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When a Stranger Calls boasts the scariest opening in film history. Wes Craven completely ripped this intro off in Scream. It's that good. Too bad the rest of the film isn't. It goes completely downhill after the beginning. It's so scary and has such a tense start that you can hardly watch it without holding your breathe. My girlfriend couldn't watch it period. She had to turn her head and keep asking me when it was over. It's very subtle, slow, and deliberate, and very frightening. The rest of the film can't live up to the energy generated by the beginning. But still, I recommend this because the beginning alone is better than most fright flicks in their entirety.
"When a Stranger Calls" is a somewhat entertaining horror-suspense-thriller
that starts off great, loses steam in the middle, then comes back for a good
finish. The beginning of this movie is outstanding, with babysitter Carol
Kane receiving obscene phone calls from an unknown maniac. This is far and
away the best part of the film. It's scary, creepy, and downright eerie. But
it doesn't sustain that level through the entire film. The mid-portion of
the movie is rather dull, featuring a few lazy supporting performances. But
"When a Stranger Calls" redeems itself with a nail-biting climax, even
though the conclusion doesn't top the film's opening in terms of scariness.
Carol Kane and Charles Durning are good in the roles of the terrified
babysitter and the private detective searching for the killer when he's on
the loose. "When a Stranger Calls" is not a great horror movie but a good
one. And its better than the cable-made sequel that came out fourteen years
later, "When a Stranger Calls Back".
*** (out of four)
If you like to watch horror films to challenge your comfort zone and
get some real chills running down your spine. When A Stranger
Calls(1979) is a pretty good bet to do the job. This film builds its
tension quite well, partly by using well chosen and well placed music
to increase the creepiness. Rather than resorting to needlessly
overdone gore; This film relies mostly on the old tried and tested
power of suggestion to mount most of its suspense and scare factor. A
much more effective method in my view, and there is strong evidence of
Make no mistake, this film is no masterpiece. It has its flaws. I found a couple of parts pretty unconvincing. Such as how easily John Clifford is able to convince Mrs.Mandrakis to let him in, and then help him. The execution of this part is a little weak. However that really doesn't take away from the films eerie feel and overall horror enjoyment. The film is pretty well paced, and kept leaving me wanting to see what was going to happen next; Where as many other horror films leave me not even caring what happens next. The acting here is pretty solid all the way around, and the direction is decent.
Usually I would rate a decent film like this, with a couple of somewhat unconvincing parts a 6 out of 10. However this film is definitely very effective in what it sets out to do. Which is of course to give the viewer some real creepy thrills. So I find it hard to give this any less than a 7. I got from it exactly what I had hoped. It could have been a little better in some areas, but all in all it's a pretty solid film. So as far as horror films go, this is in the upper echelon in my view.
Note: I only decided to watch this film based on an interview I saw with actress Jennifer Connelly on The Late Show with David Letterman. She basically said that this film scared the crap out of her. So being the film nut I am, I figured it was worth a look. And it was, so I owe thanks to her.
A girl (Carol Kane) is babysitting one night. She keeps getting phone
calls from a guy saying "Have you checked the children". (They're
upstairs sleeping). The phone calls continue. She gets nervous (and
never checks the children). She calls the police. They trace the
calls--they're coming from INSIDE the house...
This was a big hit in 1979 with teenagers--despite the R rating kids were let into this one. It does have a great opening 20 minutes and a pretty scary ending--but the middle is dull dull dull. It involves the killer (well played by Tony Beckley) stalking an older woman (Colleen Dewhurst slumming) and a police detective (Charles Durning--also slumming) after him.
Good performances save the middle half from being totally unbearable, and there is good direction from Fred Walton. But all in all this is a mediocre thriller. Still, I'm giving it a 7 for the opening, the closing and the acting.
Jill Johnson (Carol Kane) is babysitting two children, when a stranger
insists calling her in the phone, asking her to see the children in the
upper floor. She decides to telephone to the police, to trace the phone
call. When the office on duty tells her that the call is from inside
the house, Jill panics. Seven years later, the maniac escapes from the
asylum and the private investigator John Clifford (Charles Durning) is
hired by the father of the children to kill the man.
It is almost impossible to write a summary of this thriller without spoilers, so I have to stop here. A couple of days ago, I watched 'When a Strange Call Back', a type of sequel of this film. I was amazed with the beginning of the story, one of the most scary I have ever seen. Yesterday I decided to see 'When a Stranger Calls' and it is indeed a tense and suspenseful thriller. The situation through which Jill passes is amazingly real and scary. When the police officer tells Jill that the phone call is from inside the house, he heart of the viewer 'jumps'. This part is too frightening. The greatest problem in both movies is the continuation of the story seven years later (five in the sequel). It breaks the tension and the viewer gets completely lost about what happened to the characters. With a better sequence, this film certainly would be considered a classic. The story is excellent, and the performances are very realistic. In my opinion, the famous 'Scream' copied the introduction of this film. In Brazil, it was released on VHS only, and the quality of the image is not good. It deserves to be released on DVD. It is really worthwhile to watch this film. My vote is eight.
Title (Brazil): 'Mensageiro da Morte' ('Messenger of Death')
This movie still scares me. I have babysat before in someone else's house and i remember getting the creeps with every little noise i heard. This is the ultimate realistic scary movie. You can easily put yourself in her place, unlike many of the horror films we see today. We had a discussion about this movie today (Dec. 2005) when we talked about a coworker wearing clothes the same color as the walls and her blending in... it brought up the discussion about the stalker painting himself to blend into the wall. I am excited to see that it will be remade next year. i hope it is just as good as the original. I can't wait to see it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Problematic suspense thriller. The short film this is based on, which
milked a pristine premise for maximum tension, worked. As a short. This
film, directed by the same director as the short, used the short film's
premise as its first act. Beyond that, it stops working.
