Wednesday, September 2, 2015

In short: Dial: Help (1988)

Original title: Minaccia d’amore

Among the most awkward possible ways to incur the interest of RCPNP (Random Crappy Paranormal Phenomena) must be how it happens to English model trying to make it in Rome Jenny Cooper (Charlotte Lewis): while she’s trying to reach the Guy Who Broke Her Heart ™, she misdials and lands on the line of a closed-down suicide hotline for the romantically disappointed. After murdering its cleaning woman for no good reason apart from the film needing a corpse in act one, the invisible force inhabiting said phone line travels from phone to phone flirting rather awkwardly with Jenny by killing her fishes, trying to hypnotize her new neighbour Riccardo (Marcello Modugno) into suicide, and murdering her friends, from time to time hypnotizing Jenny herself into acts of deeply awkward sexiness like that particular moment of phone sex where the telephone receiver also seems to work as a hair dryer. Better not to think about it.

On the plus side, the not quite evil force also shoots a would-be rapist to gory death with coins from a pay phone, so there’s a bright side to Jenny’s problems too.

Obviously, Dial: Help is a long way away from director Ruggero Deodato’s (unwatchable to me because I just can’t stomach the tone and the sheer amount of violence against animals there) magnum opus Cannibal Holocaust; its hilarious, frightening and quite puzzling attempts at the hot sexy times do pre-figure The Washing Machine somewhat, though, while the rest of the film is really a very typical example of crap Italian horror.

It’s the sort of film that just strings random scenes of generic supernatural business one after the other, attempts to break that up by what it deems to be sexy stuff but what isn’t anything like that to actual human eyes, gives its characters utterly bizarre dialogue, and tends to drift off into the pretty darn weird while mumbling stuff about emotional energy accruing in certain places and situations and taking on a mind of its own (which I think is supposed to explain what’s going on).

If you’re lucky, a film like this manages to create a dream-like mood out of its nonsense – if you’re really lucky even a thematically resonant one – if not, it becomes just boring and random. Dial: Help lands somewhere in the middle. It certainly feels too long, and more than one of its scenes of supernatural menace isn’t just silly and dumb but also a bit boring; on the other hand, there are incredible moments like the blow dryer telephone sex scene (the sort of thing you really need to see to believe anyone would put in a movie), or the sneaky telephone of Jenny’s photographer friend that only misses out on perfection by not putting a cardboard box on as a disguise (hey Konami, how about Telephone Gear Solid?), moments that really make a boy wonder what exactly the people responsible were thinking.

On a more technical level, Deodato does make decent use of your typical cold 80s aesthetics that sometimes rub in interesting ways against the rather dilapidated parts of Rome during the location shots, Claudio Simonetti provides a typical score, and the actors are doing their best (which isn’t necessarily very much) with what they are given.

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