Monday, March 16, 2009

When A Stranger Calls (2006)

Reviewed By: Billy

There have been a lot of slasher remakes in the past few years, and for the most part, they are terrible. Rehashes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Black Christmas royally screwed everything up by adding backstory, which we slasher fans know is completely unnecessary. The king of this, of course, was Rob Zombie’s Halloween, which took evil, faceless Michael Myers and turned him into chubby trailer-trash with a big attitude problem. I mean, seriously…if anyone could be scared of Michael Myers after seeing him sitting on his front stoop, crying out for his stripper-mommy to the strains of “Love Hurts,” then that person has no business ever watching horror movies.

Bearing this trend toward too much information in mind, the 2006 version of When A Stranger Calls is, surprisingly, a huge success. Here, instead of adding backstory, the filmmakers actually remove anything resembling a plot, leaving only an extended stalk-and-chase sequence set in a creepy modern house. If you ask me, this is a major improvement over the original, which is really only memorable for the first 15 minutes, anyway. Screenwriter Jake Wade Wall chose to just stretch those 15 minutes into 87…and for those of you who think that’s lazy, just be thankful that we don’t get any extended Sherrie Moon Zombie stripping scenes.

Another big improvement comes with the leading lady. I know a lot of people love Carol Kane in the original…but let’s be honest: kooky, frizzy-haired Carol Kane is much better suited to movies like Transylvania 6-5000 (for which we'll proudly give her a good review). Playing Jill Johnson this time around is Camilla Belle, who is perfectly cast because she actually looks like a high school babysitter. Camilla is forced to carry the entire movie, as she’s in every scene and is often the only person in the scene…with the wrong actress (i.e. Brittany Snow in the new Prom Night), this could have been torture. Thankfully, Camilla’s slight awkwardness is very endearing and we’re with her all the way.

Anyway…the plot, such as it is, involves babysitter Jill (who is, in a desperate attempt to be modern, grounded for using too many cell phone minutes) arriving at a the house of Dr. Mandrakis, who must be a plastic surgeon to the stars considering his enormous and state-of-the-art home complete with lake view, sensor lights, and some kind of tropical rain forest room filled with live birds. Once the old folks take off for the night, Jill begins getting a series of phone calls from a stranger who either doesn’t speak at all, or uses a voice that sounds kind of like the killer in Joy Ride with a sore throat. I just found out that the voice actually belongs to Lance Henriksen. Yes, he utters the immortal question, “Have you checked the children?” And yes, he’s calling from inside the house. You didn’t think Jake Wade Wall would leave those out, did you?

There’s not much of a supporting cast here, as Camilla pretty much dominates the whole movie. But we do get Tessa Thompson as Scarlet, Jill’s best friend; you might remember her from the ABC Family Channel movie The Initiation of Sarah…or maybe not, since JM and I are the only ones who appear to enjoy that movie. Jill’s a-hole boyfriend is played by Brian Geraghty; you might remember him as Lindsay Lohan’s boyfriend in I Know Who Killed Me…or maybe not, as JM and I are the only ones who appear to enjoy that movie, too. The house itself also basically serves as a character; the camera lovingly lingers over every nook and cranny as though the house were Sharon Stone uncrossing her legs in the interrogation room. The set people get major props here, as the house really is pretty cool, if not totally believable as the home of a couple who’d hire a high-school babysitter for the night (after all, wouldn’t people who live like that have an au pair or something?).

The other supporting character, of course, is the killer himself; as I mentioned before, we know nothing about him, and the movie is all the better for it. Really, when will filmmakers realize that the more we know about a killer, the less scary he/she is? Remember how creepy Freddy Krueger was before he started tossing out one-liners like a tipsy drag queen? And remember how disturbing it was when the original Black Christmas ended without any resolution whatsoever? That’s kind of what we get here; just some guy who rips people apart with his bare hands. The final confrontation with Jill is pretty suspenseful, and the ending leaves things wide open for a sequel.

Unfortunately…nobody on God’s green earth would ever want to remake When A Stranger Calls Back, the made-for-TV sequel to the original, which brought back Carol Kane and threw Jill Schoelen into the mix. Really, that one was even more mind-numbing than the original, which is an amazing feat. Of course, I believe it was a USA Original Movie, which means it had the sad look of a “Silk Stockings” episode. Anyway, that could be one hell of a remake…I’m thinking Willa Ford for the Jill Schoelen role. But until that happens, this remake stands pretty well on its own. And the next film school grad that decides to remake a classic slasher would do well to watch this When A Stranger Calls and remember: less is more. And less means NOT turning your killer into a silly, eight-foot professional wrestler who just needs to relax and get over his f-ed up homelife. Got that, Rob?



  1. Billy, you SOB! How dare you besmirch the Black Christmas remake. You were there with me in the theater! You saw that magic on the screen! You witnessed the genius of Christmas cookies.

    You are 100% right about the rest of the review, by the way. The remake of When A Stranger Calls is so much better than the original.


  2. I actually enoyed the slowness of the original and was somewhat avoiding this movie. Maybe I'll check it out...maybe...

  3. Yeah, I know a lot of people like the's just a little too "70s TV cop show" for me.

  4. JM...
    You know the ONLY good thing about the Black Christmas remake is the actress/character who looks and acts exactly like Janice Dickinson. The fact that you neglected to even mention her in your review proves that you just DON'T GET IT.

  5. I have just downloaded iStripper, so I can have the sexiest virtual strippers stripping on my desktop.