When a Stranger Calls (1979)


Directed by: Fred Walton

Written by: Steve Feke & Fred Walton


Charles Durning .... John Clifford
Carol Kane .... Jill Johnson
Tony Beckley .... Curt Duncan
Colleen Dewhurst .... Tracy
Ron O'Neal .... Lt. Charlie Garber
Steven Anderson .... Stephen Lockhart

Release Date: Theatrical: October 26, 1979




A babysitter named Jill Johnson (Carol Kane) is alone in a strange house babysitting while two little kids are sleeping. Every 15 minutes she gets a strange phone call from a guy asking if she has been watching the children. She call the police and the police traces the number which is inside that house. The guy making the hpone call was an insane killer named Curt Duncan (Tony Beckley) and he killed the children in the house then was sent to an insane asylum. Seven years later Curt escapes and is loose in a rough city. A detective named John Clifford (Robert Durning) tries to track him down. Curt hangs out at a sleazy bar and spots a woman named Tracy (Colleen Dewhurst) as he follows her to her apartment and spies on her in order to hide from John. Eventually Curt finds out where Jill is living now as she's full grown with kids and pays a little visit to her while John tries to get in contact with her but her line is disconnected and tries to arrive at her house on time before it's too late.


The beginning seems to look good and old fashioned with the parents leaving as well as stalling to remind the babysitter Jill Johnson about stuff which looks realistic and offering decent humor here. Also there's nice effective moments when she answers the phone and things turn pretty creepy with that caller as well as good silent and still shots surrounding the house like the clock ticking and so fourth which is a good drawing card that this maniac could be anywhere. What's really powerful looking is when she calls the police telling this officer that this person is watching her as well as him telling her she has to keep him on for a minute in order to track down as to where the calls are coming from. This is nervewracking just to think about this wondering if this caller will stay on for that long. Also while she does answer the phone and asks the questions as if he can see her and other situations like that and his creepy answers really leaves a chill down your spine.
Then when the police get back to her telling her the calls are coming from the house really makes you watch in suspense when she tries to get out of the house wondering if the killer will appear before her. Defienetely a spooky moment here and well done. Of course these situations were borrowed heavily from the cult classic Black Christmas. The scene's here seemed a bit too rushed only to make an excuse for the story to take place years later as to what has become of this killer so the film wouldn't be overly long.
It's a disappointment when we spot the killer since we expect this to be a mysterious horror flick who's name is Curt Duncan and is at a bar trying to pick up this woman named Tracy who tries to ignore him and we spot him trying to be persistent towards her which also makes you cringe as to wonder if she will lose it on him as well as two thuggish guy's shooting pool being forceful and mean towards him for being a pest to her. All of this seemed quite realistic and psychological to watch since we've all had one of these awful times in our lives at some point. It was pretty well done.
There's some creepy and susepnseful situations when Curt stalks Tracy to her apartment to apologise as well as her trying to apologise back and he enters her suite in which there's alot of great moments when he tries to get obsessive and persistent towards her. This for sure makes you wonder as if he will try to kill her or not as well as wondering if she will succeed in trying to get him out without trying to be aggressive. This was another great psychological situation.
There's even moments when we see on Curt living his lifestyle as a panhandler as well as living in a place for the homeless in which this looked truly sad to watch since alot of crazy people lead this kind of life.
This scene looks like it's a different chapter on a totally different moment here which kinda boggles you as to whatever became of our babysitter Jill but afterwards we get to see her now working as a family woman happily married and putting her pieces together after that horrible incident. Alot of this looked uplifting as well as going to a night business banquet party and leaving a babysitter for her kids. You kinda wonder here as if the killer will show up to this house causing death to her own children.
Things look crazy when Jill answers a call requested to her from the banquet with the question that was asked to her from when she was babysitting and she goes into hysterics as you wonder if she has lost her sanity here along with her panicking to see if her kids are okay or not. It really makes you watch this big time as if she will arrive home safely to see if no death has come to the babysitter and her children. This looked terrifically done while we sit to watch all of this happen.
There's many spooky situations when Jill gets up in the middle of the night to get a glass of milk and things are dark and silent as well as her cautiously looking around for anything unusual along with her checking up on her kids and then staring at a closet slowly going to it and being cautious while about to open the door to see if anyone is hiding there. This for sure makes your heart beat and being scared while watching this. Kinda makes you wonder if someone will spring up to attack.
There's even a situation with the detective John Clifford trying to call Jill's home and finds out her line has been cut which is a great touch to the story making you cringe even more suspecting that Curt is in her home and hiding till the perfect moment.
The near ending is the most memorable situation when Jill is going back to bed and one of the scariest moments too but won't give that one away. It is a shocking moment for sure on what you least expect when things seem too normal.
Bottom line is that I watched the remake of this film and enjoyed that one better. However, this film is still packed with little frights and suspense. Both versions are a little different and it should stay that way for all the remakes happening in the horror film industry. It does start out with the babysitter and her erceiving the obscene phone pranks and then it takes place 7 years later of the killer escaping and ending off in a rough area of New York but that scene really drags and goes almost nowhere. It picks up again when the killer stalks the babysitter again all full grown with kids. This film no doubt inspired many others like Scream as well as R.L. Stine's young adult novels of The Babysitter.

