Sunday, January 28, 2018

murder by phone

Early 80s thriller Murder By Phone, also known as Bells--which I like as a title as well--finds Richard Chamberlain as a bearded, environmental activist professor trying to uncover the mystery of people dying of apparent heart attacks after simply answering the phone. Even innocent-looking Mickey Mouse phones aren't safe. Michael Anderson, the director of an eclectic array of films such as Logan's Run, Orca, and Around the World in Eighty Days, wastes no time to get to the goods. We see a woman in a subway station answering a trilling payphone to her detriment: she begins to shake violently and bleed from her eyes and sparks fly. It's a crazy opener and the string of outrageous deaths that ensue are part of this horror movie's kooky charm. It also has some tony actors like John Houseman in the game and a high-grade film score from John Barry. The eerie music cues slink along with descending notes--it's tuneful and definitely a curious and overlooked entry in Barry's oeuvre. Less exciting is Chamberlain as Sherlock and his thinly-drawn cohort (played by Sara Botsford), but still, despite the muddled relationships and mystery at the movie's core, the mix of class, corporate and environmental anxiety and the potential harms of technology is still welcome in this age. In these times of payphones long-stripped from the sidewalks of New York, Murder By Phone is a passé horror treat. **1/2

-Jeffery Berg

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