A babysitter receives a series of harassing phone calls -- "Have you checked the children?" -- that she learns are coming from INSIDE the house. THAT is the film's big surprise, and it comes at the twenty-one minute point. The film's second act involves the search for the phone caller who, we learn, killed the babysitter's charges.
The phone call revelation was stolen from "Black Christmas" and used again in Wes Craven's "Scream". It's a good, creepy one, but it's a one-note revelation that you can not hang a feature film on.
The storyline involving detective Charles Durning (who is always good) and Colleen Dewhurst is pedestrian at best. Durning's search for the killer and his connection to Dewhurst grinds the narrative to a halt. Although the third act amps the suspense up once again, it comes to late to rescuscitate the corpse.
Carol Kane, the excellent actress from the underrated "The Mafu Cage" is terrific as babysitter Jill Johnson and makes us believe in her fear.
Fred Walton's almost shot-for-shot remaking of his accomplished short film is suspenseful and Hitchcockian in the extreme, but nothing can change the fact that the premise had nowhere to go after it had blown its first act wad.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
When a stranger calls has the most terrifying opening I have
It starts with the babysitter and the caller,we learn that the caller is
calling from the upstairs bedroom inside the house.The babysitter gets away
and the killer is caught.Years later the killer escapes,the babysitter (now
living a happy life) is now a fully grown woman.
One night the killer comes back to stalk her,and then she's in more danger
The opening to the film is brilliant,it mounts more suspense than I have ever seen.The middle just goes downhill and gets boring.As the film approaches the end,audiences will be dissapointed,because it doesn't work as good as the beginning but in my own opinion I would say it still shows off that little scare. I would reccomend this but I have to make a strong warning,don't watch while babysitting or don't watch it alone.I rate 4/5.
Going into When a Stranger Calls, I was expecting something alone the
same lines as Black Christmas and Halloween, due to the film's
relationship with those movies. I'm not a massive fan of either of
those films, but I recognise Black Christmas as an important film for
the genre, and if When a Stranger Calls turned out to be as good as
that; I wouldn't be disappointed. It didn't turn out to be as good,
however, as despite a great opening; the film never reaches any kind of
high, and on the whole; this is just another slasher. The film starts
out with a babysitter looking after someone's house. It isn't long
after her employers have left that she starts receiving odd anonymous
calls, and it isn't long after that before she discovers that the calls
are coming from inside the house! It's the classic babysitter story,
and if the film had stuck to this story for it's entire running time; I
would have liked it a lot more. I realise that it would have been
difficult to make a feature length film with just a girl, a house and a
madman upstairs...but films have been made with less.
Instead of following the babysitter story, we are presented with a story taking place seven years later. The killer has escaped from a mental hospital and is now roaming the streets, with the detective from the original case on his tail. While this film never actually becomes boring, the chase plot never gives the audience enough tension or intrigue to keep interest levels high, and if it wasn't for the smart, but abrupt, ending; it would have been hard for me to write this review without calling the film a failure. In the beginning, the film has all the elements needed for a successful horror movie in place. It's got atmosphere, suspense and a plausible plot line, which is why I cant understand why the filmmakers would ditch this for the plot that they decided the movie should take. There is very little (if any) gore in the film, as it's obvious that the director preferred the 'Halloween' approach; but this doesn't work in the film's favour as this film isn't interesting enough to not have any gory sequences. On the whole; When a Stranger Calls has a good beginning and a good end. The middle part is wholly forgettable.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The original WHEN A STRANGER CALLS, a movie that was evidently not made
for television but might as well have been, is considered by many to be
one of the first and most popular slasher flicks out there during a
time when they were the latest thing in horror. Some will categorize
this along with BLACK C HRISTMAS and HALLOWEEN. Nevertheless, I found
it to be more of a psychological thriller than a traditional slasher
flick, as only two people are "slashed" in the entire movie (something
which occurs off-screen).
The opening sequence is a dramatization of an old urban legend; a babysitter, in a strange house all alone, begins receiving anonymous phone calls from some guy who keeps saying "have you checked the children?" over and over in a creepy pervert voice. It turns out the harassing phone calls are coming from within the house, and the children have already been brutally murdered, leaving the babysitter in hysterics by the time help finally arrives. This sequence is actually well done, and is very much in keeping with the slasher norms. Carol Kane, certainly no teenager at this point, does an amazing job as Jill Johnson, the tormented babysitter.
Then seven years pass, and we learn that the slasher, an Irish immigrant named Curt Duncan (Tony Beckley) has escaped from the loony bin. Detective John Clifford (Charles Durning) is put on the case, and he begins tracking Duncan with the intension of killing him. From this point on, the movie departs from the slasher genre, and becomes something more akin to a crime drama. We are shown the life of the killer as he struggles to survive without money or shelter with the cops on his trail, making him an almost sympathetic character. Eventually he starts making phone calls to Jill Johnson, now Jill Lockart, and the panic begins anew.
WHEN A STRANGER CALLS is, by no means, a terrible film. It is well made and the acting is quite good. Most people who rent or buy this expecting a slasher film may, however, be left disappointed. As a thriller, it does work very effectively, even when the music makes one anticipate the words "The Audience is Listening" across the screen. Perhaps thinking of it as an hybrid slasher/crime drama might aid in its viewing.
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