The Caller is a genre-hopping straight-to-video movie from 1987 that starred Malcolm McDowell at a low point in his career. Despite some success with Paul Schrader’s remake of Cat People in 1982, the ’80s were not a kind decade to the Yorkshireman, and by the end McDowell was making films like The Caller and Mortacci in Italy. It wasn’t until he played the main antagonist in Star Trek Generations that he was back in the public eye again—and given directors’ fondness for A Clockwork Orange and the Mick Travis films, McDowell has always been able to get quirky bit parts, often as villains, ever since.
Screenwriter Michael Sloan is mainly known as the creator of the TV show The Equalizer (loosely inspired the Denzel Washington films). Sloane didn’t write that much for film, so this is one of his few feature film screenplays, his others were both made in the early ’70s. It’s almost Bergmanesque: it’s a chamber drama about two people in a cabin in the woods, Madolyn Smith plays the imaginatively named The Girl, and McDowell is The Caller. It all begins when he asks to use her phone, but what transpires is an increasingly bizarre cat-and-mouse game between the two, which climaxes with one of the most left-turn endings in film history.
The film is interesting because it predates the single-location mumblecore horror movies of recent years. For the majority of its running time, The Caller is straightforward drama, until it turns into genre fare. The cinematography from Italian DOP Daniele Nannuzzi is reasonable, and tries to be as inventive as possible, given the minimal location and budget. Nannuzzi’s most famous credit would end up being for Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Santa Sangre two years later. The film was shot at Charles Band’s Empire Studios in Rome, a studio that would be gone by the end of the ’80s due to various financial issues.
McDowell gives the better performance, as you would expect, and given his theatre background he gets into the theatrical nature of the film. It kind of plays as if Samuel Beckett wrote an episode of The Twilight Zone. Madolyn Smith is fine, but her career never really took off, with 2010: The Year We Make Contact and Urban Cowboy being the two big titles in her résumé. She hasn’t worked in film or TV since a bit part in Paul Haggis’ Canadian mounted police dramedy Due South.
Arthur Allan Seidelman directed the film, and besides helming some episodes of big ’80s TV shows like Hill Street Blues, Magnum, P.I., and Murder, She Wrote, he is probably best known for giving Arnold Schwarzenegger his first lead in Hercules in New York. The Caller is not some rough gem that has been buried in piles of VHS tapes gathering dust in an old video shop, but it has such a WTF ending that it’s worth checking out. It might also be the first film in which McDowell has white hair, and it’s all rather classy for a Charles Band production.
The disc from Vinegar Syndrome, as always, gives the film a facelift that it probably doesn’t deserve with its 2K transfer made from the 35mm interpositive. Both Seidelman and Sloan are interviewed, shedding some light on the film’s production history; Sloan has been writing some novels based on The Equalizer. The disc also contains a stills gallery and for a limited time you can get a snazzy slipcover from Vinegar Syndrome.