I have no idea why but over the last couple of weeks, this film has come up a few different times. Almost as if the universe was daring me to watch it again. It’s been a long time since I have seen it and it’s not very easy to find. The question is: Was it worth the hunt?
Murder By Phone (also known as Bells) is a 1982 film directed by Michael Anderson. Anderson directed Around the World in 80 Days and Logan’s Run. Earlier today news broke that he passed away at the age of 98. I haven’t read any of the obituaries for him but I’m guessing none of them will mention this movie.
This is an odd film and one that is hard to figure out. On the surface it’s completely idiotic. Murder By Phone is the story of a madman (very popular in the early ’80’s) who has invented a device that sends some sort of signal through a phone line and kills the person on the other end. The madman uses said device to kill a young woman who answers a payphone (google them if you’re under the age of 30, they were a real thing). She happens to be a student of Nat Bridger (and with a name like that you know he’s awesome). Bridger teaches some sort of environmental something or other…it’s not important. He seems to be part environmental scientist, part detective and part lawyer. Once he gets involved, things get complicated. Believe it or not, this dumb little movie about a guy killing people with a signal sent through a phone gets confusing. The quick overview is that this thing goes all the way to the top of the phone company and they are set on keeping it quiet.
There is a ton here that makes no sense. How does the lady who paints the murals in the phone company lobby have access to secure areas of the building? Why doesn’t the phone company want the police involved in solving the case? Why is the phone company so powerful? Doesn’t anyone in this movie know that the local phone company will barely exist in twenty years?
You will ask yourself all of these questions and many more as you watch Murder By Phone. You also won’t care and you’ll keep watching because no matter how convoluted this movie gets, it’s also oddly compelling. There is a bit of a whodunnit to the story which holds the viewer and the direction of Anderson helps things along as well.
There is a lot to hate about this film. The plot is over complicated, the premise is pretty dumb, the effects look like garbage, it’s nearly impossible to find and when you do find it, it looks terrible. Someone needs to grab this thing and put out a solid blu-ray release though because despite all of those flaws it is incredibly fun to watch. I just wish it had been the first in a series of Nat Bridger: Environmental Warrior movies.