- Movie Rating -

When a Stranger Calls (1979)

| October 26, 1979

I came to When a Stranger Calls in the weeks before its release back in 1979.  I was too young to see it, but I did see part of the opening minutes on a talk show about violent movies.  The scene has since become movie folklore: Carol Kane plays Jill, who is alone in a house babysitting a doctor’s children who have gone to bed.  Suddenly, she receives a phone call from a man asking is if she’s checked the children.  She thinks it’s a prank and hangs up.  The killer calls several times.  She calls the police who inform her to keep the killer on the line so they can trace the call.  Indeed, the killer calls one last time, but the next call is from a police officer who desperately tries to warn her that the previous calls have been coming from inside the house.  She scrambles to the door as the killer’s shadow appears from upstairs.  Fleeing out the door, she runs into the arms of an officer played by Charles Durning.

This scene scared me.  I’m not kidding.  It actually kept me up nights on various occasions for several years.  It was only when I was a teenager that I finally saw the film in its entirety.  The problem, I then discovered, is that the opening 10 minutes of When a Stranger Calls are the only scenes worth watching.  The killer murders those children and then goes to the asylum only to break out seven years later with the goal of exacting a repeat of his sadistic phone prank on Jill, unaware that the same cops who put him away are after him.

To be honest, after those ten high voltage minutes, the movie goes into fire gear and stays there for the rest of the running time.  Nothing that happens after that is the least big interesting, entertaining nor even noteworthy.  It’s like the filmmakers came up with such a corker of an opening that they had no idea where to go.  Maybe they should have made a short film and just left it at that.  It’s so effective, they could have won and Academy Award.  What a shame.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1979) View IMDB Filed in: Uncategorized