Review Date: October 24, 2005
Released by: E-M-S
Release date: 5/30/2002
MSRP: 7.99 euros (approximately $9.00)
Region 2, PAL
Widescreen 1.50:1 | 16x9: No
I hate telephones more than you can ever realize. At home I rarely answer my phone, and I use caller ID as much as possible to screen out telemarketers and people I'm hoping to avoid. In my old dorm room where such conveniences as caller ID were unavailable, me and my roommates simply stopped answering the phone because nobody ever called unless they wanted something from us. I own a cell phone, but I was the absolute last person in my circle of friends to have one, and as of this writing I haven't even renewed my service contract because of my dislike for the damn thing. As a result, the idea of a horror film about phones seems too terrifying to even contemplate, and coming from director Ruggero Deodato (Cannibal Holocaust
, Jungle Holocaust
), a movie like Dial: Help
couldn't help but to attract my attention...
Even beautiful people are not without their personal problems, and gorgeous English model Jenny Cooper (Charlotte Lewis
) is no exception. As Dial: Help
opens, Jenny finds herself wandering the streets of Rome desperately trying to phone her boyfriend, who has not called her in forever and whom she thinks is trying to avoid her. No matter how many pay phones she tries, though, she just can't seem to get a connection. Finally she wanders into a small bar and tries its phone out. Though she is able to briefly connect with her lover's office, she is again disconnected. Trying to call back, she dials a wrong number. A very wrong number. We cut to a dark, dusty, locked-up office full of recording equipment. The phone on the desk begins ringing, and slowly a decrepit old cleaning lady enters, mumbling about how nobody has called that line in twenty years. She is about to answer it when, as if possessed, it flies off the hook and wraps its cord around her neck (the perils of not upgrading to wireless), choking and killing her.
Jenny never is able to get through to her beau, but now she has bigger problems to worry about anyways. She starts receiving bizarre phone calls, phone calls that are either distorted or menacing, some containing what sounds like dozens of different voices. The first time this happens she is at a night club, and as she listens to it a nearby mirror inexplicably shatters. Then she is at home at her apartment when she gets more calls, one of them emitting an ultrasonic frequency that kills all the fish in her aquarium. She becomes terrified and asks her next-door neighbor Riccardo (Marcello Modugno
) to spend the night with her, and he agrees. She passes out, but before he can fall asleep the phone starts making noises again. He seems mesmerized by it, and then proceeds to walk out onto her balcony and almost jumps off of it, only being saved when Jenny herself wakes up and stops him.
As the incidents continue it becomes obvious to both Jenny and Riccardo - who have both become increasingly attached to each other - that something very dangerous is happening. A friend of Jenny's who works for the phone company investigates and discovers that the entire phone bank seems to have been taken over by a source of energy that cannot be explained. Something was awakened by Jenny when she called that wrong number, something that is using the phone lines to stalk her, and she and Riccardo have to find out what it is before they become casualties of it too.
Looking at the cover art for Dial: Help
, featuring a scantily clad Charlotte Lewis wrapped up in a phone cord, one gets the impression that the movie itself promises to be an adventure in kinky horror hijinks. In reality, the cover is just a tease; the phone cord was added by the graphic designer, and the scene in the film that photo of Lewis was taken from (where Jenny, under the possession of the phone, splashes around in a bathtub while wearing sexy lingerie), while being a bit risqué, is hardly the stuff that wet dreams are made of. Other than a flash of a nipple and a topless shot from behind Charlotte Lewis doesn't bare anything. Those of you looking for eroticism will have to turn elsewhere. This just isn't that type of movie.
is actually very much in the same vein of supernatural and metaphysical horror as movies like The Beyond
, Manhattan Baby
and City of the Living Dead
. Exactly what is happening and why is never really made clear. How Jenny dialing a wrong number could cause so much trouble is explained, but only in an inadequate, half-hearted manner. Simply put, something has triggered something that has triggered something else that is causing problems. There's a lot of mumbo jumbo about positive and negative energy and such, but by the end of the film we're still largely in the dark. This is not necessarily a critique of the film, as it gives it an air of mystery and intrigue. But, like the other movies just mentioned, it also makes things confusing as well.
