Logline: Brianne (Lynda Carter) is a bartender working her way through art school. After she meets a stranger who offers her a job at his crisis hotline center, she begins receiving disturbing phone calls during her working hours from a garbled voice that claims to be a serial killer. As Brianne unravels the clues that the supposed killer gives her, she begins to realize that she may be his next victim and that he might be closer to her than she knows...
Crime in the Past: Not totally applicable in this case, but we do discover throughout the film that the killer has knocked off many women before the action of the film, all of whom have a curious connection to movie superstar Tom Hunter (Steve Forrest).
Bodycount: 2, so it's more like "lukewarmline."
Themes/Moral Code: There's a more-than-slight anxiety over homosexuality present here, discernible in the identity and motivation of the killer. The secret murderer is revealed to be Kyle (Monte Markham), Brianne's boss and former stuntman for Tom Hunter. He's been murdering a series of women over the years, each having in common with the others the fact that they had become the object of Hunter's affection immediately before meeting the pointy shears. Kyle, it turns out, is extremely possessive of his friend and double, being unwilling to share him with any woman. When he emerges from hiding on Hunter's boat and appears before Brianne, slathered in garish lipstick, eye shadow, and mascara, he becomes a visual representation of repressed homosexuality turned violent and psychotic. Dubbing himself "The Barber," he saws off the hair of his female victims, which serves to both rob them of their femininity (making their lifeless bodies androgynous and, hence, undesirable to Hunter) and give him possession of that same intangible quality, which he can never possess on his own but which Hunter values. It's quite the convoluted motive, but the fact that the film decides Kyle can't express his homosexuality in any other way is troubling. It implies that homosexual men are envious of women, desirous of heterosexual males, and prone to psychotic breakdowns. Worst of all, they are living among us and we can't even tell. Safe to say that Hotline hold some backwards opinions on this topic.
Killer's Motivation: Discussed above.
Final Girl: Lynda Carter plays our final girl Brianne, a name which plays up the typical androgynous heroine angle by deciding it's pronounced like "Brian." She's a recent widow who bartends to put herself through art school. So she's another one of those sensitive artist types, and it's that sensitivity that makes her such a swell crisis hotline operator when she's hired by her new boy pal, Justin Price (Granville Van Dusen), who owns a network of them. She's a neat heroine-- a woman who's seen as a highly desirable mate by the film's men despite her disinterest in conforming to typical standards of femininity. She's neither a full-on tomboy, nor a total priss, but a woman, complicated, diverse, and sometimes decked in flannel. A drunk at her bar tries to objectify her by calling her "sweet meat" and demanding sexual favors with force, but Brianne masterfully diffuses the situation by appealing to their shared humanity: she points out that they've both had long, hard days, reminding him that she's a human being with emotions, needs, and disappointments too. She's also a woman who's not won over by material wealth. The glamorous and extravagant movie star Tom Hunter is taken with her, but she gently refuses to date him, citing the absence of any emotional connection. Lastly, she proves to be a sharp mind as she unravels the killer's cryptic rhyming clues and discovers his grisly past, all without the help of the police-- Price calls her "a cross between Mother Goose and Sherlock Holmes" for this ability of hers. "Sherlock Goose" for short.
The Good, the Bad, & the Cheese: Another made-for-TV thriller that knows how to play up suspense with more class and style than half a dozen bottom-of-the-barrel slashers. Director Jerry Jameson has had a long career directing for television (from the late '60s through the close of the last decade), and what he lends Hotline is a professional sheen. Like No Place to Hide (1981), it nearly escapes its made-for-TV trappings, being roughly as cinematic and thematically-rich as any of its contemporaries gracing theaters in 1982. Where it's held back is, of course, the violence. Again, it's light on bloodshed (as per the unwritten code of 1980s television), so finds more juice in the stalk than the slash. But then, even the stalking is quite brief (being relegated primarily to the film's final moments), and what it chooses to develop instead is its mystery angle, which, at only three possible suspects, is a bit skimpy. There's no inherent fault in this-- a film can both forgo a bodycount and have a fairly obvious killer while still creating suspense-- but I couldn't help but feel the film was missing out on some tension by having Brianne investigate primarily past crimes, without the bodies of new victims mounting around her and driving her investigation forward. Regardless, the suspense is here, and it hits hard: a home invasion scene early on is tops, keeping us on edge while we wonder along with Brianne whether or not the man who claims to have scared away the invader actually is the invader. Furthermore, like in the cases of a couple other films covered this month-- Double Exposure (1983), American Nightmare (1983)-- I wouldn't hesitate to label Hotline an American giallo. It features an amateur detective embroiled in a series of murders, taunting phone calls from the killer, a slowly unraveling classical mystery, a killer with a psycho-sexual motive who can mime sanity in daily interactions, and the ability to plaster a large grin on my face. The evidence is undeniable.