This movie scared the crap out of me before I even saw the thing. I should explain. When a Stranger Calls is based on an urban legend about a babysitter who keeps receiving calls asking her to “check the children,” only to discover the calls are emanating from the house where she’s working, and that the kids in her care have already been murdered. Around dusk one evening in the mid-’70s, when I was a preteen living in Michigan, I was walking through my suburban neighborhood with a gaggle of fellow youths. One of the older kids in the group told a version of the “check the children” story, adding (of course) that the story really happened, and that it happened nearby. Cue freaked-out little me. For many years afterward, the experience of hearing the urban legend (which I completely believed) and the subsequent release of When a Stranger Calls blurred. Thus, once I finally sat down to watch the flick as an adult, I was prepared for a terrifying ordeal. During the beginning of the picture, I almost got what I expected. The first 15 minutes or so, which dramatizes the whole “check the children” bit, is hella creepy. How could it not be, especially with such a nihilistic climax? Alas, the movie’s energy drains afterwards, because it becomes a drab stalker picture in which the killer (Tony Beckley) torments the babysitter (Carol Kane) once more. Even with the fabulous Charles Durning playing the cop who tries to protect Jill, When a Stranger Calls cannot overcome a lifeless script, and first-time director Fred Walton’s work is competent but painfully unimaginative. Poor Kane, a gifted actress who should have known better than to appear in a psycho thriller, is left floundering through one flat scene after another, unable to showcase her charming idiosyncrasies. All in all, a missed opportunity—and yet for some reason, Durning, Kane, and Walton reteamed for a made-for-TV sequel, When a Stranger Calls Back (1993), and the original picture was remade in 2006, with Camilla Belle in the Kane role.
When a Stranger Calls: LAME