When a Stranger Calls


Camilla Belle as Jill Johnson
Tommy Flanagan as Stranger
Tessa Thompson as Scarlet
Brian Geraghty as Bobby
Clark Gregg as Mr. Johnson
Derek de Lint as Dr. Mandrakis
Kate Jennings Grant as Mrs. Mandrakis
David Denman as Officer Burroughs
Arthur Young as Will Mandrakis
Madeline Carroll as Allison Mandrakis
Steve Eastin as Detective Hines
John Bobek as Officer Lewis

Directed by Simon West

Unless you’re a 13-year-old girl alone at home, there aren’t many scares to be found in this horrible and pointless remake that drives home the point that horror movie cliches that were lame in the ’80s should have been retired, rather than revisited.

What should have been a routine babysitting gig at a secluded lake house turns into a night of terror, as high school student Jill Johnson (Camilla Belle) receives threatening phone calls from a sadistic stalker, while trying to stay one step ahead of him.

While Hollywood may have run out of ideas, it’s going to be a long time before they run out of horror movies to remake… and ruin. Of course, this one is based on the 1979 B-movie thriller of the same name. Released between “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th,” it was a lesser film that helped build the urban myths used to terrify babysitters for years.

In this case, Camilla Belle, the young ingenue who held her own against Daniel Day Lewis in “The Ballad of Jack and Rose,” plays the babysitter, forced to watch the kids of her father’s friends as punishment for going over on her cellphone minutes. At first, it’s a boring job, but being alone in this big house, she starts getting nervous, and starts jumping at the random noises she hears. Then the phone calls start, and while at first, she thinks it’s a prank being played by her friends, the caller soon turns nasty, causing her to seriously worry for her safety.

The movie looks good enough, and you can only imagine how much money was spent renting and renovating the amazing house in which they shot it, but the attempts to expand on the original movie just drags out the inevitable and stretches a fairly thin plot even thinner. For whatever reason, a storyline is set-up to develop Jill’s character, involving her best friend kissing her boyfriend. They both appear for the briefest of moments, the former arriving at the house only to be killed off in typical slasher movie style, but like the rest of the movie, it doesn’t go anywhere beyond that.

Like every bad horror movie victim since the ’70s, Jill does exactly what one shouldn’t do when in danger. When she thinks there may be someone in the guesthouse, she leaves the safety of the locked main house to investigate. Most of her actions are about as ludicrous as that, but you can’t hold that against her, because she’s just following the pattern expected of anyone in this type of movie. It wouldn’t be so bad if there were some true scares, but the incessant stock horror movie soundtrack keeps building as if they were on the way, but then fails to deliver. Of course, this luxury house has a full aviary, as well as the ubiquitous cat, to offer a few cheap scares, but even they don’t work when you’re expecting them.

Because the inherent terror of receiving phone calls while home alone has been used as fodder for far better horror films from Wes Craven’s “Scream” to “The Ring,” the premise just isn’t as effective as it may have been 26 years ago, especially in this day and age, where stalking is considered a serious offense, and police would have been dispatched almost immediately. In this town, the police tell Jill to stop worrying so much.

Of course, the big twist from the original movie–which won’t be spoiled for those who might go see this remake without having seen the original movie… or any of the commercials or trailers that give the twist away–arrives about twenty minutes from the end, but in this case, that’s not the end of the movie, as Jill ends up having to fight off her stalker, as she’s chased through the house.

Although any stalker probably wouldn’t mind watching far-too-pretty jailbait Camilla Belle for an hour and a half, it doesn’t take long for the viewer to get as bored as she is when she first arrives there. When Belle is left to her own devices, she’s not quite as good an actress as one might come to believe from her previous breakout roles, and her attempts at showing terror are weak, at best.

By the time this is over, you’re left wondering who is worse at their “job”: the babysitter who doesn’t bother to check on the children until they may be in danger, the police who take their sweet time showing up once they realize that they all may be in danger, or the stalker for playing games rather than just killing her off as soon as he had the chance, saving us an hour of excruciating boredom and cliches.

The Bottom Line:
As further proof that some movies really don’t need to be remade, the flimsy premise of the original movie doesn’t stand the test of time, because it’s doubtful that even teen girls will be frightened by any of it. Some of the best advice I’ve ever received can just as well be applied to anyone who really must know what to do “When a Stranger Calls”… HANG. UP. Or just rent the original movie.

When A Stranger Calls opens today everywhere.