When a Stranger Calls (1979 film)
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|When a Stranger Calls|
|Directed by||Fred Walton|
|Edited by||Sam Vitale|
|Music by||Dana Kaproff|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
|Box office||$21.4 million|
When a Stranger Calls is a 1979 American mystery thriller film written and directed by Fred Walton and co-written by Steve Feke. It stars Carol Kane, Colleen Dewhurst, Tony Beckley and Charles Durning. The film derives its story from the classic folk legend of "the babysitter and the man upstairs".
The film has developed a large cult following over time because of the first 20 minutes, now consistently regarded as one of the scariest openings in movie history. The first 12 minutes of Wes Craven's Scream (1996) is an homage to the opening of When a Stranger Calls.
The film was released in the United States on September 28, 1979, by Columbia Pictures. It was commercially successful, grossing $20 million at the box office. It received a mixed critical reception, with many praising the opening scene and performances, but criticism for its writing and lack of scares. It was followed by the 1993 made-for-cable sequel When a Stranger Calls Back and a remake in 2006.
Jill Johnson (Carol Kane) is babysitting the children of Dr. Mandrakis (Carmen Argenziano) at his home. When the children are asleep, Jill receives a telephone call from a man who asks her if she has checked the children. Jill initially dismisses the call as a practical joke. However, he calls again and again. As the calls become more frequent and threatening, Jill becomes frightened and decides to call the police, who tell Jill to keep the perpetrator on the line long enough for them to trace the call. Jill receives one final call from her harasser. Immediately after the conversation, the police phone to inform her that the calls are coming from a phone inside the house. Jill sees the intruder's shadow. An English merchant seaman named Curt Duncan (Tony Beckley), has killed the children but leaves Jill unharmed. Little did Jill know the children had been dead shortly after she arrived. After trial, he is sent to a psychiatric facility.
Seven years later, Duncan escapes from the psychiatric facility. Dr. Mandrakis hires Clifford (Charles Durning), who had investigated the earlier murders but is now a private detective, to find Duncan. Not knowing Clifford is after him, the homeless Duncan is beaten after harassing a woman, Tracy (Colleen Dewhurst), in a downtown bar. When Duncan follows Tracy to her apartment, she takes pity on him and tries to be nice to him while getting him to leave, hoping this will be the last she sees of him.
Meanwhile, an increasingly obsessed Clifford confides to his friend Lieutenant Garber (Ron O'Neal) his intention to kill Duncan rather than have him recommitted. Garber, who was also present at the Mandrakis crime scene, agrees to collaborate. Clifford tracks Duncan to Tracy's residence. He tells Tracy that Duncan had literally torn apart the Mandrakis children with his bare hands. Tracy reluctantly agrees to be Clifford's bait at the bar that evening but Duncan never appears. After Clifford leaves, however, Duncan comes out of hiding from inside Tracy’s closet. Tracy screams for help. Clifford returns and chases Duncan away from the scene, losing his trail in the streets of downtown Los Angeles.
Jill is now married with two young children. One night, she and her husband Stephen (Steven Anderson) go to dinner to celebrate his promotion while their children are babysat by Sharon (Lenora May). At the restaurant, Jill gets a telephone call and hears Duncan's voice again: "Have you checked the children?" The police escort Jill back home to discover that everything there is fine. Clifford tries to call Jill, but finds that the line is dead. Later that night, Jill hears Duncan's voice as the closet door appears to open. She tries to awaken her husband awake only to realize that the man lying next to her is the intruder. He chases Jill across the room and attempts to kill her when Clifford arrives and shoots him the chest killing him. Jill’s husband Stephen is in the closet, unconscious but alive. Their children are safe.
- Charles Durning as John Clifford
- Carol Kane as Jill Johnson
- Colleen Dewhurst as Tracy Fuller
- Tony Beckley as Curt Duncan
- Carmen Argenziano as Dr. Mandrakis
- Rutanya Alda as Mrs. Mandrakis
- William Boyett as Sgt. Sacker
- Kirsten Larkin as Nancy
- Ron O'Neal as Lt. Charlie Garber
- Michael Champion as Bill
- Rachel Roberts as Dr. Monk
- Steven Anderson as Stephen
- Lenora May as Sharon
This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (June 2018)
The film marked cinematographer Donald Peterman's feature film debut as director of photography. Principal photography took place over 27 1/2 days in the fall of 1978 on locations in and around Los Angeles. The house which served as the location for the first act of the movie was at 321 S. Chadbourne Ave., in the Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles. The Lockhart home in the final act was at 2722 Club Drive, Los Angeles, California. Both houses have since been torn down.
The downtown bar where Duncan and Tracy meet was "Torchy's" at 2181⁄2 W. Fifth Street in Los Angeles, CA 90012. This is the same bar that served as filming locations for the redneck bar in 48 Hrs. and for the 1985 version of Brewster's Millions.
The film opened on September 28, 1979, and re-released on October 17, 1980. Carol Kane stated in an interview that while watching the film in the theater the audience began screaming and talking back to the screen during the opening 20 minutes of the film.