Some of the horror elements work, while others fail spectacularly. The potential danger of phone harassment is very well embedded in our collective psyches, largely thanks to urban legends such as those of the girl who receives threatening phone calls that turn out to be coming from within her own house. When Jenny receives bizarre phone calls that seem to be coming from somewhere in the great beyond it is at least eerie. But when the script has things happening like phones creeping along the floor and sneaking up on people, or pay phones killing people by shooting change at them like bullets, the movie becomes just plain silly.
As the heroine, Charlotte Lewis is appealing. She may not be a world class actress, but with her deep eyes, pretty face and bombshell figure she is, at least in the physical sense, instantly believable as a model. But she also manages to make the character genuinely sympathetic and engaging, and is able to keep it up even while being attacked by the telephone. Her increasingly intimate relationship with Riccardo provides an emotional focal point for the story. The character describes himself as being an art student, and as played by Marcello Modugno he comes across as outgoing but somewhat uncomfortable, the kind of a person who has never completely gotten over being socially awkward when he was younger. He is the type of man that would normally not be able to do anything except admire a woman like Jenny from afar, but due to his willingness to put himself into what would otherwise be Jenny's own private hell in order to help her (whether this is out of the kindness of his heart, his attraction to her, or simply lazy screenwriting, will never be known) makes him compelling as well.
is recommended to dedicated Eurocult enthusiasts. It's an above average Italian horror film and one that, despite it's absurdities, I got some enjoyment out of.
is presented letterboxed at 1.50:1 and is not enhanced for 16x9 sets. The choice to present the film at 1.50:1 seems a bizarre one, considering that most Italian horror films at this time were cropped to at least 1.66:1. As it is, the film is barely letterboxed. Due to overscan it essentially looks full-frame on many 4x3 displays.
The transfer itself is not bad, though not without flaws either. Though this is not a film designed to feature eye-popping hues, colors are strong and well-defined. Black levels are generally solid and the image features a pleasing level of detail, but occasionally will appear washed out. There are some grainy scenes and shots, but these are limited in number. However, the film elements that the transfer was struck from have sustained some damage. There are scratches, specks and blemishes visible throughout the film. They are limited in number and severity, but do appear on a regular basis. Overall an easily watchable presentation, but one which could have been better.
Two soundtrack options are available, one in German 2.0 Mono, the other in English 2.0 Mono. Like the image, the English soundtrack is also a mixed bag. There are no instances of significant background noise or distortion. Though sound effects - especially small sounds - are reproduced clearly (a good thing, since it seems great care was taken in the film's sound design), the dialogue recording has a hissy, raspy quality to it that is annoying. The soundtrack is also a bit unbalanced; both loud sound effects and the music score are presented at a sufficiently high volume so that adjusting my speakers to hear them at a comfortable level often rendered the dialogue hard to hear. I found myself having to make frequent adjustments in volume.
This release features numerous extras, but all of them are minor. The best extra is a still gallery, and it is a bit unusual. As a gallery it is pretty much useless, containing mostly just screen captures from the film itself interspersed occasionally with promotional artwork from various other countries. However, what makes it worthwhile is the fact that it is overlaid with isolated tracks from Claudio Simonetti's memorable score for the film, making for a total running time of thirteen and a half minutes of music.
There are also extensive text interviews with director Ruggero Deodato and veteran Eurocult actor William Berger, who has a small role in Dial: Help
as an expert on the paranormal. Unfortunately, they are in German. Talent bios and filmographies for Deodato, Charlotte Lewis and Simonetti are also featured, but they are also in German. Lastly, there is a trailer for the film, as well as trailers for Fear City
, Perdita Durango
, Horror 101
is a strangely likeable – though completely and utterly implausible – little thriller from a director who is usually associated with more explicit and controversial fare. With the Region 1 Eurohorror market quickly running out of classic and not-so-classic material to release it’s not likely to be long before Shriek Show or some other like-minded company snatches it up. Because of this, and because of the fact that this release’s supplements, audio presentation and video quality are only average, this is a disc that will probably only appeal to our European readers. Yet it’s available for such an unusually low price, even from American importers, that viewers wouldn’t be risking much by investing in a copy.
Movie – B-
Image Quality – B-
Sound – C+
Supplements – C+
- Running Time - 1 hour 34 minutes
- Rated 16 (German ratings system)
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- German 2.0 Mono
- English 2.0 Mono
- Still gallery with isolated score
- Ruggero Deodato text interview (in German)
- William Berger text interview (in German)
- Talent bios and filmographies (in German)