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  Killer is on the Phone, The Telly on the phoneBuy this film here.
Year: 1972
Director: Alberto De Martino
Stars: Telly Savalas, Anne Heywood, Osvaldo Ruggieri, Giorgio Piazza, Willeke van Ammelrooy, Rossella Falk, Antonio Guidi, Roger Van Hool, Ada Pometti, Alessandro Perrella
Genre: Horror, Sex, Thriller
Rating:  4 (from 1 vote)
Review: Stage actress Eleanor Loraine (Anne Heywood) returns from hospital to resume rehearsals for her role as Lady Godiva. At the train station she encounters a sinister man (Telly Savalas) who seems strangely familiar. Afterwards Eleanor discovers her house was torn down then goes in search of her boyfriend Peter (Roger Van Hool), only to learn he died five years ago. Despite the best efforts of her sister Dorothy (Willeke van Ammelrooy), co-star Thomas (Osvaldo Ruggieri) and psychologist Dr. Chandler (Antonio Guidi), Eleanor fails to recognize George (Giorgio Piazza), her husband of three years! Yet Eleanor's claim of amnesia does not convince the play's financier: Peter's wealthy sister Lady Margaret Verwoort (Rossella Falk). She believes Eleanor is faking it. Slowly piecing together the past, it gradually dawns on Eleanor the sinister stranger now stalking her was responsible for Peter's murder, in which she may also be complicit.

Despite a great premise arguably worthy of Alfred Hitchcock, genre-hopping Italian workhorse Alberto De Martino drops the ball with L'assassino... è al telefono a.k.a. The Killer is on the Phone. The botched result is more shrill Latin soap opera than taut giallo thriller. Filmed in the Ostend, near Bruges, the Italian-Belgian co-production was among a handful of Italian outings around this time for both British actress Anne Heywood and American star Telly Savalas, the latter only a year away from his career-defining role as TV's iconic, lollipop-loving detective Kojak. In fact on its belated release to American grindhouse theatres the film was sold with the tagline: "Telly Savalas... on the other side of the law!" Fans would be better off watching Mario Bava's superior Lisa and the Devil (1973) or even its trashier, drastically re-edited variant House of Exorcism (1975) for while Savalas lurks menacingly on the sidelines he plays a less active role than they might expect. Nonetheless the film benefits from the actor's skill at portraying suave psychopaths. Note the unsettling scene where he kisses a victim as he stabs her to death.

The multi-authored plot, including input from De Martino, shares some similarities with the let's-torment-the-unstable-female-lead sub-genre of gialli more often headlined by the likes of Edwige Fenech or Carroll Baker. However, despite the neat conceit of unreliable memories, the film overdoes its myriad of confusing, contradictory flashbacks to the point where the heroine proves wildly inconsistent. One moment she is a scheming minx, the next she is the persecuted damsel in distress, then a ranting loon. She also weirdly shrugs off several significant deaths. Typical of the script's skewed logic is the strange conceit of having the heroine sleep with a supporting character to prove they were never lovers (?!) The one mind-bending scene that does work involves a murder-suicide that turns out to be a stage-play. De Martino does not go in for the flashy stylization of Sergio Martino's delirious giallo vehicles for Edwige Fenech. Nonetheless he conveys a subtle sense of dislocation in a few key scenes as Eleanor realizes her life is nothing like how she remembers it. Anne Heywood wafts elegantly through the scope frame (the cinematography is by Aristide Massaccessi a.k.a. Euro-trash film mogul Joe D'Amato) if icily, a shade less compelling than Fenech or Baker and tries too hard to vamp it up in her cheesecake shots. Typical of a lower-rung Italian thriller the script indulges in arch philosophizing ("You are all actors playing parts" Eleanor observes of her friends, none too subtly) and surrounds the brittle heroine with an abundance of smarmy, self-involved macho men, seemingly intended as identification figures for the audience but insufferable. Thomas' predilection for unbuttoned shirts and atrocious stage acting makes one wish he were on the hit list though the lone murder victim is predictably female and topless.

De Martino foolishly dilutes the tension by keeping his antagonists apart for too long. The film only comes alive during the climactic confrontation between killer and heroine inside an abandoned theatre where Eleanor uses her knowledge of stage mechanics to turn the tables. Yet the sequence is otherwise detached from the bulk of this dreary, meandering mess. It ends with a possible nod to Heywood's most celebrated role in the film adaptation of D.H. Lawrence's lesbian drama The Fox (1967). Among the few positives: Stelvio Cipriani delivers a charming, lush, languid easy listening score.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam


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