When A Stranger Calls - 1979 (DVD)

When A Stranger Calls - 1979 (DVD)
Have you checked the children?
Updated: 01-29-2006

When A Stranger Calls has been remade and is ready to splash blood red all over theater screens in February. The original is universally recollected (by those old enough to have seen it when it came out in '79) for its first 15-20 minutes. Some hazy memories even recall that scenario as being the whole movie.


When A Stranger Calls begins with a situation urban legends are made of: A teenaged babysitter alone in a big, two-storey house, gets what she thinks is a crank call. The creepy, whispery male voice inquires: "Have you checked the children?" But Timmy and Tammy (or whatever their names are) are asleep upstairs, snug in their beds… aren't they? Too afraid to venture up the darkened stairway, the bundle of babysitter nerves cowers on the couch, awaiting the next phone call. After she calls the cops, it's revealed… "The calls are coming from inside the house!"


Yes, that's a major spoiler for those who haven't seen the movie, but the DVD tells you that right on the box in big, bold letters. So kick them. But the movie is far from over, after that revelation. Once Jill (Carol Cane, playing younger than her years so she can come back "seven years later" at the end of the movie) summons the police, Det. Clifford (Charles Durning) catches the bad guy. The bad guy, a deeply disturbed Brit called Curt Duncan (Tony Beckley), has literally torn the children apart with his bare hands, and used a thought-to-be-disconnected second line from inside the house to phone and taunt Jill. But he's caught, and all is good.


That is, until seven years later, when Duncan escapes from the mental asylum. What follows is about 70 minutes of aimless — but actually compelling, if you're in the mood for slow-burn — wandering as Clifford stays one step behind the simpering killer, who is in turn, stalking his own prey. Durning's a bit over the top here and there, but the scenes featuring Beckley and Colleen Dewhurst (as the barfly Duncan dotes on) have good, suspenseful tension. A top-notch tension-teasing soundtrack doesn't hurt.


The ultimately slow-moving film is book-ended by some truly classic horror movie moments, but if you're expecting a teen-slasher, you're better off call-waiting for the remake. When A Stranger Calls is dated — no *69 back then, nothing but pencils and erasers to do your homework with — but that's in large part what makes it work so well as a "What would you do?" psychological thriller.


There is no additional release material on the DVD (as far as I can tell, it is the same version already available; this is simply a differently-packed release set for January 31), and the transfer is not very good but it's adequate. There are optional subtitles in English and French.


= = =

Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson


Latest User Comments: