Friday, November 13, 2015

011. Best Friends and 012. Don't Answer the Phone!

Jump to Don't Answer the Phone! (1980)

011. Best Friends (1975)
Director: Noel Nosseck
Writer: Arnold Somkin, Doug Chapin (additional dialogue)
From: Cult Cinema

Jesse meets his best friend Pat freshly back from Vietnam after an injury to his hand. The pair are traveling to California with their fiancées to get married and settle down into adult life. Only Pat isn't ready to call an end to the wild and crazy times he had with Jesse and goes to increasingly disturbing lengths to get his way.

Spoilers, I'm going to give away the ending and I don't recommend this movie.

This is a grim little film that serves as one of those unintentional time-capsules, portraying moments as lighthearted or innocent that seem reprehensible today: have sex with your friend's fiancée while traveling with your own and don't try to hide or apologize for it (she'll let it go), buy drinks for teenage girls when you're in your 30s so you can hook up with them later. I'm shuddering because it's cold where I'm writing this and because that's horrifying.

It's not just that the movie is turgid and dull—which it is—it's really disturbed. There's something weird relationship-wise amongst the four characters from the start and it's pretty clear early on that Pat's an abuser. Jesse, the hero, isn't much better, though. He sleeps with Jo Ella, Pat's partner, without much, if any, coaxing, and then refuses to leave Pat behind after he tries to rape Kathy, Jesse's partner.

That's part of this movie, by the way, no exaggeration. Pat tries to rape Jesse's fiancée, is only stopped by Jesse showing up, Jesse has no doubt about what happened, and Pat's response is, quote, “We gonna let something like this come between us?” And it doesn't. Jesse still doesn't cut Pat out of his life.

In fact, the only time Pat crosses the line is at the end when Jesse asks him what it would take to make things okay and Pat says he wants to screw Kathy. After everything up to that point in the movie, Jesse's incredulity and outrage, even though they're totally appropriate, seem odd. How was that the line? It wasn't a problem when he tried to do it without Jesse's permission (leaving aside the question of Kathy's consent because lord knows the movie doesn't give that a moment's thought), but now that consent is involved it's unacceptable?

I'm talking mostly about the end, but the movie is creepy throughout. Pat gives off warning signs the whole time, neither of the guys is really likable, and it's all such a strange set-up. Even when the two couples are introduced, there's a real swinger/partner-swap vibe that doesn't feel right.

So we get to the end where Pat is harassing the other three. Jesse tries to shoot him and ends up killing Kathy instead. The next morning, Pat's sitting next to Jesse, the two of them staring at Kathy's body, and Pat's nattering away about whether Jesse remembers this one time when they were kids. Jesse is destroyed, his lover dead by his own hands because of the madness of his friend Pat, and Pat's still there. How are we supposed to read this ending? If Jesse had just said, “yes,” and let Pat screw Kathy, everything would be okay? Pat can't really be blamed, he just wanted his friend back? This movie makes me feel dirty.

For the first half, the movie is cheesy and unintentionally homoerotic enough to be funny and highly riffable, but when it starts its descent, it goes fast and deep into the darkness. This movie isn't fun, it's full of WTF-moments and really depressing. Don't go looking for it.

Richard Hatch from Battlestar Galactica stars as Jesse, but noting that just reminds me how good (minus the final hour) the reboot of Battlestar was. Watch that instead.

012. Don't Answer the Phone! (1980)
Director: Robert Hammer
Writer: Robert Hammer & Michael D. Castle, based on “Nightline” by Michael Curtis
From: Pure Terror

A serial rapist-murderer becomes obsessed with a radio psychologist and must be caught by the police before the doctor becomes his next victim.

The movie starts with a very promising moment: a title card announcing that this is a Hammer/Castle co-production. Hammer studios and William Castle? This will be b-movie gold! Only it's neither that Hammer nor that Castle and all hope is abandoned.

The plot itself begins with the killer assaulting his first victim and the ensuing crime-scene investigation by the cops featuring a wise-cracking forensic investigator who isn't funny. On top of not being funny, it's during this scene that the cops let us know this is a murderer rapist who maybe commits the acts in that order.

Thanks. Thanks a bunch.

And maybe there's nothing else that needs to be said. That moment, that failure of the movie to know itself and strike the right tone continues throughout. It's fine to have a serial killer that does foul and disturbing things to people, that's Silence of the Lambs and many other excellent thrillers. Those movies, though, don't marry their horror with irreverent wise-cracking cops. They know their tone.

We're then introduced to what seems like the main character, the psychologist, who has a call-in radio show. The killer is one of her regular callers—affecting a bad accent and calling himself “Ramone”—and calls to essentially brag about his latest killing without explicitly saying he killed the woman. The doctor's response starts immediately getting to the core of his madness and the killer hangs up.

This feels like it'd be the plot: a cat-and-mouse game between the killer and the doctor. The killer is stalking the doctor, attacking her patients, constantly calling her, the movie is him vs. her.

However the movie is convinced that it's really about the cops vs. the killer, one cop in particular. He's a super cop, the bestest cop, most amazingly coppest cop that ever copped a cop of cop! Nothing gets by him except everything. Let's call him “Officer Poochy” since he's so cool and everyone's role in the movie is to say how cool he is.

How cool is Officer Poochy? After the doctor's patient is assaulted and killed, Officer Poochy wants the doctor to just hand over the patient's files in case there's anything there that would point to her killer. The doctor says he needs a warrant. Then there's a long strawman argument about how psychologists are only working to keep criminals out of jail and it's all these laws and due process and Constitution that are getting in the way of cops doing their job and she should want to hand the files over regardless of the laws binding her because it was one of her patients that was killed. She still refuses and then Officer Poochy hands her the warrant that he had the whole time. Good thing he wasn't insisting time was a factor and the primary reason he couldn't go through standard procedure of getting the warrant he already—oh wait, his argument was bullshit and he's a prick.

The cop and psychologist meet up again when there's a woman threatening to jump off a building. The psychologist is trying to talk her down when the cop shows up, takes over the show, and starts berating the woman telling her to jump and let everyone get on with their evening. Of course this brings her off the ledge and the psychologist agrees to get dinner with Officer Poochy because he's just that cool.

So the doctor and cop hook up, killer goes after the doctor not because he's obsessed with her as he has been the entire movie but because he wants revenge on Officer Poochy, Officer Poochy saves the doctor at the last minute, and, because he's just that cool, kills the killer—in a scene with hilarious ADR.

Then Poochy returns to his home planet and that's the end. Additional notes: the music cues in the flick are terrible with bad music that doesn't match the tone, the killer looks like Kevin James which is one of the only entertaining parts of the movie, and the N-word count in the movie is 3. So you've got that going on.

A dull, dull serial killer movie that seems more interested in hammering it's conservative politics down your throat than scaring/entertaining you. If it had just been the killer vs. the cop or the killer vs. the doctor, the tension would have been easier to manage, and I might have been able to get behind its badness. When the cop becomes the main character, though, and let's be clear, he is not the main character for the first 30-40 minutes, the whole thing falls apart. If it had been just the killer and the doctor, there would have been the potential for a really creepy Argento-esque mystery where she's slowly learning who he is and what he's doing through his phone calls as he's inevitably getting closer and closer to attacking her. The movie that's here, though? Forget about it.

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