WHEN A STRANGER CALLS (1979)
Starring Charles Durning, Carol Kane, Tony Beckley, Colleen Dewhurst, Rachel Roberts, Ron O’Neal. Directed by Fred Walton. (97 min)
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Review by Josey, the Sudden Cat😽
When a Stranger Calls might be the quintessential addition to Mill Creek Entertainment’s ongoing Retro VHS series.
It was one of those movies that pretty-much everybody rented back then – even those who didn’t go-in for this sort of thing – mainly because of the classic opening sequence where babysitter Jill Johnson (Carol Kane) is terrorized by a mysterious caller who's already in the house. That ain’t really a spoiler, kids. “The killer is upstairs” has been an urban legend for decades, but mostly associated with When a Stranger Calls.
|"Well, since you're already upstairs, how 'bout starting another load o' laundry?"|
In fact, the entire first act is so masterfully crafted – and still thrilling today – that almost nobody remembers the rest of the film. For good reason, too, because the story jumps forward a few years and descends into a rambling, disjointed manhunt, with private dick John Clifford (Charles Durning) trying to track down escaped killer Curt Duncan (Tony Buckley). Things liven up a bit in the final act, but the film makes the near-fatal mistake of providing way too much exposition about Duncan, stripping away all the menace. Though well played by Buckley (who passed away shortly afterwards), Duncan’s kind of a pathetic, oily sleazebag.
Ultimately more of a low-watt thriller than a horror film, When a Stranger Calls has nevertheless earned a footnote in the genre’s history for the first 20 minutes alone, which proved to be influential on such directors as Wes Craven. 41 years and countless rip-offs/sequels/remakes later, the sequence still packs a punch. Shut the movie off right afterwards and you’ve got one of the greatest horror shorts of all time.
PURR-R-R...LIKE A GOOD SCRATCH BEHIND THE EARS.
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