This years Halloween Horrors has got me thinking…the Demons films have always seemed to mark the end of the Italian Horror boom for me. Sure a few things were done here and there… some minor gialli (Nothing Underneath, Too Beautiful To Die, Obsession), the occasional low budget Filmirage item (Ghosthouse, Witchery) and even the occasional film that felt somehow out of place with their timing because they were so good (Cemetery Man, The Church) cropped up here and there. But a film like Dial : Help, and my recent rediscovery of the Cine Duck horrors, have me thinking I need to re-explore the post 1986 terrors of Italy. They may not be all good, but some incredibly enjoyable items are waiting to be viewed once again! While the Italian action films were pouring out and occupying the time of many major talents, there are some horrors worth watching-both made for the cinema and television. Dial : Help and the utter pleasure it brought me was a revelation!
I doubt many would qualify this Ruggero Deodato film as revelatory, but I forgot how great it was.
If you thought that the premise to the aforementioned classic DEMONS was thin, let me introduce you to Dial: Help. Young and beautiful, Jenny (Charlotte Lewis) is waiting for a mysterious lover to call. A gorgeous model wandering around Italy and pining for some missing man would seem to be a great joke eh? Well, that is probably the least absurd part of the film. After randomly picking up a pay telephone it would seem that the amazing body of Charlotte Lewis has awakened a room full of ghosts that like to dial out death whenever possible-all in the name of love. To bad for the cleaning lady, because once she gets strung up by the polterroom the chase is on and violence and punishing prank calls become the order of the day. Jenny has no idea what is going on, but her Armani phone (which is crazy ugly) is out to woo her-and kill anyone else that gets in the way.
The mystery souls of telephonic terror kill the fish, they kill her friends and yes…they kill William Berger-who sets a cameo land speed record as a scientist that is grabbed as he tries to board a plane and once told about the Phone-nominal Phreaking just agrees that it may be possible. Then, his chest explodes as the phone callers pop his pace maker from a thousand paces.
But when I look at Charlotte Lewis, I kind of get it….the phone has good taste, even if she is playing a character that is too dumb to not answer a phone!
It all ends on a sort of upbeat note really, though the sheer body count it takes to get to the finish line should leave Jenny and her new boyfriend a bit more shaken than they are…whee, glad it the nightmare is over, and all your friends and colleagues are DEAD. William Berger didn’t even know your name and he got blown up!! But really, the film dangles from a curly cord with a flimsy premise and still overcomes this with ease. Because Deodato knows how to milk everything he can from the idea. We are treated to a phone P.O.V. stalking not once, but several times!! You don’t see that every day….
The idea may be silly, but Deodato does manage to show off his onscreen assets well. Not only does he do every flattering outfit justice, inject energy into a rolling around in the bath sequence (for an actress that seemed to not want to do nudity sadly) and roam his camera around some oddball sets, but he pulls off one of the best stalk and chase scenes I’ve seen in years. After Jenny goes in to a subway to find her friend reduced to a smoking husk she is chased by a menacing junkie that obviously has the hots for her. But Deodato drops the hints early as she walks by the predator and he is seen picking up a dirty needle from the ground and slinking away. Once she starts running from her discovery and realizes she is being stalked by something more physical than a phone line this becomes vintage Eurohorror, equal to many of the better layered scenes in classic Giallo films that find someone terrorized directly in to the arms of danger. Of course, the junkie didn’t account for a coin hurling payphone. Silly? Oh yes…but a crazy pay off to an excellent sequence. And all set to a hard edged Claudio Simonetti soundtrack no less. Italian horror still had it past Demons…yes it did.
Dial : Help has opened up another floodgate, I have nothing but good memories of The Washing Machine and Phantom of Death-time to get back into turn of the decade Deodato… You won’t confuse this film for a classic, but if you love the feeling of wondering what the hell anyone is thinking trying to pull off this script as a feature film, some gore, a great Simonetti score and even an appearance by Detective Altieri from Tenebre-Carola Stagnaro-this one is for YOU!
And, because I love my readers, here are a few shots from a scene that should live in infamy and will stick in your cine-craw after all is said and done…Charlotte Lewis gets seduced into dressing up to take a bath? Huh? Well, it looks good anyway!