It was written by Michael Castle, who acted in films like Galaxina and Gas! -Or- It Became Necessary to Destroy the World in Order to Save It. It’s the only movie he ever wrote, working from the novel Nightline by Michael Curtis.

Keep an eye out for April 1978 Playboy Playmate of the Month Pamela Jean Bryant as Sue Ellen. She’s also in all manner of late 70’s and early 80’s films that probably only I care about like H.O.T.S. and Lunch Wagon. Dale Kalberg, who was in scumtastic flicks like Mistress of the Apes and SexWorld, is another victim. And Susanne Severeid, who was a former model, plays yet another prostitute who ends up in Kirk Smith’s list of crimes. Interestingly enough, her husband was a WWII Dutch resistance fighter who was hired by the Simon Weisenthal Center to hunt Dr. Josef Mengele in real life.

Gail Jensen is another victim in this movie. She also performed the song “Sweater Girl” from the movie of the same name, as well as two songs on the Maniac Cop soundtrack. It gets crazier — she wrote “The Unknown Stuntman,” the theme from Lee Majors’ TV series The Fall Guy, along with being married to David Carradine, who she starred alingside in Future Zone.

If you don’t have the Pure Terror box set, you can get this from Vinegar Syndrome.

Despite my warnings of the sleaze quotient of this movie, you should know that I loved early single moment of it. I’m ashamed, but isn’t that part of the fun of lurid movies like this? If you’re of a similar mind — let’s say you’re a maniac — you will probably feel the same way.

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