Its tagline could be “Scanners for dummies,” as Murder by Phone, aka, Bells features people causing harm to others remotely. If only we were remotely interested! To be fair, Murder by Phone is hilariously fun low-end crapola. And it features a cast that’s absolutely, positively better than it has any right to be: the portentous-of-voice John Houseman (Oscar winner for The Paper Chase) and star of stage and screen, Richard Chamberlain.
The beauty of Canadiana and Canuxploitation, was that filmmakers had to make do with very little, long before everyone had to (the state of affairs today, assuming you’re not making a superhero blockbuster or a franchise installment). And Logan’s Run and Orca director Michael Anderson acquits himself pretty well here, using Toronto locales like Bay St (Canada’s Wall St) and Museum Subway Station, a seldom-used TTC stop that serves the Royal Ontario Museum.
The plot is procedural, and pretty straightforward: someone is killing people using a phone. If you weren’t tipped off to that set-up by the movie’s title…well, there’s no helpin’ ya.
The first victim answers a ringing public pay phone…dumb move, and not just because receivers are havens for all manner of gross bacteria. The phone gives off a charge, obliterating the vic* and hanging up on her as far as sentience is concerned.
The coroner says the cause of death is heart attack, something the deceased’s professor can’t fathom as his student was a mere 25 years old. The professor/enviro-activist is Nat Bridger (Richard Chamberlain) and he starts poking his nose where it doesn’t belong, and this leads him to of all places, a giant telecom company.
And more residents fall victim…answering the call, as it were.
Murder by Phone offers up some fantastic Cronenbergian deaths, including an office flunkie shot out of his office window in his chair.
It’s inane Z-grade stuff, just the way we like it. And because this is Canadian it’s pronounced “zed.”
**1/2 (out of 5)
[Check out our Murder by Phone / Bells Podcast discussion!]
[*Editor’s note: Death-by-phone made its way into our book, Death by Umbrella! The 100 Weirdest Horror Movie Weapons]