31 Days of Horror 2016, Day 1: When a Stranger Calls (1979)

After last year’s 31 Days hiatus, a necessary compromise made to complete work for my master’s thesis, I am back and ready to tell you what I’m watching. This year I’ll be doing extra homework by attempting to follow some strict guidelines, set forth by r/31dayhorrorchallenge. I made a page with a list of all the items on the list, if you’re interested, and I’m really excited to try and hit some of my horror blind spots this year.

But enough about me.

When A Stranger Calls is a block in the horror foundation that I have never actually even thought about watching until now. Without it, there is no opening Drew Barrymore scene in Scream; a world I don’t want to live in. That said, I found this movie…overall unimpressive.

The first and last acts of it are total gold. There is idyllic suspense in the caller, harassing the magnificent Carol Kane by telling her he doesn’t want to scare her, but just wants “your blood…all over my body.” The only thing this part of the movie could benefit from is a telescoping “Jaws shot” when babysitter Jill gets the news that the call is coming from inside the house. In case some of you are behind the times like me and have not seen this film, I won’t blow the ending. Suffice it to say, it has some real Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark stuff going on. Just good stuff.

Unfortunately, everything in between those scenes just feels unnecessary to me. The crime drama, the weird building of fear and pity for the psychopath, the add on victim; none of this had the same flair of those first and last scenes. Honestly, I feel like the movie was probably built around those beginning and ending ideas, and I can’t personally offer a solution as to what should have come in between. In the end, I’m glad I watched this, but once will surely be enough.

As a side note: I feel certain this film must have been inspired by the BTK killer, who was also hiding in closets in the seventies, springing forth to rape and murder. I imagine it must have made couples terrified to go for a night out, leaving their kids at home with a potentially incapable parent substitute. So it’s interesting to see that societal fear manifest as a film.

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One thought on “31 Days of Horror 2016, Day 1: When a Stranger Calls (1979)

  1. I haven’t seen this but it did make me think of Lisa starring Staci Keenan of My Two Dads fame. Teenager Lisa strikes up a phone relationship with an older man. Unbeknownst to her he’s the Candlelight Killer. He leaves messages for the women he kills on their answering machines. I doubt it is the least bit scary but at the time it freaked me out. We had just gotten caller ID because someone kept making obscene calls to my mom and sometimes I had the accidental pleasure of answering one.

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