As a parodic neo-giallo made in the throwback mould, Night Caller taps into the trashier end of the genre and brings with it all of the sloppy trappings and visceral gore that you might expect. Director Chad Ferrin shows a real understanding of the sleazy slasher genre and uses this knowledge to craft something that manages to feel both authentic and reverent of the genre’s greatest hits.
From the performances and the dutch angles to Richard Band’s score, it’s clear that everything was carefully constructed to make the film appear thrown together on the cheap, and it really works. Well-worn tropes, gore effects and a 16 mm look effectively recreate the grimy, psychosexual murk of this very specific flavour of slasher film, as Night Caller cherry-picks from the grotty chocolate box of horrors and chooses its favourite elements: generational trauma, necrophilia, psychic voyeurism, forced castration, and the rest. For the many scalpings and knifings, clever angles and dynamic editing fill in the gaps left by the budget gore effects.
Night Caller captures the essence of the genre so well that, if not for all the references, the viewer could easily be tricked into believing they are watching something from way back. Ferrin even manages to find the same lulls and tedium that belaboured its predecessors, though it is unclear if this is intentional. Clunky dialogue and the characters’ bad decisions sometimes add to the mood but this occasionally makes the film feel like parody.
Much like the films that inspired it, Night Caller is gleefully distasteful. Ferrin uses misogyny, homophobia, racism and transphobia as extra window dressing to nail down the tone of an early 80s slasher. Recognising the world we live in, he attempts to mitigate this with some lip service reference to female directors of colour and sporadic correct pronoun use. But this is not enough, particularly given how much fun the film seems to have inferring some brutal sexual violence.
It’s difficult to discuss Night Caller without naming other movies. It’s every bit as loathsome as Maniac, as objectionable as Torso, and as abhorrent as Don’t Answer the Phone. There is not a speck of originality in it, which is entirely the point.
13 May 2022