Minaccia d'amore (1988)
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Here, in fact, we get a plot revolving around – I’m not kidding, folks – a killer phone! Pretty but bland Charlotte Lewis – in her third film after PIRATES (1986) and THE GOLDEN CHILD (1986) – is a model who, apparently, has just ended an affair; she keeps expecting her architect lover to call her back but, every time the phone rings, all she gets is static accompanied by voices from the beyond (or some such crap). She befriends a new tenant at her apartment block who, conveniently, knows of an authority on paranormal activity (William Berger) – who, hilariously, explains that the negative energy which is unleashed, say, during family arguments can manifest itself via home appliances into a deadly force (I swear I ain’t making this up)!
Among the highlights...er...lowpoints of the film are: the grumpy bartender from whose dingy place the heroine calls a couple of times (it seems that the chain-of-events can only be broken by having Lewis go through her paces again, EXTERMINATING ANGEL (1962)-style!), the sheer variety of preposterous-looking phones on display, the apparatus of the heroine’s photographer friend sneaking up on her before the kill, the sarcastic cop who greets Lewis on reporting the strange occurrences (“And what’s the toaster up to, I wonder?”), the would-be rapist killed by a barrage of coins shooting out from a telephone booth, and Berger’s own bloody demise (with the phone affecting the pacemaker he’s fitted with and causing the doctor’s heart to explode)!
The film’s climax is rather confusing and, apparently, finally sees all the ‘lost souls’ inhabiting a flock of doves and flying out the window of the ‘possessed’ office (a lonelyhearts service!). For what it’s worth, the score – by ex-Goblin Claudio Simonetti no less – is effective enough, despite the inclusion of dated heavy-metal numbers on the soundtrack.
What a waste.
Nothing but a cheaply-made blood and gore movie with a ridiculous premise which I'm not even going to repeat, with several telegraphed sequences (for instance, when we see Lewis lovingly feeding her fish, we know right away what's going to happen to them later). Not even Lewis, with her beautiful raven hair, large and luminous brown eyes, full and pouty lips, and stunning figure, can save this film. Lewis fans would be better off with "Bare Essentials", "Sketch Artist", or even "Golden Child".
The biggest draw for the male viewer is the actress in the leading role. Charlotte Lewis might be forgotten today, but back in the late '80s, she was a big star after her turn in THE GOLDEN CHILD. Why she signed up for this role is unknown, but the emphasis is on her throughout: perhaps surprised that he got a popular actress in his film for once, Deodato strives to include Lewis in almost every shot. Her acting might not be so hot, but Lewis certainly is an utterly beautiful woman, half-British and half-Arabic. She emits oozing sexuality throughout the flick and guys will be in for a treat, as she strips down to some sexy underwear for basically the last half hour, with some brief nudity thrown into the mix in a hilarious, inexplicable, frolicking bathtub moment. The sexiest woman ever seen in a film? Possibly – she sure is up there at the top.
Now, it's important to remember that the 1980s was the decade of excess, and nothing was done in half measures. You think the idea of a killer telephone is stupid, you know there are going to be plenty of ridiculous scenes in this film. I was surprised, though, at how effective some of the supernatural moments are: shots of a neglected office, complete with a corpse in the cupboard, are atmospheric and fun's to be had from the spooky voices and noises from the receiver, like in WHITE NOISE. Such moments are tempered by the utterly ridiculous kills thrown in every now and then: folk are strangled by telephone cords and electrocuted, while two particular deaths are notable for their cheesiness. The first is cameoing William Berger, whose pacemaker explodes out of his chest in an ALIEN-style kill. The other is a would-be rapist, hunting Lewis in the subway, who's killed when coins fly out of a public call box, hitting him with the impact of bullets! Also be sure to check out the delirious climax, in which Lewis is strapped to a desk with tape, while menaced by possessed fans and scissors. All cheesy highlights in a fun B-movie.
Another surprise is Deodato himself: he does good work here, putting in some nice chase sequences, especially with that creepy guy in the subway. His camera-work is quality and he adds a veneer to the film that it probably shouldn't have. Alright, so the acting isn't up to much – especially the awful Carola Stagnaro, who I was surprised to find appeared in Argento flicks – but when a film is this much fun, you don't care. DIAL: HELP: the epitome of '80s cheese, a dumb idea resulting in an oddly successful little movie.
She goes to her apartment (which, strangely, is full of pictures of herself), and also meets neighbour Ramon (I think that was his name) who has the hots for her. She's also got another buddy and there's a photographer called Carmen too. God, it's hard enough to sustain a review of this film, which should give you an idea of what it's like to actually watch it.
The haunted phones basically stalk Jenny around the place, killing of her mates (Carmen is stalked by a phone in a rather unscary sequence), and Deodato starts throwing everything he can at the screen, from a would be rapist being torn to shred by flying phone tokens, to Jenny getting all possessed, wearing lingerie and writhing about in a bath filled with what looked like pish, to William Berger turning up for about thirty seconds before his heart explodes out his chest. Berger, as an aside, seems to be the John Carridine of late eighties Italian horror, turning up in Maya and Spider Labyrinth (both of which are better than this film).
Mind you, all credit must be due to actress Charlotte Lewis. Having to looked scared (or turned on by) a telephone is hard work, as is spouting lines like "The telephone is trying to kill me". The film is helped by being set in Rome too, so you'll get to see the Piazza Navona, Castello Sant' Angelo and the Spanish Steps as Jenny goes around being told not to use phones and then using phones. Ruggero's no Bruno Mattei when it comes to directing either, so it's all done rather well except it's about a haunted phone.
In fact, now that I remember, Ruggero made a film about a haunted washing machine too, so maybe he thought it was a good idea? This one was okay but most of the grade here comes from the high cheese factor.
As the above synopsis suggests, Dial: Help is a decidedly silly '80s Italian horror, full of ridiculous death scenes in which victims are choked by telephone cords (one woman is literally hanging on the telephone!), struck by coins ejected from a payphone, electrocuted by switchboard, and killed by exploding pacemaker. Even the fish in Jenny's aquarium aren't safe, the telephone in her apartment emitted a high pitched tone that sends them all floating to the surface.
Director Ruggero Deodato (of Cannibal Holocaust infamy) handles the craziness with style, using wind machines, lots of coloured light, an excess of smoke and plenty of neon (there is even one of those horrible '80s neon phones that tries to zap Jenny in the bath), but realising just how daft and consequently unscary the film's premise is, he resorts to getting Lewis into some sexy lingerie for the final act. Not that I'm complaining, of course: Lewis in black basque, stockings and suspenders just about makes up for her horrible wooden performance.
4.5 out of 10, which I might have rounded up to 5 if the character playing the jazz flute had died.
Definitely the lowest point in Ruggero's career. See House At the Edge of the Park instead, and steer clear of this cringe-making killer-telephone rubbish.