Catie Rhodes and I had such a fabOoolous time teaming up and writing the last collaborative blog (Straw Dogs), that we decided to start a monthly series where we’ll review and compare original films and their remade counterparts. This month, we discuss the psychological horror film, When a Stranger Calls.
On her Wild-Card Wednesday post, Catie breaks down the 1979 horror film, When a Stranger Calls, starring Carol Kane and Charles Durning. In her blog, she mentions the fact that the original movie was based on an urban legend: The Babysitter and The Man Upstairs.
In addition to When a Stranger Calls, other popular horror/slasher flicks come to mind that play off of this urban legend: Black Christmas (1974 and 2006), as well as the cult-classic Scream franchise. Being that Catie and I are planning future blog posts, I won’t go into much detail about Black Christmas since it’s a potential candidate in the running, but we can briefly discuss the opening sequence of Scream.
A girl, home alone, prepares popcorn awaiting the arrival of her boyfriend when the telephone rings. The disguised voice on the other end asks her, “What’s your favorite scary movie?” and before we know it, the teenager is terrorized by a crazed killer, chasing her through the house. While she may not be babysitting, she is home alone and the killer is already inside the house.
Catie also does a wonderful job of breaking the original When a Stranger Calls down into the classic three-act structure: Act One, the babysitter and the “caller”; Act Two takes place seven years later, as a former policeman chases the “caller”; and Act three, when the “caller” has refocused his attentions on the babysitter from years earlier.
Immediately, we see the first major difference between the original movie and the remake – the 2006 When a Stranger Calls focuses approximately 90 minutes on the original film’s act one. The second and third acts of the original movie do not exist in the remake.
The movie begins with a brutal murder after a girl receives prank phone calls – the killer doesn’t leave behind a murder weapon, and the body is so completely mutilated that the medical examiner has to remove it in multiple body bags.
Next, we meet Jill Johnson (Camilla Belle), who lives over a hundred miles away from the first homicide. Jill is clearly having a rough week – her boyfriend cheated on her with her supposed good friend Tiffany (played by Katie Cassidy), and her parents have disconnected her cell phone for going 800 minutes over her calling plan.
Side note #1: Why does the home-wrecker character always have to be named Tiffany in movies and television?
Side note #2: The fact that a teenager doesn’t have an unlimited cell phone plan really dates this movie, and it’s only six years old.
Back on topic:
To pay off her cell phone bill, Jill agrees to babysit instead of partying all night with her friends at the high school bonfire. Her father drives Jill out to her employer’s house for the evening — a beautiful and luxurious home out in the middle of nowhere, hidden behind security gates with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the plush trees and forest. The wealth of the family also allows for motion sensor lights throughout the house, and for an enclosed greenhouse smack dab in the center of the home, filled with greenery, chirping birds, a pond, and fish.
The parents give Jill the quick run through before leaving for their night out – if she hears any noises, it could be one of three things:
1) Their black cat,
2) Their housekeeper, who lives upstairs but has the night off,
3) Or their son living in the guest house, home from college.
Jill sets the alarm, and settles in for a nice and quiet night of studying while the children sleep upstairs. This should be easy, right?
Wrong. The suspense starts almost immediately: the phone rings with no one on the other end, which Jill assumes is her silly ex-boyfriend and his friends playing pranks on her; she hears doors and/or cabinets close, which she imagines is just the housekeeper; the house alarm sounds, which she also writes off as the housekeeper since her employers mentioned they can’t seem to get her to remember the code; Tiffany pays her a surprise visit, through the open garage door (how did that happen?); and the motion sensor lights keep going on and off in other parts of the house.
Jill is so spooked, that at one point she walks through the house with the fire-place stoker in hand. Okay, who hasn’t done that at least once?
The prank calls continue, and finally the voice on the other end of the phone speaks out and Jill has had enough. She calls around for help, but not even the police can do anything at this point.
The phone rings again, and this time the “caller” asks those five frightening words:
“Have you checked the children?”
Jill does what any good babysitter would do, and she rushes upstairs to check on the sleeping children who are safe and sound, snuggled away in their beds.
The phone rings again:
“How were the children?”
How is he watching her? Jill hangs up and calls the police again, and this time they agree to run a trace on the calls. Before hanging up, the officer on the other end of the call reminds Jill that she is “safe inside the house.” Yea, right! Famous last words….
At this point in the 2006 film there is a lot of Jill’s running around the property, searching for the housekeeper, for the son home from college, for anything to make her feel better about being alone in this house.
And then the phone rings again, and trying to keep the “caller” on the line for the minimum sixty seconds required for the police trace, Jill asks, “What do you want?”
“Your blood, all over me.” This may be one of the creepiest movie quotes of all time…
Jill successfully keeps the “caller” on the line long enough for the police trace, and the police notify Jill that “the call is coming from inside the house!”
Side Note #3: My doorbell rang at this very moment in the movie, and I had to laugh at the fact that I literally jumped in my seat. Now I’ve seen this movie multiple times, but that didn’t stop the delivery man from giving me that one little “BOO!” when he dropped off our package…
Back to When a Stranger Calls…
This is where the big battle ensues, and I don’t want to give too much away in case everyone hasn’t seen the movie. But even during the fight scenes, the viewers don’t see the “caller’s” face. Not once. He is just a dark shadow, lurking around every corner, pursuing Jill until the end.
It’s not until the very end of the film, after the “caller” is arrested, that we see his face – and it is a creepy, creepy face (played by Thomas Flanagan).
There were rumors that a sequel was in the works, but other rumors mentioned that it had been thrown to the cutting room floor. I’m not sure “sequel” would be the appropriate term anyway; it sounds just like another remake. A true sequel would be a movie about the second and third acts from the original film, not another movie about a babysitter.
Regardless, we still have the 1979 When a Stranger Calls, the 1993 television sequel When a Stranger Calls Back (also starring Carol Kane and Charles Durning), and the 2006 remake to satisfy our psychological thriller needs.
What do you think? Have you seen either the original or the remake of When a Stranger Calls? If you’ve seen both, which do you prefer and why? I’d love to hear from you!
Remember to stop by Catie’s blog discussing the original if you haven’t already.
If you still want more of “The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs” urban legend, check out When a Killer Calls (also 2006).