When a Stranger Calls is a 1979 horror film written & directed by Fred Walton (April Fool’s Day, When a Stranger Calls Back, The Rosary Murders, & The Stepford Husbands). It was originally made under the title “The Sitter” as a short film. It was co-written & produced by Steve Feke (BeastMaster TV Series, Dark Shadows, Poltergeist III, & Mac and Me). It was produced by Melvin Simon (Porky’s franchise, My Bodyguard, The Stunt Man, Wolf Lake, Seven, & Love at First Bite). The budget was $1.5 million & it grossed $21.4 million worldwide at the box office. In 1993, the sequel When a Stranger Calls Back was released & a remake was produced in 2006!!!!
Jill Johnson (played by: Carol Kane from When a Stranger Calls Back, The Dead Don’t Die, Transylvania 6-5000, & Scrooged) is babysitting the children of Dr. Mandrakis (played by: Carmen Argenziano from Broken Arrow, Sudden Impact, The First Power, & Into the Night) at his home. When the children are asleep, Jill receives a telephone call from a man who asks her if she has checked the children. Jill initially dismisses the telephone calls as a practical joke. However, as the calls become more frequent & threatening, Jill decides to call the police. They tell Jill to keep the caller on the line long enough for them to trace the call. Jill receives one final call from her stalker. Immediately after the conversation, the police phone to inform her that the calls are coming from a phone inside the house. Detective John Clifford (played by: Charles Durning from Dog Day Afternoon, Rescue Me, Dark Night of the Scarecrow, & The Hudsucker Proxy) is the investigating the case. Patrol officer Charlie Garber (played by: Ron O’Neal from Super Fly franchise, Red Dawn, The Final Countdown, & Original Gangstas) reveals that the children were murdered by the perpetrator several hours earlier before the obscene phone calls started.
The killer is caught, it’s an English merchant seaman named Curt Duncan (played by: Tony Beckley from Get Carter, The Italian Job, & Revenge of the Pink Panther). He is considered insane & sent to an asylum after being charged for his crimes. Seven years later, Duncan escapes from the asylum. Dr. Mandrakis hires Clifford who now works as a private investigator to find the psychopath Duncan. Duncan is now a homeless & a vagrant loner. He gets into an altercation after disturbing a woman Tracy (played by: Colleen Dewhurst from The Dead Zone, The Cowboys, & The Exorcist III) at a bar. He follows her to her apartment. She is creeped out by the stranger. The obsessed Clifford confides to his friend Lieutenant Garber his intention to kill Duncan rather than arrest him. Garber agrees to help him find the crazed killer. Clifford sets Tracy up as bait to catch Duncan. Jill Lockart is now married with two young children. One night, she & her husband Stephen (played by: Steven Anderson from The Stand, Bad Dreams, & Halloween 5) go out to dinner in celebration of a promotion. Their children are being watched by babysitter Sharon (played by: Lenora May from House II: The Second Story & Birds of Prey). At the restaurant, Jill gets a telephone call & hears Duncan’s voice again: “Have you checked the children?”. She is reminded of her original nightmare, she fears her own children’s safety now. Can she save them from this real life monster????
When a Stranger Calls has a very strong opening 20+ minutes. It’s very tense & suspenseful. I loved the idea that a voice & phone calls could create that much terror inside a house. That’s the true highlight of this production. It’s almost like three different short films put together because they all have a different vibes to them. My least favorite segment is the middle one. It was just okay with a few good moments towards the end of it. The last one was basically an updated version of the beginning but it was at the restaurant rather than just being at home. It was a revisit of Jill’s worst nightmare, only this time it was more personal. Honestly, the last two segments feel more like filler than anything to me. I know the original short was just the beginning & it works better that way. Don’t get me wrong, lots of solid scenes & suspense in them. They just feel a little forced at times. The cast was great in this. This is Carol Kane’s best performance in her entire career. I love her big eyes, it actually enhances everything here. Tony Beckley is really creepy here. Duncan is a under-rated villain. Charles Durning is the consist role in When a Stranger Calls, he’s featured in every segment. He was always good in everything that he did. The talented leads & supporting cast boosted the overall quality of the production. For a late 70’s flick, it still holds up great. It’s always a fun & entertaining revisit, RECOMMENDED!!!!