Monday, October 26, 2009

Trick Or Trailers: When A Stranger Calls (1979)

There's only about fifteen good, scary minutes in When A Stranger Calls - its urban legend-inspired opening with babysitter Jill Johnson (Carol Kane) terrorized by an unknown caller (Tony Beckley) - but it's enough to make it a legendary fright film. Writer/director Fred Walton originally made When A Stranger Calls as a short film ("The Sitter") and in the wake of the success of Halloween (1978), decided to expand it into a feature. The opening of When A Stranger Calls is reportedly a shot-for-shot remake of that short but the obvious challenge of where to take the story from there plagues the rest of the film.

Given that, it's fitting that the trailer for When A Stranger Calls ignores the rest of the movie and advertizes the opening alone. There's not a moment of the rest of the movie shown in the trailer and what's even funnier is that the trailer gives away every shock and surprise of the opening - we even see Kane opening the door to reveal Charles Durning! You'd think that'd have been a big issue at the time but no one seemed to mind. I know that as a kid, the trailer for When A Stranger Calls was perfect because there was no way I was going to get to see the movie anyhow so seeing a trailer that gave away all its best moments suited me fine.

The downside to that is that the trailer also completely traumatized me. I was a latch-key kid at the time and for weeks, whenever the phone rang after school I had one eye on the stairs to our second floor - just in case a shadow would appear on the wall and I'd hear foots on the steps. Looking back, I have to say I'm not even sure if we actually had a second line in the house at the time - and if that's the case, then this trailer had me not only jumping at shadows but had me imagining someone calling me on an imaginary phone. That's what I call getting me good. Well played, When A Stranger Calls, well played.


And here's a teaser for the UK release of the film that proves - years before Paranormal Activity - that you can never go wrong showing an audience losing their shit at a movie.

11 comments:

Arbogast said...

I need to see this again, as I haven't looked at a frame of it in many a moon. Tragic double-casting of Rachel Roberts and Tony Beckley, who both died relatively soon thereafter - Beckley from cancer (or maybe AIDS, as lots of those deaths were attributed to cancer back in the day) and Roberts by her own hand. Did you see the worthless remake?

FilmFather said...

It's a shame that "The call's coming from inside the house!" has been reduced to a cliche/punchline, because it sure packed a wallop back in '79.

Jeff Allard said...

Arbo, I did watch about fifteen minutes of the remake on cable, realized how awful it was, and bailed on it. As a big part of what made the original work so well was its suburban setting, I thought it was obnoxious to see the new film set in what looked like a multi-million dollar home. I actually liked the sequel that Walton did for Showtime in the mid-'90s - too bad he could've have had first crack at the remake.

Sad about Beckley and Roberts - Beckley played the villain in one of my favorite Dr. Who serials, "Seeds of Doom."

And FF, I agree - the "calls are coming from inside the house" twist did pack a punch back in the day. Even though Black Christmas had gotten to it first, not many people had seen that at the time.

senski said...

When I think of the half-dozen or so HUGE reactions of shock that I've experienced within an audience, this one ("The calls are coming...")was rare if not unique - the crowd took a moment to process something they've heard and not seen, and there was this deafening silence before pandemonium erupted. Very different from seeing Carrie's arm come out of the grave or Jason pop out of the lake. I just curled up in my seat, wriggling with joy...

FilmFather said...

Damn! I meant to mention Black Christmas did it first to show off my horror IQ...I blame the flu bug I'm getting over for fogging up my thoughts.

Jeff Allard said...

Senski, it must've been a blast to see this with an audience! And FF - don't sweat forgetting about Black Christmas. I probably would've mentioned it in the actual blog, if I hadn't initially forgotten about it myself.

Arbogast said...

I wonder if the "calls are coming from inside the house" gambit had appeared in an episode of Suspense or Lights Out! in the past... it just seems made for radio.

Jeff Allard said...

That seems likely, I just wonder when it became common for households to have more than one phone.

senski said...

One word: Teenagers. (Who were then expected to pay their own budget-busting phone bill, and thereby keep the main line free.)

Arbogast said...

The study of architecture, specifically of residential units, is really fascinating for stuff like the advent of closets and multiple telephones. These things seem on the surface like mundane additions but they really do change the shape of our lives... and our nightmares.

Wings said...

The beginning is great, no doubt about it. Amazing scare. The rest is odd, without a doubt!