Movie Review: Don’t Answer the Phone (1980) and Prime Evil (1988)

A Double Bill Of These Grindhouse Flicks Is A Mixed Bag

November 30 2007 Categorized Under: Movie Reviews No Commented
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Don’t Answer the Phone (1980)     1/2 (out of 4)
Directed by: Robert Hammer
Starring: James Westmoreland, Ben Frank, Flo Gerrish, Nicholas Worth

Prime Evil (1988)    1/2 (out of 4)
Directed by: Roberta Findlay
Starring: William Beckwith, Christine Moore, Mavis Harris, Max Jacobs, Tim Gail, George Krause

Don
This Bud’s for you!


I missed out on the Grindhouse experience. But I can imagine what it must have been like. (I appreciated the Weinstein’s Grindhouse, even though it’s just a simulation). The days of old movie theaters with midnight showings, smokers, and pee-smells are over. But the Grindhouse DoubleFeature series, put out by BCI/Eclipse, tries to give us a sample of what was once run on those dirty screens. So far they’ve released a few double feature DVDs, like Sonny Chiba movies, T&A flicks, exploitation action pics, etc.

One of their horror releases is a double header of Don’t Answer the Phone and Prime Evil.

Don’t Answer the Phone is everything you expect out of a 70s/80s grindhouse horror item. It is actually a pretty solid exploitation flick involving a crazy Vietnam vet who likes to strangle women. When he’s not doing that, he’s lifting weights like a madman, talking to his (presumably dead) dad (“Are you proud of me now? Do I measure up?”), creating bizarre shrines to Jesus, and making prank calls to female psychologist Dr. Gale’s (Flo Gerrish) talk radio show (sometimes he poses as a guy named “Ramone”). He’s a huge, ugly dude, and on top of that he moonlights as a sleazy photographer. Yes, this guy is everything you hate about humanity all rolled up into one convenient package.

Don
Who would Jesus strangle?

The surprise is how effective actor Nicolas Worth is at pulling it off. He basically hams up the screen but he’s damn entertaining. Helping him out is director Hammer and writer Mike Castle, who don’t try to explain the killer’s condition too much or zero in on the real reason he does what he does. There’s a few hints at some kind of religious motive but we never really find out, which is probably for the best.

You can break out the exploitation checklist for a movie like this. Crazed strangler? Check. Topless female victims? Check. Sleazy drug addicts… incompetent asshole policemen… twisted psychology… disturbing violence… all there. The icing on the cake is the “comedy” scene involving an impromptu bust at a brothel, where the whores try to snort the evidence and the “freak” clients make a break for the exits, all set to a wacky theme. Well, I guess a scene like this is necessary.

Don
Lady, maybe if you quit doing that, he wouldn’t need a bandage on his head.

There is some emotional weight to Dr. Gale’s therapy sessions with her female clients, just before their inevitable demise. It adds a layer of sympathy with the victims that you wouldn’t normally get in a standard stalk’n'slasher. But let’s not kid ourselves – the movie’s setup is titilation, and it’s knock-down is strangulation. Certainly not for all tastes.

The biggest mystery surrounding Don’t Answer the Phone is why it deserves to be lumped in with that series of movies that begins with the word “Don’t”, and what phones have to do with anything. Why would you think a movie like this is titled “Don’t Answer the Phone”? Perhaps the killer strangles you while you’re on the phone? Eh, not really. Maybe he calls you before he kills you? No, that doesn’t really happen either. Ok, so he strangles women with a phone cord? Nope. Not even close. If anyone out there can figure out what not answering telephones has to do with this movie, please phone us immediately.

Prime Evil
Hey Satan, does this outfit make me look fat?

The second feature on the DVD is some flick from 1988 about Satanic monks called Prime Evil, and it’s a prime piece of crap. Grindhouse? Yeah, right – I wouldn’t show this stinker on the side of a wall in somebody’s backyard. Incompetent to the extreme, it’s shot in soap opera style, has some of the worst acting I’ve seen in some time, and is basically all around dumb. The bad casting decisions, while applicable to just about every major character, are especially egregious in regards to the main villains. William Beckwith is laughable as the so-called evil Father Seaton (get it?) and George Krause as the Satanic henchmen named Ben is about as “menacing” as Stephen Furst. I mean, it’s not like I’m comparing the guy to Arnold Schwarzenegger – I’m just comparing him to Nicolas Worth.

I can’t even be bothered to discuss the plot, which is complete nonsense involving virgin sacrifices for 13 years of immortality and whatnot. I just have the painful memory of the so-called priest coming on to our virginal heroine like a frat boy during Rush week. Hey, the idea of being lip-locked with a horny priest doesn’t seem to faze her, so why should we be concerned? And our undercover nun’s sad story about being abused by Satanists is amusing for all the wrong reasons.

Prime Evil
Hi, I’m here from Dial-A-Thug for the henchman job.

Watching this movie, I got flashbacks to another similar crapfest called Embrace of the Vampire, which in many ways is the sister to this flick, except the pain of watching that one was offset a bit by a very hot and naked Alyssa Milano. There’s also a strange similarity in plot to, believe it or not, Manos: The Hands of Fate. I’m pretty sure this is the movie Hal Warren would make if he were alive today.

The best part of this “movie” is that once in awhile a nice pair of breasts turns up. I believe I counted 5 different pairs of boobies. At least that’s something to keep you interested. There are also some shots of a nice red Satan puppet. Some makeup intern obviously spent a lot of time on that puppet. It’s a good puppet.

Prime Evil
Aww. Satan Puppet is so cute when he’s sleeping.

The most interesting thing about Prime Evil is that it was directed by Roberta Findlay, who was involved with her husband Michael Findlay in a number of 70s sex-and-sleaze-fests. After her husband died in a helicopter accident, she got into hardcore porn and then started cranking out zero budget flotsam like this movie. Hey, a gal’s gotta make a living.

- Bill Gordon

The rest of the disc includes grainy trailers for Horror High, Werewolf Vs Vampire Woman, Blood Mania, and Night of the Werewolf.

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