The film was released on VHS in 1986. A DVD release was distributed on October 9, 2001, with the only supplements being bonus trailers. A Blu-ray version of the film was eventually released by Mill Creek Entertainment in a double feature with Happy Birthday to Me (1981) on March 26, 2013. Neither film contains any special features on the disc.
The film was eventually released as a stand-alone on Blu-ray on February 11, 2020 by Mill Creek Entertainment with packaging designed to look like a VHS.
In the United Kingdom, Second Sight announced a special edition, which was released on December 17, 2018. The Blu-ray includes a brand new scan and restoration, plus the sequel When a Stranger Calls Back, a new scan and restoration of the original short film The Sitter, a reversible sleeve with new artwork by Obviously Creative and original poster artwork, as well as interviews with director Fred Walton, Carol Kane, Rutanya Alda, composer Dana Kaproff, the "limited edition" original soundtrack CD, along with a 40-page perfect-bound booklet with a new essay by Kevin Lyons.
|Title||Format||Discs||Region 1||Region 2||Region 4||Special Features||Distributors|
|When a Stranger Calls||Blu-ray||01||—||3 December 2018||—||Content New Special Features||Second Sight|
|When a Stranger Calls Back||Blu-ray||01||2018||—||—||Content New Special Features||Scream Factory|
|When a Stranger Calls||Blu-ray||01||—||—||4 December 2014||None||Umbrella Entertainment|
This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (June 2018)
The film had a gross of $482,969 from pre-release engagements. It expanded to 468 theaters and grossed $2,597,032 in its opening four days. It placed second on Variety's weekly box office chart for the week ended October 3, 1979 and moved up to number one in its third week of release. It went on to gross $20,149,106 during its initial theatrical run in the United States and Canada. In its 1980 theatrical re-release the film managed to gross $1,262,052. The film was a financial success, given its $1.5 million budget.
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 41% based on 17 reviews, with an average rating of 5.21/10. On Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating to reviews, the film has a weighted average score of 58 out of 100, based on seven critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".
Roger Ebert described the film as "sleazy" in a 1980 episode of Sneak Previews. In her review for The New York Times, Janet Maslin wrote "When a Stranger Calls is an energetic first film", adding that "the frightened-babysitter opening of the movie is marvelously modern, as Mr. Walton demonstrates that a haunted house with an ice-making refrigerator is intrinsically scarier than a house without one. He also makes the most of that fearsome modern weapon, the telephone." Author Travis Holt elaborates on the importance of the telephone to the film's portrayal of horror, noting that in the beginning "The phone is presented as a means of safety and comfort; it is a savior rather than a burden." Once the harassing phone calls begin, however, the view of the telephone becomes more sinister:
With the constant central framing of the telephone and its intrusion into the tranquility of the house, the phone has become Jill's nemesis. Jill remains trapped in a situation where she can do nothing but pray that the perpetrator stops calling. The device that usually holds so much promise for positive communication has become virtually her worst nightmare.
The Classification and Rating Administration originally voted unanimously for a PG rating (five years before the PG-13 rating was available for use). However, CARA chair Richard Heffner then viewed the film and called the board for discussion to consider voting for an R rating instead. Although the theme of a film could potentially be accommodated within a PG rating, Heffner argued that this film's treatment of its theme was too unsettling for most parents to want it to be freely available to unaccompanied children. A majority vote was then received to assign the film its R rating.[full citation needed]
- When a Stranger Calls at the American Film Institute Catalog
- "It's a Scream for Three Unknowns: UNKNOWNS". Thomas, Kevin. Los Angeles Times, October 26, 1979: p. G23.
- "When a Stranger Calls (1979)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved November 15, 2015.
- "PASSINGS: Perry Moore, Don Peterman, Nancy Carr". Los Angeles Times. February 22, 2011. Retrieved June 27, 2012.
- "Tony Beckley, Starred In 'Stranger Calls' Film, is Dead". The New York Times. April 23, 1980. p. B14. ISSN 0362-4331.
Tony Beckley, who played the title role of a killer in 'When a Stranger Calls,' a commercially successful horror film that was released last year, died of cancer Saturday at the Medical Center of the University of California at Los Angeles.
- "When a Stranger Calls". bvhscollector.com. Retrieved November 15, 2015.
- "'Call' Rings Up $3-Mil". Variety. October 10, 1979. p. 7.
- "50 Top-Grossing Films". Variety. October 10, 1979. p. 9.
- "50 Top-Grossing Films". Variety. October 24, 1979. p. 13.
- "When a Stranger Calls (1979)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 17 June 2018.
- "When a Stranger Calls (1979) Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved 17 June 2018.
- Classics from the Vault: Women in Danger (1980). At the Movies. 1980 – via Ebertpresents.com.
- Maslin, Janet (October 12, 1979). "Screen: A Killer Returns in 'When a Stranger Calls'". The New York Times. Retrieved 5 October 2017.
- Holt, Travis Mark (2011). "The Horror Film and Telephony: When a Stranger Calls (1979)". Film and Telephony: The Evolution of Cinematic Communication (Master's thesis). Tuscaloosa, Alabama: University of Alabama. pp. 41–43. Document No.1505195.
- Heffner, Richard (1979). "Oral History: transcript volume 10 - 1979". Missing or empty
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