Horror Hotline’s big head monster is a deformed infant, abandoned at birth, described in the dialogue as having seven or eight eyes, a head as big as a rubbish bin and a body the size of a three year-old boy! Unfortunately, we never get to verify this information. The monster appears just once, and then only in the form of an apparition: imagine the ‘floating-foetus’ image from the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey but enlarge the shape of the head at least threefold.
While an apparent theme of rebirth underlies that image, Horror Hotline is partially involved with ethical questions concerning proactive abortion. Ben’s girlfriend Helen has recently aborted a pregnancy and chosen not to inform him. The big head baby is thus easily interpreted as a return of the repressed narrative construct: the knowledge withheld from Ben takes form in, and is returned from, the supernatural unknown — the monster replaces the repressed ‘thing’ lacking in Helen and Ben’s system of communication. Since Ben seems more concerned with his broken stereo than his girlfriend, we catch on fairly quickly that this is another film about modern couples failing to resolve their differences and sustain their relationships.
Horror Hotline also draws from philosophical questions regarding the status of recorded images. Large chunks of the film, including both alternative endings, are depicted from the point-of-view of a reporter’s video camera. Mavis possesses the authority over this camera and seems to believe it will help her discover the true story involving the big head monster. If the truth is out there, Mavis wants to capture it like John-Luc Godard: at twenty-four (or -five) frames per second. At one point, the camera’s lighting attachment is utilised to reveal to Mavis the startling fact that she is talking to a dead person on her cell phone. Rather than accept the reality of this, Mavis continues her quest for the essential truth that lurks somewhere beyond the impossible-fantastic. Both alternative climaxes, however, apply disruptive techniques to show us the folly of equating recorded images with absolute real objects. My preference for the first alternative ending is due to the way the camera is finally turned on Mavis, who seems to realise all-too-late the self-destructive nature of her ambition.
In terms of its potential as a scary movie, I found Horror Hotline fairly successful in its eerie moments. The sound effect and music tracks offer excellent atmospheric contributions (Josie Ho’s spooked breathing is convincing … and all importantly she does have a decent scream), and a few set-pieces in obscure locations prolong and release tension effectively (especially the first warehouse scene).
I wonder if either of Horror Hotline’s endings will totally satisfy any viewer. Neither attempts to resolve the complex questions the narrative seems to evoke, and both are certainly light on explanation in any contextual sense imaginable (consider that a challenge). Since both alternative climaxes feature stylistic elements drawn from The Blair Witch Project, it might be safe to assume that narrative irresolution is the point. If it works for one commercially successful film, why not adopt the abrupt method in order to replicate the ostensibly popular affects of frustration? In response to that I might offer that Blair Witch is extremely sparse in meaningful narrative content. In contrast, Horror Hotline is a structured film containing some interesting social observations, so perhaps we deserved a compelling resolution.