Belonging as much to the group of “Don’t” films – Don’t Go In the House (1979), Don’t Go In the Woods (1981) – as it does the spur of military inspired horror films of the 80s – Combat Shock (1986), The Prowler (1981) – Robert Hammer’s Don’t Answer the Phone in title seems like an innocuous early 80s genre entry designed to bring the same audience to the multiplex that would only months later flock to Friday the 13th, but it’s something a lot more difficult to pin down and far nastier than any studio distributed slasher of its time would be.
Robert Hammer only ever directed one feature film and Don’t Answer the Phone is it. Also serving as writer and producer, Hammer had only directed a few episodes of TV programs prior – but it never shows. Never feeling like a scrappy grindhouse programmer, Don’t Answer the Phone stars Nicholas Worth (who would become a prolific genre character actor appearing in titles like Swamp Thing, Darkman and Barb Wire) as a bulky Vietnam vet working as a photographer who spends his downtime terrorizing and strangling women. Almost always convincing his victims – as a fashion photographer – to disrobe prior to killing them, the film feels unrelentingly sleazy – sort of like Blow Up by way of Maniac!
Originally inspired by real life serial killer The Hillside Strangler – and at one point titled The Hollywood Strangler – it’s safe to say that Don’t Answer the Phone doesn’t retain much of its at once intended true crime credibility. This is nasty genre cinema distributed by the always reliable folks at Crown International that mainly holds up due to Worth’s serious and unhinged performance. I doubt that I’m alone in wishing that Robert Hammer hadn’t stopped his feature filmmaking career after one film.
Vinegar Syndrome bring Don’t Answer the Phone to Blu-ray in 2017 following an already solid release by Scorpion, which retained the special features they had put on their DVD release prior to that. And the result here is an obvious improvement. Featuring a new 4K scan from the original camera negative, this is easily the best the film has ever looked on home video. It’s a much brighter presentation, void of damage and with a healthy grain structure intact. This is beautiful work and anyone on the fence about double dipping can use this new transfer as justification. The DTS HD-MA 1.0 track fairs similarly, with no noticeable issues present and the entire (great) score gets its own isolated track as well.
Supplements start with a very nicely put together booklet featuring liner notes by Michael Gingold and reproductions of marketing materials. Supplements from previous editions have been carried over here. Starting with commentary with Hammer, which is a great track detailing the origins of the film and its real life inspirations as well as the release, censorship and working with the cast. There’s also a brief intro with Hammer which can be played along with the feature. We get a 14 minute interview with Worth titled “Answering the Phone” which features the actor being very candid, talking about his start as an actor as well as working on the film and how he feels about it now (though this was recorded over ten years ago and he’s since passed away). From there we get “For What It’s Worth”, a 9 minute career overview of Worth which goes into his other work like Swamp Thing. Rounding out the package is a promotional gallery and a trailer and TV spot.
This is the definitive release of Don’t Answer the Phone. Vinegar Syndrome’s new 4K scan is gorgeous and they have carried over all of the supplemental content of the previous edition and added some more, including a nicely produced booklet. Highly Recommended.