When a Stranger Calls (1979)


It’s ironic that some of the most iconic and influential films of the horror genre are the least well known. Certain lines that have been quoted, or scenes that have been paid homage to are so steeped in the psyche of the film audience that their origins get lost along the way some how.

A Stranger Calls is a prime example of this. The Scream franchise would have been nothing without this little celebrated cinematic gem and Wes Craven knows it. Even the premise itself is the stuff of Urban Legend (oh yeah, here’s another one to tip it’s hat to the plot), giving us one of life’s little unanswerables – what came first the myth or the script, and who the hell cares if the end result is a film this good?

A pretty young girl is babysitting for a well to do couple with two children, who are already in bed so she’s got a nice easy night of running up the phone and cable bills, raiding the drinks cabinet and eating the contents of the fridge while getting paid for it ahead of her right?
Wrong.

For starters she’s brought her books with her to a do some homework and they aren’t just a cover so the parents think she’s a hardworking, reliable young lady. Believe me I am just as shocked as you. After a phone call to her frenemy about a cute boy she’s hoping will call (I’d bet my DVD collection this kid is already having it away with said frenemy, but stupid girls are well .. Stupid), she gets her study on. No TV, no tunes, just school books and silence. Oh yeah. Rock and roll chicklets.

She gets a phone call, and no it aint the cute boy (big shock there eh?), it is in fact a creepy mans voice asking her if she has checked on the kids and then hanging up. She hasn’t checked on the kids, and this doesn’t prompt her to do so even though she assumed it was the kids dad. Back to work then, although she does break for an ice cream, and then ring ring. ‘Have you checked on the children?’ Nope, she hasn’t. Another phone call, then another and it goes on for a while. She’s spooked, sometimes it’s silence, mostly he’s just asking her if she’s checked the cherubs. She looks around the house a bit, in the dark (as you do) and yet still doesn’t think that it might be a good idea to do what he’s suggesting.
Huh.

It continues. She makes a drink – from the drinks cabinet. OK so the girl isn’t a total buzz kill. She has two even, and this is the time she thinks it might be a good idea to ring the cops. They aren’t much help, and verbally pat her on the head and leave her to answer another call. This time, creepy phone guy asks why she hasn’t checked on the kids. Why indeed? But yeah we get the point, he’s close enough to see what she is, or in this case isn’t doing. Um hello, girly – check on the goddamn children you are getting paid to look after!

Second phone call to the police and she gets a little further – they say that if she can keep the caller on the phone for a few minutes they can trace the call (I’m going to just ignore the fact that in 1979 it would have taken about 20 minutes for the police to be able to do this, OK?). It’s not ideal but Jill doesn’t have much choice but do as they say.

So she turns of all the lights, grabs a poker and sits in the corner of the living room like an the sensible girl that she so obviously isn’t until the phone rings again and she manages to draw the caller into a longer way more scary conversation than he was previously willing to give, but he hangs up again. Another call comes in immediately afterwards and it’s the police who are being a tad more helpful this time because with their impossibly futuristic technology they have established that the phone call is coming from inside the house.

Yikes.

That folks is all your getting, but that is just half an hour into the film so you know you’re going to get your moneys worth of scares from this one. Less is most definitely more, and it put this one in my top twenty all time favourite horrors (I’ve seen too many to have less than this).
There’s no gore, no sex, and very little violence, because what keeps you on the edge of your seat (or sanity – take your pick) is the way it lets your imagination do most of the work for you . Tense, atmospheric and very subtle, it is a class act from beginning to end (Not that I know much about class, but I imagine this could be in that ball park).

Unfortunately there is a 2006 remake of which if we are using the comparison of class, would be the equivalent of Tara Reid at any time in her life, ever.

Yeah. It’s that bad.

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