Saturday, July 26, 2014

Tales from the Darkside: Answer Me

The second episode of Tales from the Darkside to deal with a malevolent phone, "Answer Me" is one of the better directed and more atmospheric episodes. Anyone who has ever dreaded hearing a telephone, not knowing what kind of news it will bring, or who has had a peaceful sleep interrupted by that shrill ringing can certainly relate to the scenario presented here. Unfortunately, "Answer Me" has one serious detriment against it.

That would be Jean Marsh, who in a one-woman show plays Joan, an aging actress subletting an apartment in New York trying to get some rest before a big audition the next day. Marsh (who I'll always think of as the evil queen Bavmorda in Willow) plays Joan very broadly and comes off as a stuck-up bitch. She has a habit of talking loud, even when she's ostensibly trying to sleep, and describing everything she's doing thinking, and feeling, and really, it's overkill. Instead of showing us the terror and paranoia she's feeling, the episode has her tell us everything, and this strategy ends up sinking what is otherwise an effective, creepy episode.

See, Joan is trying to sleep, but the phone in the apartment next door won't stop ringing, and her attempts to get someone to answer it fail. She calls the landlord to deal with it, but he tells her no one lives there, so what's going on? Is Joan going crazy, or is something more sinister afoot? Perhaps, a ghost of a former tenant is messing with her. Honestly, even after watching the episode, I'm not sure.

The episode works best with its moody shots of empty hallways and closets in the apartments that are filled with shadows that could be hiding anything. When she decides to investigate the empty apartment, Joan discovers marks in the walls and doors that suggest someone is in there or has been there. When she picks up the phone in question, now disconnected, and is able to talk with a mysterious operator, it's creepy.

But the problem always goes back to Joan. I just didn't like her and couldn't care less what happened to her. Her monologuing over every action ruins the mood, and I hate to say it, she's acts stereotypically British: pompous, snooty, and condescending. Someone like Agnes Moorehead, who played the mute countrywoman in the classic Twilight Zone episode "The Invaders," would have been able to be sympathetic and to convey emotion without having to say it.

Also, the end, when the phone comes alive and strangles Joan, is really lame.

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