One of the latest releases from grindhouse cinema icons and sleaze pioneers, Vinegar Syndrome kicks off their slate of 2017 slashers with a midnight special from the era of “Don’t”. Don’t do this, don’t do that, but this time, especially, Don’t Answer The Phone. Originally titled, “The Hollywood Strangler“, during shooting and re-titled before release for marketing reasons. Don’t Answer The Phone is more psycho-drama than bloody slasher but is still trashy enough to fit right in with Vinegar Syndrome’s pristine line-up of trash flicks.
Don’t Answer The Phone starts out strange and continues down a path of weirdness until its final frame. Featuring only the most basic of plot frameworks to get us from each rapey murder scene to the next, Don’t Answer The Phone is a masterful piece of 42nd Street trash. Based on the real life Hillside Strangler murders, telling the story of Vietnam vet Kirk Smith, a photographer by day and serial sexual predator murderer stalking the streets of Los Angeles by night. Our greasy looking creeper at the films center also finds enjoyment in sending tormenting phone calls to Lindsey Gale, a radio psychiatrist whose patients end up being victims of the demented Kirk Smith. There are also a pair of bumbling LAPD detectives hot on Smith’s trail.
As mentioned above, Don’t Answer The Phone severely lacks in the blood and gore department so slasher fans hoping for a new gooey gem will be disappointed. While it is very violent film, its all in service of the uncomfortable sexualized violence at the hands of the murderous Kirk Smith. There are no flashy death scenes and its not until the final moments of the film until we actually get some crimson flowing. Of course this isn’t a death blow to the film but some good bloody deaths can certainly add a lot of flavor to this type of cinema. What makes Don’t Go Answer The Phone worth a watch for genre fans is the visual weirdness that permeates throughout. The film features some almost dreamlike imagery, courtesy of James L. Carter. (Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3), as Kirk Smith meanders through daily life stalking for his next unlucky victim.
It’s common for films that put us in perspective of the villain to make us feel sympathy for them or even give them redeeming traits. Don’t expect much of this from Don’t Answer the Phone, antagonist Kirk Smith is the easily written type of insane, crazy for the sake of crazy. Religious monologues, daddy issue infused emotional breakdowns, nonsensical soliloquies, and sweaty weight lifting pepper the film and meld together into a train wreck of madness that’s hard to look away from. Somehow actor Nicholas Worth pulls it all off with a fiery conviction that rises well above the rest of the films quality and keeps the whole thing from becoming an offensive watch.
It’s hard to recommend Don’t Answer the Phone to anyone but its also hard to not recommend it to people fascinated by this kind of weird exploitative cinema. It’s a mixed bag of a film for sure but the enjoyable weirdness and unintentionally comedic moments far outweigh the bits that drag for a moment or two. This release from Vinegar Syndrome is also best the film will probably every look and the definitive way to experience it for the first time.
Vinegar Syndrome, easily one of my Top 3 distributors in the USA has once again knocked it out of the park with this release. Including both a Blu-ray + DVD copy of the film in this combo pack and reversible artwork on the sleeve Vinegar Syndrome made sure both the package itself and the discs ooze with goodness.
Featuring a great looking 4K scan from the original 35mm camera negative, the picture quality is sharp, colors look good, and other than a few instances scattered about the film grain levels look wonderful and natural. Vinegar Syndrome has also stacked on a pile of special features as well to make sure this one is worth the possible upgrade for those who picked up the Limited to 1000 Scorpion Releasing printing as well. Featuring an introduction and audio commentary track from writer/director/producer Robert Hammer, plus a video interview with star Nicholas Worth reflecting on his role as Kirk Smith. Along with the interview there is also a full career retrospective presented with Nicholas Worth entitled, “For What It’s Worth”. Also present is an isolated track of just the films score by composer Byron Allred, which should be mentioned is pretty great and filled with some fun synth. Finally the original theatrical trailer, multiple TV spots, and a promotional still gallery round out the disc for a nice hefty package.
Don’t Answer The Phone’s lack of blood and gore may be a turn off for some but make no mistake the violence is still there. The dreamlike state the film constantly feels to be in is easily the biggest draw here, it’s a weird little ride through an almost forgotten piece of sleaze cinema history. This new Blu-ray release from Vinegar Syndrome without a shadow of a doubt the definitive way to see Don’t Answer The Phone and the feature set provided only sweeten the deal. It’s certainly not a film for everyone but I don’t think anything Vinegar Syndrome releases is. Genre fans and collectors will find a lot to love, others will want a show. Fuck it, just go buy it and play it a parties.
Note: This Blu-ray was sent to us for review. This has not affected our judgement or editorial process in any way. Please contact us if you have any questions regarding this process.