Disconnected, an independent and low-budget horror film from 1984, is an odd one.
Actually, odd might be too mild of a description of this film. It’s about Alicia (Frances Raines, niece of Claude) who works in a video store and who keeps getting strange phone calls. Alicia has a boyfriend named Mike (Carl Koch) and a twin sister named Barbra Ann (Raines, again) and, one night, she answers her landline phone and suddenly hears Mike and Barbara Ann talking about the affair that they’re having! She then starts having nightmares in which Mike and Barbara Ann team up to kill her.
At the same time that Alicia is dreaming about being murdered, Franklin (Mark Walter) actually is murdering women all over town. Franklin also keeps asking Alicia for a date and, after she discovers that Mike has been cheating on her, Alicia finally says yes. One morning, Franklin wakes up in bed, grabs a knife, and attempts to stab Alicia, just to discover that she’s already left for the day. Franklin just ends up stabbing a pillow, which is unfortunate because it was a nice pillow.
Meanwhile, Detective Tremaglio (Carmine Capobianco) is trying to figure out the identity of the serial killer. For some reason, Detective Tremaglio spends a good deal of the film talking directly to the camera, as if he’s being interviewed. Tremaglio is quick to point out how cheap the police station looks and he also says, at one point, that he feels like he’s in a low-budget horror film.
It creates a rather odd atmosphere. On the one hand, you’ve got Franklin wandering around town, hitting the bars and searching for new victims. On the other hand, you’ve got Alicia isolated in her apartment, dealing with the phone constantly ringing and basically having a Repulsion moment. Who is calling Alicia? It’s hard to say. It’s definitely not Franklin. Is Alicia imagining the phone calls? Or is it some sort of a supernatural force? And how is it connected to the mysterious old man who keeps wandering through the film at certain points, popping up like a red herring from the 2nd season of Twin Peaks?
Disconnected raises a lot of questions but it doesn’t answer many of them. And while it’s tempting to suggest that this is just a case of sloppy storytelling, there’s enough intentionally arty moments in the film that I actually think that Disconnected was intentionally designed to be a riddle wrapped in an enigma. For instance, there’s a scene where Alicia answers the phone. For some reason, the camera is placed directly in front of a window. The sun is streaming in through the window, which leads to an almost blinding lens flare. The viewer is vaguely aware of Alicia moving around the room and answering the phone but, due to that lens flare, it’s impossible to actually make out any real details. It sounds like an error in camera placement and yet the scene goes on for so long that there’s no way it wasn’t intentional. (It should also be noted that the scene itself wasn’t particularly important so, if that lens flare was an honest mistake, there’s no reason why the scene couldn’t have been left on the cutting room floor.) Obviously, the director liked the effect and just decided to go with it. And yes, it’s kind of annoying but it’s kind of fascinating too.
The entire plot of Disconnected has a kind of “let’s make this up as we go along” feel to it and it’s hard not to appreciate the film’s enthusiastic incoherence. At its best the film achieves a sort of dream-like intensity. In the end, it all means nothing and yet, thanks to Frances Raines’s better-than-average performance, you are invested in what happens to Alicia. You want to know what it all means, even if it only adds up to the ringing of that cursed phone.
So, does that means I’m recommending Disconnected? Kinda. As I’ve said many times in the past, I have a weakness for low-budget, amateur films. This one was filmed out in the middle of Connecticut and most of the actors were obviously not professionals. There’s something oddly likable about a film like this, one that makes no sense but, at the very least, was still made and — 36 years later — is still being watched and reviewed. So …. yeah, I am kind of recommending this film. It’s weird enough to be worth at least one viewing.