‘When a Stranger Calls’
Starring: Charles Durning, Carol Kane, Colleen Dewhurst and Tony Beckley
Rated: R for violence, language and brief nudity
Running time: 97 minutes
I’m sure at some point in your life you’ve received a prank phone call.
Someone calls and hangs up as soon as you pick up. Or someone calls and asks you if your refrigerator is running or if you have Prince Albert in a can. (And if you do, you’d better go let the poor guy out.)
Annoying as they might be, they’re usually all in jest (at your expense, of course). But given the right scenario, they can be quite frightening.
Jill Johnson (Carol Kane) finds herself in the latter situation in the thriller/borderline horror film, “When a Stranger Calls.”
Jill is a teenager who’s babysitting a pair of children who are upstairs asleep. This is the first time she’s worked for this particular family, so she’s unfamiliar with the big house they live in. And after dark, big or small, all houses are inherently creepy.
At first, Jill has a rather easygoing night. She does her homework and talks on the phone with a girlfriend.
Things quickly take a turn for the eerie when Jill begins receiving phone calls from a man with a very sinister voice who doesn’t ask if the refrigerator’s running or if Prince Albert is detained.
His is more personal. “Have you checked the children?”
At first, though rattled, Jill doesn’t think much of it, but the caller persists, putting her into panic mode.
You have to remember this was the time before caller ID and various other caller protective services. Your only hope was an operator or a call to the police. And much like today, prank calls aren’t really something that are taken too seriously.
Jill soon realizes the caller isn’t some random prankster and is, in fact, very serious about wanting Jill to “check the children.”
Things get more serious when it turns out the mystery caller might be closer than he seems.
I’m not going to go on, though, because I don’t want to ruin the beginning of the film for you, and you’ll be glad I don’t. The first 20 minutes are 20 of the most suspense-filled minutes I’ve ever seen.
I’ve seen the film a dozen times and it still gives me the creeps.
So, for your benefit, we’ll stop there and pick up seven years later.
The caller has been identified as Curt Duncan (Tony Beckley) and has been incarcerated in a mental institution.
“Has” being the operative word, for he’s recently escaped.
The officer-cum-private investigator who helped lock Duncan away, John Clifford (Charles Durning), gets hired to find Duncan and it doesn’t take much convincing.
John becomes somewhat obsessed with finding him and rightly so because Duncan is a psychopath who won’t be able to control himself for very long. John himself has to wonder if he’ll be able to control his own rage when he finally tracks him down.
But, again, I won’t go into details because I want you to be in as much suspense as possible. Needless to say, the events lead to a very harrowing climax that will make you think twice about sleeping with the lights off.
Back in 2006 this film was remade under the same title. While I’ll be the first to admit that some remakes are actually done very well, “When a Stranger Calls” was the complete opposite.
What the remake did was take the first 20 minutes of the original and attempt to stretch it into a feature-length movie. It was boring, cliché and just plain stupid.
It didn’t have the scares that the original has and it turned the Curt Duncan character into a faceless shill and not the deeply disturbed monster he is.
So in other words, avoid the remake at all costs.
But if you do watch the original and like it, as I hope you do, and you want more, you’ll be interested to know that in 1993 it was followed up by a made-for-TV sequel called, “When a Stranger Calls Back.”
As far as sequels go it’s pretty entertaining.
However, before you can appreciate how atrocious the remake is, or how decent the sequel is, you have to watch the original.
Bottom line, “When a Stranger Calls” is a scary, suspenseful jaunt that’ll certainly keep you entertained.
With a disturbing villain and an amazingly effect score, it’ll stay with you long after you watch it.
The Movie Dude, Joe Altomere of Fort Myers, grew up in his parents’ video store in Plantersville, Texas. He owns close to 2,000 DVDs and Blu-ray discs and considers that only the start of his collection. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.