When a Stranger Calls

“Have you checked the children?” ~When a Stranger Calls (1979)

IMDB Summary: A psychopathic killer terrorizes a babysitter, then returns seven years later to menace her again.

Rotten Tomatoes rating: 36% (Ouch.)

Why I love it: The “have you checked the children?” setup. It’s horrifying.

I was 12 when this came out in 1979. I’ve had a fear ever since of a maniac taunting me from inside the house, especially if there’s an upstairs. Like I always say: I hate the phone.

“The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs” is an urban legend (read about it and others here). I’m guessing it was invented to make sure teenage girls are doing their job and not calling boys. Then there’s the 1974 movie Black Christmas, inspired by a series of murders that took place in Montreal, both of which this is based on. The house next door to me growing up caught on fire one night after the babysitter fell asleep. True story. Anything can happen.

The only thing about this movie that counts is the first 20 minutes. Simka Gravas (you know who I’m talking about) is babysitting when she gets the first of many super creepy phone calls regarding the two kids upstairs she’s sitting. She obviously doesn’t know they’ve already been murdered. Or, more specifically, ripped apart by hand. Worst. Babysitter. Ever. She doesn’t even check them once. Before long and after much panicking with the police, they call to say “the call is coming from inside the house.” She makes her move toward the door. A shadowy figure of a deranged man upstairs shows itself. The cops arrive and she lives. They catch the guy who did it and throw him into the insane asylum.

I don’t want to say the next hour is pointless and not worth getting into, but it is. Even though I love Charles Durning, because of Tootsie. And I love Colleen Dewhurst, because of Ice Castles. Finally, seven years after the intial crime the babysitter is with her husband in a restaurant. She recieves a phone call from the killer, who has of course escaped. We don’t know what the hell is wrong with him, how he’s surviving or why he has such a problem with her. She and her husband zoom home to check their children. Is it over? Nope. This is 1979, when no one ever went away for good, as in Halloween, Friday the 13th, Rocky, etc. He ends up in her bed. She thinks it’s her husband. It’s so not.

There was a 1993 TV movie sequel called When a Starnger Calls Back, which I feel like I vaguely remember. And a 2006 remake. At least the second one drew out those first 20 minutes into 90, even though we already know the guy is in the house. Again, pointless much?


Next: Hostel

Written by Anne Clendening
Anne Clendening was born and raised in L.A. She's a yoga teacher, a writer and occasionally slings cocktails in a Hollywood bar. She could eat chocolate cake for every meal of the day. She has a huge fear of heights and flying. And fire. She wishes she could speak French, play her guitar better and make cannoli. She's probably listening to The Dark Side Of The Moon right now, kickin’ it with her boxer dog and her hot Australian husband ★