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Funny Review 4 Stranger Calls

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maxzilla2005 View Drop Down
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Joined: February 08 2006
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    Posted: March 03 2006 at 8:54am

We’ve all had the experiences of being home alone at night or babysitting someone’s children at night. And if being weighed down with the responsibility wasn’t enough, you are alone in a strange house at night. You never really expect the phone to ring, except maybe once every few hours, the parents just checking how the children are doing or to say goodnight to them. What if someone else called, a stranger?

Most people have heard the urban legend of the babysitter. Alone one night babysitting, a girl begins to receive mysterious prank calls. Every once in a while she receives a call from a stranger breathing over the phone. Eventually he encourages her to check the children, and he does this again and again. She calls the police and lets them know of her situation. The stranger calls again to tell her to check the children. She finds them dead. The phone rings, it’s the police, they had traced the call and it’s coming from inside the house…

My reading teacher back in the sixth grade told our class that story for some reason. It scared beyond any story I had ever heard, and I was in Real Scary Stories club.

Fred Walton directed the original film in 1979 starring Karol Kane, which I have heard was a mistake to make in the first place.

In the opening of the film, we are given a few horrible establishing shots of a carnival, continuously cutting and zooming from random people and a small house. We see a young woman in the window then attacked by someone fro behind. The following day a detective (Steve Eastin) investigates the crime scene in lazy Law and Order style and after leaving we see medics carrying away three black bags, we think to remains of the woman.

Jill Johnson (Camilla Belle, who I always remember from the opening sequence of Spielberg’s The Lost World) is your average teenage girl, of course not at all average looking, but girl who has the kind of boyfriend problems you see all the time. Obviously babysitting is something she has experience with and makes her share of money from it since she skipped out of the High School Bonfire this evening. Tonight she happens to be babysitting the children of Mr. and Mrs. Mendrakis (Derek de Lint, Kate Jennings Grant, respectively).

The house is buried deep in a mountainous countryside, sitting on the edge of a lake. The house is enormous, a wooden behemoth with an indoor Japanese garden complete with birds and Koi, as well as glass windows as walls seeing over the lake. They have a housekeeper, Rosa (Rosine ‘Ace’ Hatem) who lives on the third floor, who sometimes leaves during the night checking in on her mother who is ill. The house is also complete with a guesthouse; apparently their son in college sometimes comes home to relax.

The children, Will (Arthur Young) and Allison (Madeline Carrol) are fast asleep on the second floor, first bedroom on the left; Mrs. Mendrakis explained that they are recovering from the flu.

She carefully explores the house, starting with the remote controls, one of which controls the fireplace. She receives a phone call. Breathing and then the stranger hangs up. Later one of her friends pops in, scaring Jill but leaves shortly later. Jill continues to receive strange phone calls, though one of which is one of her boyfriend’s pals being jerks. Beginning to get nervous, she calls the police, and tells them what is going on. Another phone call, this time actually speaking (stranger voiced by Lance Henriksen), and asks, “Have you checked the children?”

Simon West’s When A Stranger Calls, is a slow paced story of cat and mouse. Belle’s character as well as her friends are shapeless and of a stereotypical high school personality. Their acting isn’t as terrible as you may have thought, but the writing from Jake Wade Wall (that’s a tongue twister) is just too dull. The only believable performing we get from Belle is her slowly moving around the inside of the house, balling her eyes out.

The killer is very well hidden, when he finally is out in the open all we see is his silhouette or the back of his head. Unfortunately he is eventually shown, which I believe ruins the effect of his mysterious and dark character. The suspense, though the film is slow, is well kept, when Jill finally realizes the killer is in the house, you could not have thought of a more frightening way to introduce him into a scene, the placement of the camera is very well chosen.

The film is an hour and forty minutes long, we watch as Jill explores the house and picks up the phone. This is not the type of material you make into a full length film, but certainly an Emmy winning episode of The Twilight Zone. It also does not completely stay true to the original story; the stranger only encourages Jill to check the children once, and spends most of his time tempting her with his loud breathing. Someone having an asthma attack could have done this just as well. She also ventures to the guesthouse; this is typical Slasher film stupidity way out in the open.

When A Stranger Calls manages to maintain its suspense, though the poor writing and dull characters drag this film into an average B horror movie. The adaptation of the story is poorly done, though making into a motion picture is challenging, this could have just as easily been a good short on a TV program.

Simon West has made his share of good and bad films, but after another picture like this, I think he should just hang up the phone.

Rated PG-13 for intense terror, violence and some language. Running time 87 minutes.

Max J. Einhorn
Press and Journal Film Critic
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