31 Days of Horror dials up the suspense with the 1979 thriller When a Stranger Calls. Before Scream made the phone a deadly weapon and around the same time John Carpenter made babysitters targets for a knife-wielding psychotic in Halloween, When a Stranger Calls made everyone constantly check their children.
Starring Carol Kane, the first 22 minutes of this film are extremely intense and gripping. As Jill Johnson continues to receive disturbing calls, we are there in the moment with her. Should she check the children? Are they in danger? Is she? And who is this man on the other line?
Following the first sequence, the movie becomes a cat and mouse game between private investigator John Clifford (Charles Durning) and the psychopath who caused destruction in the lives of everyone in the first 22 minutes of the story. This section of the movie almost plays like an episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent, where we watch the cops investigate the crime but also see the criminal try their best to evade capture.
Soon we meet up with Jill Johnson again. She has a husband and kids and things are looking up for her. Until he calls and asks the immortal line: “Have you checked the children?” It’s only a matter of time before stalker and victim are in the same house once again!
While the movie as a whole is excellent, I was surprised that the whole film did not revolve around the babysitter like the 2006 remake did. I also liked that the film’s hero, Durning, isn’t your typical Hollywood hero. It’s nice to see that back in the late 1970s realism was much more important in films than aesthetics.
This film contains two famous lines: the already mentioned “Have you checked the children?” and “The calls are coming from inside the house!” that are iconic phrases for anyone who is a horror movie buff.
For fans of classic TV series, you’ll also notice that Carol Kane, Charles Durning, and Colleen Dewhurst (the object of the stalker’s affection later in the film) all appeared on CBS TV shows. Kane was a regular on the series Taxi and more recently Two and a Half Men; Durning co-starred on Evening Shade with Burt Reynolds; Dewhurst played Avery Brown, Murphy’s mother on Murphy Brown.
When a Stranger Calls is what classic thrillers are all about: suspense, intensity, and chills. Check it out!
If you’ve babysat before, have you ever had a creepy phone call? Leave a comment and tell us your story!