If we followed the advice of the early 80's video titles, let's face it - we'd never actually do anything at all. We wouldn't be able to go to near parks, open windows, venture into basements, or in tonight's case, go into a house or answer the telephone. By the time of Don't Answer the Phone of course, they decided to call it that in order to cash in on the popularity of the 'Don't...' craze of the period. Phones - or indeed the act of answering them - don't play a significant part in the film. Quite ridiculous eh? Well, so is the film. But first, an early example of "don't-ing" with Don't Go in the House (1979).
This evening's selection is brought to you by Zomblee in association with the 'Stop Using the Word DON'T in Horror Movie Titles' movement of 1983.
Don't Go in the House (1980)
Plot Burn, baby, burn...
Zomblee Donnie doesn't like fire much, but doesn't seem to mind inflicting flame associated torture on fellow human beings. When he was a child, his mother burned his arms with naked flame over the gas stove so as an adult he is understandably scarred - emotionally and physically. Then she dies. He loses the plot, starts jumping up and down on chairs whilst playing dodgy disco music really loud, then hears voices in his head which tell him, "We'll help you...you can do anything you want...you're the master of the flame now." Ok. So, logically, he makes his basement into a human furnace, lulling young women back to his huge house on false pretences. Then he ties them up, gets changed into his flame retardant overalls and blasts them with his trusty 'thrower. That, as they say, is it. What's rule number one of Don't go in the House? The answer is in the question...
"He's quite a dark one, this Donnie..." says Rawshark after about 5 minutes, but no-one really got the joke at the time. But he's right. At about 25 minutes in we were amused at the thought of the remaining running time of Don't go in the House would comprise an endless cycle of Donnie brings women back to his basement then flames them scenarios. That really would get quite boring, even if the actual human burning sequences were really well executed, which they are. There is more to this strange little study of psychosis / schizophrenia than outright nastiness. It's effectively creepy, largely thanks to a blend of simple horror mechanics and the disturbing sight of the three burned female corpses, sat in the room upstairs, whom Donnie talks to - his guests. This element of the film is reminiscent of Ormsby/Gillen's brilliant Ed Gein movie Deranged, or perhaps even Lustig's Maniac - a parallel which works in its favour without seeming like a clone. But it's not quite as good as either film.
Along the way, Donnie takes time to visit a good "serial killer shop", as Jim put it, and that's exactly what it was - a one stop convenience for knives, machetes, flamethrowers, general weaponry for the undemanding killer sort, and a nice line in fire retardant suits. Once that's done, he's equipped to start entertaining his lady guests after which we're treated to a "fire montage".
Rawshark: "Is that the best fire montage you've ever seen, Jim?" Jim: "That's the best fire montage I've ever seen!"
On the whole, it's intermittently convincing - genuinely unsettling moments are situated alongside unintentional silliness and clumsy line delivery, and the ending isn't half as clever or cool as it thinks it is. Stick with this one though - perfect for those cold winter nights. At Zombie Club.
"Hello? Could you please send a cab to whaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrgggghhhh!"
Jim “Apparently it takes 10 minutes to burn alive,” offered Rawshark as some guy flails around engulfed in flames and Donnie looks on impassively. Zomblee nodded knowingly and I reached for my pen and notepad. Don’t Night had begun.
Donnie had a tough upbringing. Basically his mum was a bitch and used to burn his arms over the stove as a kind of punishment and as a result the grown up Donnie is fascinated by fire, so much so that when in the next scene he finds his mum has popped her clogs (of old age we assume), Donnie knows this is his big chance to head down to his local serial killer shop and buy up all the tools necessary to build his own flaming torture chamber in his basement. Yes serial killer shop; what other type of shop would have a window display of knifes, Nazi helmets and a full size flame resistant body suit? ”Hmmm, I think he’s going to buy that…” - Rawshark. Yeah, me too.
Donnie then heads off in search of a victim and soon finds a young lady wearing a John Saxon style turtleneck being terrorised by some rubbish punks (“They’re really rubbish at being threatening punks, aren’t they?” - Zomblee) and gives her a lift home, stopping off at his house to drop off some flowers he’s just bought. This is where the fun begins; I was shouting ”Don’t go in the house!”, Rawshark was musing over where he’d seen the actress before (in his dreams he says) and Zomblee was commenting on the unfortunate effects of watching a full-screen flick on a wide screen TV. ”The wide screen TV gives her a really big ass, doesn’t it?” Yes, it certainly did.
