Monday, April 18, 2016

Dial: Help (1988)

AKA Minaccia d'amore (Menace of Love)

Having a film that goes down in history as a result of becoming infamous the instant its released can be a blessing and a curse for some directors. On one hand, its nice to have a film that is sure to never be forgotten however on the other it can lead many to paint with a broad brush and expect the exact same types of films. While most hardcore Italian genre film fanatics are familiar with the entirety of Ruggero Deodato’s filmography, there are some who expect all his films to be in the vein of Cannibal Holocaust (1980) and to a lesser extent The House on the Edge of the Park (1980). Not only is that unfair to the rest of Deodato’s output but those who do so are only doing a disservice to themselves as Deodato’s body of work is incredibly versatile. Following The House on the Edge of the Park, Deodato put his stamp on a number of genres and subgenres like Body Count (1986), Deodato’s take on the summer camp slasher, the off-center giallo Phantom of Death (1987) and the erotic giallo The Washing Machine (1993). Then there’s a film like Dial: Help. Certainly one of the most bizarre Italian horror films from the 80’s, Dial: Help is also a wholly original film that is all too often put down by those who sadly can’t see past its unusualness.

While trying to call her agent, Jenny (Charlotte Lewis), an English model living in Rome accidentally dials a wrong number and soon after begins receiving phone calls with nothing on the other line but strange noises and unfamiliar voices calling out her name. Even after getting a new phone the calls continue and soon Jenny’s friends begin getting murdered and Jenny finds herself in psychical danger. Jenny discovers that she is being pursued by phantoms whom have taken possession of the telephone lines, and with the help of her new neighbor Riccardo sets out to uncover the reasoning behind what is happening to her in order to save herself.

Along with its outlandish storyline, Dial: Help is also unique when compared to the rest of Deodato’s body of work on account of it being one of Deodato’s most fantasy and supernaturally based films. At first glance a film with this type of story is probably a bit difficult to take completely seriously, however Deodato does indeed handle the majority of the film with a straight face which actually works in the films favor making it all the more beguiling. As loopy as it is, the source of the haunted phone lines and Jenny’s ensuing investigation is rather intriguing and the film moves at a brisk pace helped immensely by the presence of Charlotte Lewis who, like Deodato, seems fully committed to the material no matter how odd it gets (doing a striptease for a phone while in a trance for example) and the relationship that develops between Jenny and Riccardo throughout the film is quite sweet. Visually the film is incredibly slick with Deodato’s precise camera movements and the production design, making the film an interesting time capsule with the interior of Jenny’s apartment being a snap-shot of late 80’s chic and there are some pretty interesting looking telephones on display as well. The films premise also gives way to some very innovative set pieces, all involving telephones of course, the highlights being a possessed pay phone spitting coins out at high speed, Lewis being strung upside down by a phone cord and in a fairly fetishistic scene, bound by magnetic tape.  

The film also features a score by legendary Italian genre film composer Claudio Simonetti. It was Simonetti’s second time working with Deodato having previously done the scores for Cut and Run (1985) and Body Count. Simonetti would also provide the music for The Washing Machine. Per usual with Simonetti the music is excellent, much like the look of the film the sound is also very much “of its time”, very 80’s electronic and synth based yet entirely appropriate considering the films chic aesthetic. At one point during the possessed pay phone scene the music even resembles electronic punk rock. Its worth noting that that Charlotte Lewis kept a fairly high profile around this time having appeared in the Eddie Murphy comedy The Golden Child (1986) two years before taking the lead in Dial: Help so this was a pretty interesting role to take at this point in her career. Her first role was in Roman Polanski’s swashbuckling epic Pirates (1986). These days, Dial: Help doesn’t seem to get much mention save for the occasional (mostly negative) review here and there, however those fed up with the constant stream of unoriginal hackwork’s currently plaguing horror should find Dial: Help to be a fun and refreshing watch. It might not contain the savage nihilism that defined some of Deodato’s other films, but for an original film ripe with off the wall ideas, look no further.

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