That little quote – from a detective examining the body of a murdered woman – should give you some idea of the level that Don’t Answer the Phone! is pitched at. It’s cheap, sleazy and probably misogynistic, but not quite what you’d call depraved, thanks to some decent performances and a touch of black humour.
Above all, the film has personality... This personality may be a hulking Vietnam vet who spends most of the film talking to his reflection and strangling beautiful women, but personality it is nevertheless. His name is Kirk Smith and he looks like this:
Kirk (played by Nicholas Worth) is terrorising the streets of Hollywood, using his job as a photographer to talk his way into aspiring models’ homes, snap a few shots and then strangle them to death. When he’s out not strangling, he likes to lift weights while sweatily assuring himself “I’m all man”. And, when he’s not doing that, he likes to phone in to the radio show of psychiatrist Dr. Lindsay Gale (Flo Gerrish) in the guise of his heavily accented alter-ego, Ramón.
Regular visitors to Anchorwoman In Peril! will know I’m prone to widening the definition of “anchorwoman” to include great characters like Lauren Hutton’s TV director in Someone’s Watching Me! or Jodie Foster’s radio talk-show host in The Brave One. I think we can also squeeze in Don’t Answer the Phone’s Lindsay Gale here. Not because she’s particularly memorable (she isn’t), and not because Gerrish plays her particularly well (she doesn’t), but mainly because she shouts at her patients and makes them cry. And that makes me laugh. A lot!
A typical session goes along these lines:
Dr. L: Are the drugs more important than your parents, Lisa?
Drug addict: Mmm.
Dr. L: Say it, Lisa! Tell your mommy the drugs are more important than her!
Drug addict: The drugs are more important than you, Mom.
Dr. L: Louder!
Drug addict: The drugs are more important than you, Mom!
Dr. L: Louder! Shout it, Lisa!
Drug addict: THE DRUGS ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN YOU, MOM!!!!
(Lisa has a breakdown and starts sobbing)
Dr. L: There, now you can help yourself. That’s a major breakthrough, Lisa.
Unfortunately, the therapy doesn’t quite pay off, and a later scene finds Lisa threatening to jump from the top of a high building – but that’s drugs for you. You should probably just say no, unless you want to end up being yelled at by a radio psychiatrist too.
Another reason I think Don’t Answer the Phone! qualifies as an Anchorwoman In Peril movie is because it covers one of the classic AIP bases so well – namely, the Live-On-Air Wig-Out scene. I’ve already mentioned that Kirk regularly phones in to Lindsay’s radio programme – something that she manages to take in good humour – but matters get a little out of control when Kirk encourages a prostitute to call the show, and then promptly strangles her live on air. Cue lots of muffled grunting, people screaming, producers trying to pull the plug, and Lindsay eventually marching down to the police station with a handful of “terrifying tapes” to hand in. Frasier was never this much fun!
There’s also a sly vein of humour running through the film’s attempts to explain its killer’s psychosis – typified by the moment when an expert advises the police that “a scientific description of the strangler’s type would be a paranoid obsessive compulsive psychotic schizophrenic” (!). And then there’s Kirk’s own explanations, blurted out to his victims or directed at himself in the mirror, including: “I never had enough faith in myself”, “I went to see the wrong doctors”, “I loved my puppy but I strangled him”, and “Well, Dad, are you proud of me now? Do I measure up?”. Ultimately, Kirk’s motives are impossible to identify: they don’t make sense; they’re a parody of serial killer profiles... Simply put, the guy’s just nuts.
Despite its silliness, Don’t Answer the Phone! is also undeniably nasty at times. The murder sequences dwell on the pain and suffering of the exclusively female victims, while simultaneously trying to mix in a few titillating nudie-shots. Not the best way to endear yourself to a wide audience... but then Don’t Answer the Phone! was never going to appeal to one.