Anyway, one fake phone call and a blow to the back of the head later, the big-assed dream actress is hanging naked from a hook in the basement. Fumbling serial killer jokes subside instantly and we all sit silently as she’s burnt alive by flame-thrower wielding, fire-proof suited Donnie. Ouch. This reminds Zomblee of the next film’s apparent ‘one good scene’. He says we’ll know it because, ”It’s the one when no one will be talking!”
So, we have that to look forward to then. And to think, I didn’t even have time to tell you about the especially made disco-dancing suit he buys to go disco dancing (”Especially made for dancing? What?” - Rawshark) or the priest who made Rawshark chuckle every time he said ”Come into my office…”
”Are you okay Donnie?”
Rawshark No, I simply could not believe that they had trousers "especially made for dancing" until Jim quite rightly pointed out that this film was made in the late 70s – "the height of the disco boogie boogie" era. I guess maybe then, in the age of John Travolta, they really did have trousers especially made for dancing, although I’m still wondering what really made them so good for grooving in.
As for the priest, well, it was such a shame too – as it was one of the better scenes of the film, with Donnie (now going, as Jim put it "properly nuts") sneaking into church to steal some holy water to combat his demons. Caught in the act by the priest, the two engage in dialogue dealing with discussions of faith, the existence of the Devil, punishment for sins, and possible salvation. So tense, so well played, and then spoilt by the priest’s closing ‘come-on’ line of "come into my office". Me and my twisted humour - Airplane’s got a lot to answer for.
Despite the original UK video cover bearing absolutely no resemblance to the film at all, Don’t… House is one of the more accomplished Psycho rip-offs, but it’s still only a half good movie. For every standout scene, say the corpse dream sequence on the beach being a particularly creepy one, there’s an absolute howler, like when Donnie shoves candles into his date’s hair at the disco ("boogie, boogie") and not one person in the place bats an eyelid. Guess they get a lot of hair burning over there.
There was also Bobby, Donnie’s one and only friend, who seemed so especially nice, we called him Nice Guy Bobby all night. Every time Donnie got down, there was Nice Guy Bobby to try and help pick him up with a phone call, but even Nice Guy Bobby wasn’t enough, because Donnie does indeed turn very darko towards the end. Sussing that 'Donnie' and 'Mentalist' go together like 'Hip' and 'Hop', Nice Guy Bobby enlists the help of the priest and together they rush to the house to save the day. Unfortunately the priest doesn’t make it ("Oh Priesty, Priesty… Don’t go up the stairs!" - Jim), but Nice Guy Bobby rescues the two latest victims before the whole house burns down, taking Donnie and his char-grilled girlfriends with him. The less said about the tacky tacked-on ending the better though.
"These trousers are especially made for dancing…"
Director Joseph Ellison
Cast Dan Grimaldi
Runtime 82 mins
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Don't Answer the Phone! (1980)
Plot Kirk Smith terrorizes women in New York. Nothing to do with phones.
Rawshark Pre-advised by Zomblee that Don’t… Phone really has only "one good scene", our hopes were not high for a quality film with the second of our ‘Don’t’ films of the evening, not helped when Zomblee also announced pre-credits that "it’s cut guys". "As long as they haven’t cut the nude scenes." said guest Matt. Quite.
And so Phone begins, somewhat conveniently, with a semi-naked nurse answering the phone. Someone kills her ("probably some mad, murderer rapist person" – Jim) and we cut to Sitges Award Winning Actor (it says so on the DVD!) Nicholas Worth and his puffing portrayal of weight lifting, mad, murdering, rapist Kirk Smith, or Ramone when he’s calling counsellor Dr Gale at the local radio station. We know he’s sick and twisted, because he does things like kill women by pouring candle wax all over them. Candle wax? Can you really kill someone by pouring candle wax over them? Someone should tell him that some people would pay good money to have that done.
And then there’s the two most rubbish cops ever, who like to be seen as wise-crackers but never seem to crack any wisdom. Or the case for that matter. Whilst Kirk freely runs around the city killing women with a coin in his stocking, our fumbling cops are pointlessly busting brothels, or taking part in ‘work montages’ ("that’s the best ever work montage I’ve ever seen!" - who else but Jim) or beating up small kids on the street in a one-take ‘montage’ looking for suspect Atkins.
Admittedly, the one scene Zomblee mentioned as being good was pretty good (the bit where Ramone shares horse with a prostitute and then gets her to call Dr Gale on the radio show whilst killing her live on air), but really there’s so much rubbish here that it really wasn’t long before we were yelling our own 'Don'ts' at the screen; "Don’t walk on the grass!" (Matt), "Don’t jump off the building!" (Jim) and "Don’t play with your breasts!" (Zomblee) being particular highlights.
