Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

Damn this sucked.  End of review.  Oh how my life would be so much simpler if the powers at Encode Media Group simply allowed me give you that first line and then let me go along with the rest of my day, but sadly, it cannot be.  I must fill this page with reasons why I donated to 80 minutes of my life to the lost cause known as ‘When a Stranger Calls’.  80 minutes I can never reclaim.


‘Stranger’ is a remake of the 1980 thriller of the same name.  One of the problems of the original was that the whole baby sitter alone, stranger calling from inside the house hook was resolved in the first twenty minutes.  Though it was very effective and frightening, there wasn’t much left to do with it.  The rest of the original consisted of a series of cat and mouse chase scenes of the detective and the babysitter trying to track down the Stranger who some years later has escaped custody.  The remake tries to remedy this by throwing out the original films chase sequences and attempts to stretch the eerie phone calls to a feature length.  It was destined to fail, and fail it did.


Jill Johnson, played by Camilla Belle (who must have 2% body fat), is a high school senior on the outs with her boyfriend.  But in his angst to reconcile with his girl he runs up her cell phone minutes.  Jill’s parents are duly pissed and force her to work off those minutes by lining up babysitting gigs for her.  Jill’s latest job is watching the kids of Dr. Mandrackas and his wife.  Even though it’s only like six in the evening, the two Mandrackas children are already in bed asleep because their being awake would screw up our plot.  Now the stranger starts calling.  We know he’s bad news because the opening scene has us observing the aftermath of another babysitter who was

slaughtered a few days earlier and a hundred miles away.  No blood though.  This is a PG-13 ‘horror’ movie.  He calls and breathes and calls and whispers and calls and breathes… 


Thus in an attempt to extend a ten-minute concept to an 80 minute movie the filmmakers have to resort to forced tension.  Music plays… Jill walks down the ominous hallway… music rises… OH MY GOD! it’s the cat.   Music plays… Jill looks nervous… music rises… OH MY GOD!  it’s a tree branch.  Music plays… Jill trembles… music rises… OH MY GOD!  it’s Jill’s slutty friend.  And it does this over and over and over again losing the audience in the process.  Even when the real drama begins, the commercial trailer has already told us that he’s calling from inside the house, so even that’s worthless.

Though the movie probably couldn’t have worked in the best hands, the director and scriptwriter show very little imagination or ingenuity as they dust off every single horror cliché in the book and toss it in.  And sadly, even though Camilla Belle is incredibly fit, she was woefully inept and conveying fear or terror or horror.  Heavy breathing isn’t quite acting I don’t think.


You see children, when I was a teenager in the late 80’s, horror films, even if they blew chunks had a few things we could always count on.  Bloody impalings, decapitations, dismemberments, and gratuitous nudity.  Curse you PG-13, curse you.  Folks, I have suffered so you don’t have to.  So when you’re alone babysitting and a gravelly voiced caller asks ‘Have you checked the children.’  Simply reply ‘Oh, I killed them already.  Good night.’  Then *69 that fool. 


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