Summer of ‘88: Call Me – Orange You Glad You Came?

The poster for Call Me is full of sexy promises.

Call Me
Photo: Vestron Pictures

The poster for Call Me is full of sexy promises. It prominently displays a dame’s gorgeous gams, one bent and one elevated. Both are wrapped in a long, curly telephone cord that salaciously travels the length of female real estate. The eyes can’t help but traverse that cord. Into the poster it comes, going around the calf and across the thigh. It ventures between the bend behind the knee that no lover should ignore before making its exit over the ankle and dangerously close to an elevated high-heel shoe. Positioned between the legs is a pink switchblade and the orange from which it has just carved a small, obscene sliver. This juicy fruit is positioned so the viewer can see the suggestive slit in it. “Her fantasies can be fatal,” the tagline warns, reminding us that nobody can enjoy fucking without consequence in American cinematic smut. The title, complete with punctuation, beckons the horny reader with its bold, typewritten font: “Call me.” Naughtiness should ensue if you obey, n’est-ce pas?

By now, you should know that such advertising tawdriness can only lead to tears of disappointment. Call Me is a wrong number on all accounts. It plays as if someone saw the poster and, inspired by its visual elements, wrote a terrible screenplay. The title should have been Call Me: Based on the Poster Pushed by Sapphire, the Vestron Pictures Marketing Lady. You can almost hear the director, Sollace Mitchell, yelling, “Don’t forget the orange!” to screenwriter Karyn Kay. That orange is the only memorable aspect of the film. Since it plays a dirty, yet crucial role, I will gleefully spoil its appearance for you later.

For now, there’s only bad news about Call Me’s intentions. If you’re expecting sex, you’ll have to wait 70 minutes to get it, and most of it is shot through a fish tank. The nudity quotient is next to nil. If it’s dirty talk you desire, you’d be better off listening to a Millie Jackson album. Want a sexy heroine you can pant over or emulate? She isn’t here. The protagonist is an absolute idiot who makes choices that will have you shouting obscenities at the screen. If violence is your thing, however, you’ll witness a horribly gruesome gay bashing, a slit face and throat, and a fatal knife to the gut.

“What could be more exciting than sexual harassment?” asks Anna (Patricia Charbonneau) to her editor (David Straithairn). She’s a reporter whose “Street Scene” article asks raunchy questions to people on the street. Her latest topic is obscene phone calls. Anna’s inspiration stems from a recent spate of calls she received from a randy wrong-number dialer. The call that opens the film leads Anna to the Polish Bar, a dive she once promoted in an article. Thinking the caller is her dull-as-dishwater boyfriend, Alex (Sam Freed), Anna shows up dressed as her caller demands. “No panties!” said the voice on the phone. “No boyfriend!” says fate after a 45-minute wait on Anna’s part. Instead, she meets a creepy guy named Jellybean (Stephen McHattie, who looks like the son of Jocelyn Wildenstein) whom Call Me positions us to believe is the real obscene caller

As a result of this mishap, Anna witnesses the brutal murder of a transvestite in the ladies’ room. Before the attack, Miss Thing had just given a bag of money to her partner in crime, Switchblade (Steve Buscemi, who should be ashamed of himself for this role). We see the murderer, who demands the money Switchblade has just absconded with, but Anna only sees the police badge he accidentally drops. Rather than call the cops, Anna takes a cab home. She tells her boyfriend about the murder, but he doesn’t believe her. When Mr. Heavy Breather calls back the next evening, dumbass Anna tells him too. “I saw a murder and it’s your fault,’ she yells into the phone, “so I don’t have time for your third-rate porno!” It never crosses her mind that perhaps this guy is the killer. The caller’s identity is what passes for intrigue in Call Me.

While Anna keeps getting phone calls from the mystery pervert, the film alternates between her and the prime suspect. We assume Jellybean is making the phone calls because he thinks Anna has the missing money. His partner Switchblade needs to find out who Anna is so he can kill her before he’s exposed as the true thief. This plot takes up most of the movie, but why bother continuing? You came here for the sex, so let’s talk about that orange.

Anna is turned on by her caller’s dirty talk, which culminates when he asks her to get freaky with the orange she’s eating. Had Call Me focused solely on this plotline, it might have been a raunchy diversion of a movie. Instead, the crime components make Anna’s adventures in erotic chat seem as forced an unwise as my first, and thus far only, foray into this realm. It was 1987, and it did not go well:

Her: What are you wearing?
Me: I dunno. Some raggedy drawers and a wifebeater.
Her: You know what? Fuck it. This isn’t going to work. [Click!]

If only I’d waited one more year to experiment! Call Me would have shown me how it was done. After feeding her orange to her personal Jerry Mathers, Anna turns the tables on her caller.

Anna: Are you hard?
Pervert: Yes.
Anna: Do you have an orange?
Pervert: Yes. Okay. Got it.
Anna: Bite it! Then cut a hole in it—a big one—and stick the head of your cock in it.
Pervert: Yes!

My response of “won’t that sting?!” would have resulted in Anna hanging up on me, too, but I digress. Toward the end, Call Me uses this violated fruit to reveal the identity of the obscene phone caller. Anna opens the perpetrator’s refrigerator to find an orange with a hole in it, the citrus equivalent of Monica Lewinsky’s soiled blue dress. I asked the screen, “Who the hell keeps oranges with dick-inserted holes in their fridge? Anita Bryant?” Nevertheless, this is the creative high point of the film.

Had star 69 and caller ID existed in 1988, Call Me would either have been more clever or not made at all. At least it provided a great poster for hormonal ’80s-era teenage boys like me to, um, admire. I’d love to see a remake that ditches the distasteful murder plot in favor of a woman reconnecting with her drab boyfriend via the magic of dirty conversation. They chat, they heat up, they itchy-gitchy-ya-ya with the marmalade, and everybody’s happy. Imagine what this would do for the orange industry.

This article was originally published on The House Next Door.

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