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When a Stranger Calls (1979)

  Tags: 70's, Carol Kane, Charles Durning, Colleen Dewhurst, Fred Walton, killer, Tony Beckley, Wen a Stranger Calls

Your rating: None Average: 4.5 (4 votes)
Reviewer Rating: 

Rating #: 
Fred Walton
97 minutes
Charles Durning, Carol Kane, Colleen Dewhurst, Tony Beckley

It wasn't until recently that I sat through this film in its entirety. In the past I would only watch the beginning on TV and change the channel for one reason or another. It must have been my gut instancts telling me, because now I know why I changed the channel after the intro -- the rest of the movie is pure boredom. The first 18-or-so minutes of the film has been etched into the brains of many of us genre fans, and I'm sure it made a huge impact on movie-goers back in the late 70s' when it was released. Many may argue that this is just a rip-off of the classic 1974 holiday slasher Black Christmas, but few know that this is actually a full length version of a short film that was released in the early 70s by the same people who put this together. Whether this is a rip-off or not, it's still a film that'll haunt its viewers simply by echoing the words "have you checked the children?".

Those of us who may be a little familiar with the urban legend, we follow a babysitter named Jill, who gets repeated crank calls from an unknown assailant, whom only stays on the line for a few seconds, just enough time to say the memorable line that we've all grown to know. After getting a trace on the phone by the police, it's discovered the crank calls are coming from within the home itself, and to add to further problems, it's revealed that the children were murdered many hours prior to this discovery. I guess she should have checked on the children sooner.

Fast forward 7-years and we now follow the unmasked criminal behind the phone calls. Apparently he escaped a minimum-security mental hospital and is now homeless and out-and-about looking for his next victim. The first 15-to-20-minutes of the film are pretty tense and interesting, while the next 50-minutes is incredibly slow-paced and un-eventful. We essentially just follow the now homeless killer as he roams about the city streets and stalks a woman that he met in a bar. All-the-while the retired cop that worked his case is once again hot on his trail, hoping that he doesn't find his way back to Jill, who is now a happy mother and wife.

I'd suggest just fast-forwarding through all this mess until he meets with Jill again, because the tension from the beginning returns for the climatic finale. Had the middle sub-plot been omitted and this movie stayed a simple short, going from the events of the beginning and leading to their match-up towards the end, this would have been a pretty sweet flick. Sadly, the feel and atmosphere of the intro doesn't hold true to most of the film. My rating for the film may be a bit generous, but I have to give credit to the intro, because it's hard to find movies that stick in our minds, even decades after its release.

If it weren't for the intro this movie would just be another wasted horror film to come out in the 70s. The film is tense and suspenseful until 20-minutes, which is the point where viewers may be prone to falling asleep due to lack of activity or anything mildly entertaining. I suggest watching the intro and fast forward until towards the end when the killer and Jill meet again.

Posted on December 8, 2010 - 10:59pm | FrighT MasteR