Directed by Jon Lewis with guest director Elliot Robinson
Mario Bava. If you’re a horror fan worth your salt, then you not only have heard of him, but you respect his work whether you like it or not. Bava was a true pioneer in our genre. His films are as much a feast for the eyes as they are an assault on our senses. To say he was ahead of his time is an understatement. Many filmmakers have been influenced by this genre great, and it’s always good to see young talent paying their respects. Enter Jon Lewis and Black Sunday Films. Lewis is a true fan, and as such he has crafted his debut film The Telephone as a love letter to Bava and his work.
One of this reviewer’s favorite Bava films is I Tre volti della paura. That’s Black Sabbath for you non-bitextual folks out there. Black Sabbath was an anthology film comprised of three different stories, one of which as you may have guessed by now was called The Telephone. The story is as follows …
A young woman named Rosy (Rued) is being harassed via telephone by a man from her past who also happens to be an unhinged escaped convict named Frank (Lintern). It seems dear Rosy and her lesbian friend Mary (Grigorieva) had a hand in Frank’s incarceration, and now that he’s out, our jail-bird is desperately in search of his pound of flesh. That’s the set-up, and truth be told, it’s perfect fodder for a short film.
Lewis does not stray far from Bava’s formula, though he does manage to get in a few nods to Dario Argento and even the band Goblin along the way. The film sports a very old school look, and not just because it was shot in black and white. Some of the camera angles used and even the editing scream homage to the great one. Lewis and crew were meticulous in their shot set-ups. Everything is stylized and deliberate. The goodies don’t stop there either. The film’s score by Docion also lends a lot to the particular flavor that everyone seemed to have been shooting for, and that flavor is clearly European. The Telephone does not even remotely seem like an American made short. That’s about the highest compliment I could give it.
The cast (especially Rued and Lintern) do a fine job of telling the tale. Rued is very natural and has some of the most amazing eyes since Barbara Steele. I’m guessing that’s part of why she was cast. Frank’s telephone rants are simply chilling. Maybe the folks behind the very flaccid Black Christmas remake should give this a listen. Then again, I wonder if those dudes even watched the original. Sigh.
Overall this is a job well done, but things aren’t all sunshine and puppy dog tails. Everyone’s first film (no matter how good) has its problems, and The Telephone garners its fair share, the most glaring of which is the film’s runtime. Even though it’s just over forty minutes, there are times when it feels as if it’s dragging a bit. Some scenes go on for way too long, and that definitely takes away from the experience. If trimmed down to half an hour or so, The Telephone could be a real winner. We all know films are always a work in progress so anything is possible. In addition there are just a few camera tricks like awkward wipes and dissolves that distract from the otherwise sharp feel of the film. It’s just proof positive that just because you can do something, it doesn’t mean that you should.
To sum up, if you see The Telephone playing around your way at a festival or something, take the time and answer the call. For a first-time film it’s pretty impressive. One thing’s for sure: We haven’t seen the last of Lewis. With aspiring talent like him working within the fold, the future certainly seems pleasantly dark for horror fans!
3 1/2 out of 5
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