The acting seems fairly okay for it's time as the lead actor Charles Durning (John Clifford) lived to play a detective in this film as he shows a perfect seriousness to his role as well as showing a good concerned and caring attitude. He focuses well on the murder case as well as being demanding and aggressive while pounding on someone's door and having a serious no nonsense discussion wiht who he's chatting with. This looked good and solid. Also he focuses well on trying to track down tohe killer and calmly speaking to him in which this was done at a steady pace too. He gets good and firm later on in the story while trying to discuss the murder case years later in which he also focused well on this too. Plus he does a good job with his frusterations in many spots too. He was believeable by doing whatever he had to do with his role.
Carol Kane (Jill Johnson) as the babysitter sounded like she had a bit of a speech disorder whenever she spoke which doesn't sound too impressive and could be judged for not being a character actress. She however does her part nicely regardless especially while answering the phone with the obscene caller in which she does well with her frightened and emotional attitude. She does well while trying to call the police about the situation nearly sobbing in which this came across as realistic too. Plus she seems to do a fairly good job playing a family woman and an older person when it's years later as she does well with her speaking towards her kids. She also does a great job screaming and crying in hystericas after receiving the phone call and rolls with the intensity big time here. Plus she was great with her screaming and sturggling attitude near the end of her performance as well as breaking down and crying. She had alot of power while doing all of this.
Tony Beckley (Curt Duncan) was perfect with his hissing and coldlike speaking while talking on the phone or acting deadly in other situations. He also does a nice job with his persitent and obsessive attitude while hanging out in a bar. He does well with his stuttering words really coming across as someone who is mentally unstable. Plus he does a nice job breaking down and crying along with his panicking attitude while trying to run away from someone. He also brought it out big time during the end of his performance when he attacks someone in which he brings out a ton of might into what he does here. A pat on the back for this guy without a doubt.
Colleen Dewhurst (Tracy) does a nice job as someone who acts irritable during the beginning of her performance while hanging out at a bar as she seems to come across as someone who is a bit of a basket case. She does well with her grumpy speaking as well as yelling out in a rage showing a good mighty attitude here. Also, she does a nice job while being at her apartment trying to act more nice along with acting nervous on a situation as she reacts well to being a little intimiadted but trying to be coll about it all. She also does well with her emotional attitude as well as being stubborn about stuff which shows off clearly here. Plus does a great job by hollering in fright during the end of her performance.
Ron O'Neal (Lt. Charlie Garber) seemed to have a nice attitude on playing a detective as well just rolling in with the punches and being good and serious about the murder case too. You could tell that he concentrated on what he had to do a great deal here. Also he does a nice job acting drunk at a party and then acting upset after what was told about the killer. He shows alot of great characteristics for this situation as well.
Steven Anderson (Stephen Lockhart) has the nice family man looks for his portrayal here and just does a good job as a nice guy who likes to protect his family but trying to think positive on stuff. He does a convincing job showing sympathy as well as having a strong behavior on what to do in case of the maniac entering their home as this looked nicely convincing here.

Alot of great powerful classical composing in which this really fits the scariness into each scene like a long deep violin playing with some high pitched sounds especially for the beginning of the story when the character Jill Johnson is alone in the house and the stillness of what is surrounding her as well as those prank phone calls. Also we hear some dark metal tin type tapping as well as some odd chiming and screeching sounds for the near freaked out moments too. This sounds similar to what you'd spot in a Friday the 13th flick although this one came out a year before the first one did. All of this was composed by Dana Kaproff.

[Curt calls Jill on the phone]
Jill Johnson: You really scared me, if that's what you wanted. Is that what you wanted?
Curt Duncan: No.
Jill Johnson: What do you want?
Curt Duncan: Your blood all over me.

Curt Duncan: [on the phone with Jill] Why haven't you checked the children?
Jill Johnson: Leave me alone!
[slams the phone down onto its cradle]
Sgt. Sacker: [Sgt calls Jill on phone] Jill, we've traced the calls... They're coming from inside the house!

John Clifford: Lets get something straight here, Doctor. I've been 33 years in the business of tracking people down and putting them away... spent almost a year alone on the case of Curt Duncan with the trial and the testimonies and the background investigations. Now, I didn't come here today to look in your God damn folders, in fact I probably wouldn't be here at all if you had done your job right.
Dr. Monk: This is a hospital, Mr. Clifford, not a penitentiary. Everything appertaining to one of our patients is meticulously recorded in that patient's folder, whether you can make sense of it or not.

Curt Duncan: [whispering, to Jill] You can't see me, but I had to come back. Don't you know why?