Classic Review: When a Stranger Calls (1979)

Certificate: 15

Director: Fred Walton

Writers: Steve Feke, Fred Walton

Starring: Carol Kane, Charles Durning, Rutanya Alda 

Runtime: 97 Minutes

Genre: Horror, Thriller

Language: English

Rating: 2.5 Stars

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Teenager Jill Johnson is babysitting one night for a physician and his wife. During the evening, a mysterious phone caller starts taunting her: sometimes he says nothing; other times he asks, “Have you checked the children?” Jill eventually fears for her safety and calls the police, who successfully trace his next call and discover something horrifying: the calls are being made from INSIDE THE HOUSE. Police are immediately dispatched and Jill narrowly escapes into the arms of Lt. Clifford. Officers soon discover that the caller had savagely murdered the children hours before and made the calls on a phone the parents had never disconnected. Seven years later the murderer escapes from a psychiatric hospital and resumes his demented mission, this time pursuing Jill’s husband Steven and their children.  – From IMDB

This film was not at all what I was expecting it too be. Okay, that isn’t entirely accurate. The first half an hour or so were exactly what I thought it was going to be. That’s the part of the film that I have seen clips of, and has the quotable lines in it. After that though, the plot of the film slows right down for the entire middle portion, until about the last half an hour where things pick back up again.

That middle portion kind of feels a little disconnected from the start and end. IT is much more of a psychological thriller than the horror that I thought I was going to get. Nothing particularly scary or even that interesting happens. Sure there are some unsettling moments, and times where you think you know what’s going to happen, instead it is just building tension that doesn’t lead to anything until the end. For me therefore the pacing of this film feels off. I got quite bored, and nearly didn’t stick around for the payoff.

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The acting is all very 80s slasher movie-esque. So quite amateurish and over reacted. Especially from Carol Kane towards the end. But in a way that is what gives the films, and particularly the horror movies of this time their charm. I would be a little disappointed if it was anything else to be honest. While I can enjoy this style of acting for the laughs and eye rolls it gives me, that doesn’t mean at all that it good acting.

Not one that I will be returning too as a new favourite, but I am still glad that I chose to watch it, it gave me a few chuckles and some entertainment for a while, even if it’s intention isn’t necessarily to be funny. It’s a classic of the genre, so you should watch it as a fan of horror if you haven’t already, but if horror films aren’t your thing, then you aren’t missing much by skipping this one.

‘When a Stranger Calls’ is free to stream on Amazon Prime.

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