Murder by Phone

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]

Visiting Hours

It’s usually cats that provide a movie’s jump scares, and Visiting Hours offers a bit of a twist, throwing in a parrot, (the subject of an excellent joke involving a bar, bread, and the bird’s beak — not in the movie).

A slow-burn Canadian* stalk ‘n’ slash, Visiting Hours is a 1982 video nasty that features a one-two punch of Canuxploitation, Michael Ironside and William Shatner, Mike as the creeper and Bill in a small role as a by-the-book TV producer (and Montreal provides the backdrop for the unnamed American city setting).

The killer, Colt Hawker, takes snapshots of his vics, one of whom is Kevorkian-ed in the intensive care unit of the local County General.

The title, visiting hours, comes from a daddy issues backstory (Colt’s father is a patient at the hospital) and the killer flashes back to his hard-drinking abusive pops, now senile, wheelchair-bound and in a gown.

After a local provocateur-journalist, Deborah (played by Lee Grant, Oscar nominee for Detective Story) escapes his clutches, his knife lunges bypassing her aorta wall by mere centimeters, Colt spends the film trying to kill the one witness to his sordid crimes. (In her book, I Said Yes to Everything: A Memoir, Lee  Grant claims that Visiting Hours was a “B- minus movie…which I’d already turned down.” Hey, you gots to pay the bills. Film critic Leonard Maltin “hoped she was well paid for this junk”).

In the interim, the killer busies himself with picking up and then abusing a punk rock chick at the local diner (with his slicked-back hair and leather jacket, Ironside is quite a catch).

Visiting Hours has more in common with Don’t Answer the Phone! and Maniac than it does any of the expendable camp counselor/college co-ed movies that came out around the same time.

As far as healthcare horrors go, it’s better made, but not nearly as gloriously goofy as Hospital Massacre.

Still, there’s a lot more going on here than meets the eye, and Visiting Hours shows remarkable restraint.

*** (out of 5)

*It appears Michael Ironside’s character is driving a Zamboni at one point. That’s extra “Canadian” points.