When teenager Jill Johnson(Carol Kane) is called over to the house of the Mandrakis family to babysit their children. She soon becomes a victim of prank calls. Eventually, the calls are revealed to be coming from inside the house, and tragedy strikes when the couples children are brutally killed. Seven years later, the killer named Curt Duncan (Tony Beckley) escapes the asylum he was held in. Ex-cop now turned private investigator John Clifford (Charles Durning), is now hellbent on capturing and killing Duncan before he can kill again.-summary
Some hail it as a horror masterpiece and one of the greatest horror films ever. Others believe it to be amongst the most over-rated horror films ever. These are all opinions you will forever hear in regards to When a Stranger Calls. But there's one thing both fans and non fans have always agreed on to my experience. It's one of the most important horror films out there, and it should definitely be seen at least once. Personally, I fall into the over-rated category, because the film happened to take a huge plunge after a stellar beginning.
Directed by Fred Walton and released in 1979, When a Stranger Calls is a horror/thriller hybrid, which plays on the urban legend The Babysitter and The Man Upstairs. Although this story element was used rather effectively in Bob Clark's Black Christmas. I think it was actually used better here.
The film possesses one of my top favorite opening sequences in horror. The setting is just perfect, and it manages to capture all of the elements to provide the perfect horror atmosphere. The victim is all alone and vulnerable with children, the stalker sounds scary, the house is dark, she's scared out of her mind, and the tension is rising. Seriously, this opening act is so good to the point that words can barely do it justice. Other films(Scream) would soon imitate, but never duplicate.
Unfortunately, after this groundbreaking moment the film would soon fall apart. I completely understood the direction Walton wanted to go, but I don't believe it worked at all. The killer soon becomes the main character. His treatment during his stay at the asylum is revealed, he finds himself homeless, and later rejected by a woman he encounters in a bar. Oh boy, this is when Walton apparently wants us to feel sympathy for this horrible man, who has now found himself in a role reversal by becoming the hunted. That's not going to happen when the audience knows that he brutally killed two toddlers with his bare hands. This was a choice that never made much sense to me.
The middle portion is nothing more than a chase, with character development taking place with a character I'm sure everyone wants to see dead. Very few films have been able to turn despicable people into characters that the audience would like to know. Taxi Driver directed by Martin Scorcese was one of the better films to pull it off. But that film worked because the main character wasn't a child killer. I doubt anyone will give a damn about Curt Duncan.
The plot soon limps into its climax, hoping to re-capture what worked initially. It partially succeeds and delivers a very good final act. But the journey on the way there really didn't do much for me.
The film really does have some good moments concerning the acting. I think the late Tony Beckley delivered a fine performance. The child actors introduced later in the film where also pretty good too. There wasn't a person I could say was bad. The death scenes of the children especially is left up to the viewers imagination, and the body count is very low. Fred Walton proved he could tell a story without using obsessive gore to carry the plot.
My feelings on this film has never changed. Ever since I began to fully understand the things I watch. I have always been in the middle of the road with this one. I think Fred Walton shot himself in the foot, with who he chose to be the central point of the story. I just couldn't feel for the main character. In any case, the film is quite popular and I do recommend it as essential viewing. It's definitely great for those who have a disdain for gore. The film has a 97 minute runtime.
Pros: Fantastic opening sequence, very good acting
Cons: Completely uninteresting middle portion, and who cares about the main character????
Seven years after a homicidal lunatic terrorizes a babysitter (Carol Kane) via telephone in the home of her wealthy hosts, that same psychopath (Tony Beckley) finds himself fixated on a lonely lush (Colleen Dewhurst) while sought by a former detective turned P.I. (Charles Durning). This might have been another unexceptional thriller if not for its perfectly apt cast. Fragile and elfin, Kane's nervous and ultimately hysterical delivery are as effective as the movie's … more