By Richard Winters
My Rating: 3 out of 10
4-Word Review: Don’t answer the phone.
People are being killed throughout the city of Toronto by simply answering the phone. Apparently someone has come up with a device that can create a massive electronic blast that can go through the phone lines and kill anyone listening on the other end. The blast is so strong that it can even melt the receiver. Nat Bridger (Richard Chamberlain) who is a professor at a local college decides to take matters into his own hands and investigate on his own after one of his students is killed and the police seem to do nothing about it.
Initially I found this idea to be intriguing and original, but unfortunately it throws credibility completely out the window. Had it worked more with the idea of sending some loud noise at an extremely high decibel over the phone, which would then blow out the person’s ear drum, or something of that nature then I might have bought into it. Instead it has some sort of unexplained blast that literally makes the person at the other end blow off of their seat and fly backwards crashing into walls and windows, which seems utterly ridiculous and cartoonish. The film also offers no scientific explanation to how this device was created or done, which makes it farfetched and pointless.
Chamberlain’s one-dimensional acting doesn’t help and his presence in the lead role is quite generic as he plays a character that shows the street smarts and fighting ability of a seasoned cop instead of that of a college professor making things even more unrealistic. John Houseman gets a rather thankless supporting role as Chamberlain’s mentor and is pretty much wasted except for a bit where he disrupts a guided tour through a phone company which proves mildly amusing.
The technology is horribly dated making the entire thing a relic of a bygone era and irrelevant to today’s audiences. The climatic sequence dealing with Chamberlain’s attempts to keep the bad guy on the phone while the police try to trace the number is highly clichéd and more boring than intense. Director Michael Anderson’s attempts to jazz things up a bit by photographing phones in intimidating ways with ominous music playing in the background comes off as unintentionally funny instead of scary.
This Canadian made thriller was originally released under the title above and ran for 95 minutes, but the Warner Home Video version, which was released in 1998 and goes under the title of Murder by Phone was trimmed by 15 minutes. The version reviewed here is from the original release although the film is so silly that watching the shorter cut might be preferred simply because it would mean less time wasted.
My Rating: 3 out of 10
Alternate Title: Murder by Phone
Released: May 11, 1982
Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes
Director: Michael Anderson
Studio: Canadian Film Development Corporation
Available: VHS (as Murder by Phone)