"Excuse me Doctor, we can’t rely on all this mumbo-jumbo psycho crap."
Jim I think maybe I should explain Zomblee’s breast comment. Just after Matt pointed out it’d be great if there was a movie called ‘Don’t walk on the grass’, we all went into making up ‘Don’t…’ movie titles overdrive, pretty much shouting out whatever we saw on the screen. I wrote down…
Don’t sit in the chair.
Don’t take off your top.
Don’t put your feet on my desk.
And then the actress sat at her dresser in a negligee brushing her hair lingered a little too long on the bosom with her other hand and Zomblee was quickest off the mark. Still, good to see that the fine Zombie Club tradition of ample breastage is still going strong.
Anyway, what about Don’t Answer the Phone? Well, there’s not much phone answering going on, just a killer that ”looks like Divine as a man” (Rawshark) randomly killing women by tricking his way into their homes as a photographer. Photography is his day job so his cover is pretty good, but perhaps too good as ultimately this is how the cops catch him (and not, as I’m sure you were thinking, thanks to that bizarre Uri Geller style character that crops up in the middle). But it takes them ages; this is one of those movies where the killer kills a lot and the cops get progressively closer until finally they stumble over a lead which leads them right to his front door.
But it’s the journey that really tickled me. When the we’re not watching the killer kill or lift weights (”Yeah, he’s the grunter…” - Zomblee), we get to follow the two most pointless cops this side of a Herschell Gordon Lewis movie. They think they’re funny, but they’re not, which is actually quite funny (un-intentionally unfunny, so therefore funny?), especially the raid on the brothel which Rawshark thought was ”a pointless, pointless scene.” We also get two wicked montages; the ‘work’ montage that involved cops answering phones and pointing at big maps (”Look, that’s where I live!” - Zomblee) and the ‘find Atkins’ montage which was all about showing photos to people (”This is me when I was three…” - Zomblee).
Eventually there’s the not unexpected showdown at that Doctor Lady’s house, but by then you’ll have probably given up already, a bit like we did. If you really want to see Nicholas Worth acting, don’t get this ‘award winning’ film. Get either Darkman or Swamp Thing, They’re both way better.
Zomblee Welcome to the fascinating world of police forensics. Yeah, right.
This is a real stinker. It's one of those turgid offerings that makes you really want to interview the director to see what the fuck they were trying to achieve by setting up what appears to be a badly constructed but serious serial killer film, then punctuating the most bizarre and innapropriate humour sequences throughout. The brothel raid is one such scene, as are most of the scenes with McCabe and Hatcher - the cop double act who helm the 'Strangler Task Force'. It really seems like either Hammer & Co. couldn't decide on which type of film to make, or that they simply didn't know what they hell they were doing.
Jim was really keen on transcribing a rather lengthy quote from a radio report at the beginning of the film (which, ironically, doesn't appear above) but it was one of those second-bill ZC film scenarios where everyone was talking so we had to rewind the scene five times for his benefit. "I bet no-one has ever rewound Don't Answer the Phone five times before!" commented Rawshark. If someone HAS rewound any scene five times before, then it would be just to re-confirm the pointlessness of many of the ridiculous scenes scattered throughout, or to check that bit where a man who "looks exactly like Bub from Day of the Dead" - thanks Jim - walks down the street. Or perhaps the "police investigation montage" which involves cops talking on the phone accompanied by lighthearted funk grooves. Take our word for it folks - this movie sucks.
Pervy photographer Kirk Smith (played with some conviction by Nicholas Worth) really does grunt and wheeze like an idiot all the way through this low grade, seedy pap but he does manage to occasionally convince, not least in that “one good scene” involving the prostitute and the phone call to Dr Lindsey Gayle – proud exponent of 80's lady’s high slacks. That’s when everyone at ZC went quiet, just like I said they would. Unfortunately, when you splice something resembling a half decent scene before any STFA (Strangler Task Force Action), all credibility, I’m afraid, is gone the moment one of those two muppets open their mouths. I’m not sure Rawshark was even occasionally pulled in by Worth’s performance though - “I wonder what other films were showing at the Sitges International Film Festival that year?”The Hills Have Eyes 2 perhaps?
Nicholas Worth is credited as “The Killer” on the opening credits and as “The Strangler” on the closing credits. Or perhaps that was the other way around. Anyway, my point is that they couldn’t even get the bloody credits right. Avoid. It's shit.
Director Robert Hammer
Cast James Westmoreland
Runtime 94 mins
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