21 September 2014

September 21st

The Mummy (1932) directed by Karl Freund
Too tired from the long drive home to break out the Halloween decorations box as promised, I suggested to the kids that we watch a horror movie instead before bedtime. When I mentioned The Mummy as a possible choice, they both jumped at the idea. Boy, that was a mistake. I had completely forgotten what a dud this film is.

The Mummy is essentially a toothless -- pun intended -- remake of the prior year's Dracula, even going so far as to cast Edward Van Sloan in exactly the same sort of role. Worse, the mummy only appears as the mummy in the brief introductory scene before spending the rest of the movie looking like Karloff with a fez on. What a rip-off! I can only imagine the disappointment of the kids of 1932, excited to be going to see "a new monster movie from the makers of Dracula and Frankenstein." Though, perhaps, Zita Johann's revealing Egyptian outfit helped ease the tedium for some of the older boys in the audience.

I do feel like I deserve some kind of parenting medal, however, in managing to convince my antsy four-year-old to stay with the movie to the end. Poor kid just wanted to see a mummy. Maybe we'll get to one of the mummy-filled sequels later in Halloween.

Don't Answer the Phone! (1980) directed by Robert Hammer
Over the summer, I got into watching cheezy sex comedies produced by a company called Crown International Pictures.  I gobbled up flicks like The Beach GirlsThe Pom Pom GirlsTomboy, The Van, Van Nuys Blvd., Cavegirl, Hunk, Jocks, Weekend Pass, and Malibu Beach. These were all low-budget, goofy movies destined for late-'70s / early-'80s drive-ins in which half of the audience would be stoned and/or making-out most of the running time. The thing I liked about them, though -- outside of my obvious mid-life crisis issues of watching high school movies at the age of 37 -- was that many of them had a dark streak running though the lighthearted shenanigans. In the plotless The Beach Girls (the best of the lot, by the way), for example, two of the girls are just about demonic in their efforts to convert the obligatory nice girl into their debauched ways, while at the same time seducing the married, much older owner of the beach house in order to ensue their party never stops.

I saved the Crown horror movies for Halloween season, expecting even darker cheeze. Don't Answer the Phone! doesn't disappoint in that regard. I'm tempted to say it's the L.A. version of Maniac, but it lacks that film's style, acting prowess, and plot. Kirk Smith is a fashion photographer and crazy Vietnam vet who spends his free time, when he's not talking to himself in the mirror and lifting weights, stalking and killing women. Lt. McCabe is the dedicated homicide detective chasing him.  It's a good enough formula to hang a serial killer flick on.

But, man, some of the stuff in the movie is pretty messed up in that way early '80s slashers tended to be. For extra income, Smith sells photos of his victims to a sleazy porno mag editor, with the implication that many of the victims were dead at the time. The psychic that the detectives briefly consult gives a fairly graphic description of one of Smith's crimes that the camera had demurred in showing us. Most disturbing of all, Smith follows one victim home from her meeting with a psychologist with which she was talking about being molested by her father. Smith grabs her, ties her up, and torments her by pretending to be her dad while she sobs into a teddy bear. I'd imagine it was these things -- plus Nicholas Worth's hilarious maniacal cackling -- that etched this movie into the horror consciousness enough that it tends to be released by itself, outside of the 12-movie mega sets that Crown flicks are normally found in.

I wouldn't go so far as to call Don't Answer the Phone! a good movie, but its not without its charms. Worth a look if you're a student of the '80s slasher boom and tolerant of the rough edges ultra-low-budget films tend to show.


  1. I'm a fan of "The Mummy" myself. The comparisons to "Dracula" have always struck me as slightly unfair. Imhotep is a more blatantly romantic figure then Dracula, who is primarily sinister throughout the entire film. Good on you raising great kids though. I don't think my seven year old nephew even knows black-and-white movies exist. (I blame his parents.)

    I've never seen "Don't Answer the Phone" but it sounds extremely sleazy, which I mean in the best way possible. I'll have to watch it before I get around to doing a grindhouse-themed podcast episode.

  2. I think if Lugosi had played Imhotep, the romance angle would've worked in The Mummy. Karloff is too creepy-looking for me to buy that he's loved his lady friend through 37 centuries.