WHEN A STRANGER CALLS- THE RE-MAKE. 2006. DIRECTED BY SIMON WEST. STARRING CAMILLA BELLE, TOMMY FLANAGAN, LANCE HENRIKSEN, KATY CASSIDY, DEREK DE LINT AND KATE JENNINGS GRANT. REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. © ‘The calls are coming from inside the house…’ The original film of WHEN A STRANGER CALLS (1979), directed by Fred Walton, has one of the best opening sequences of any horror film I’ve ever seen. The first twenty minutes, with the babysitter alone in the house getting increasingly frightening phone calls from an anonymous psychopath, is pure cinematic perfection. The rest of the film is good too, but it’s those first twenty minutes that really grab you by the throat and scare you witless. I was surprised to find out that such a great film had been re-made. But hey, unnecessary remakes of brilliant films are seemingly where it’s at these days. This time round, Camilla Belle- what a pretty name!- plays Jill Johnson, the high school student who has to babysit for the super-rich doctor and his wife as punishment for running up a massive bill on her cellphone gabbing to her boyfriend. Jill isn’t too keen on the prospect as all her friends are at the school bonfire party and she would much rather be with them. She’s also fed-up because her so-called boyfriend has recently been caught snogging her bezzie mate, the slutty blonde alcoholic Tiffany. Ouch. Dontcha just hate it when that happens…! Her dad drives her to the doctor’s fantastic big house, with a lake and tons of polished decking and a little forest and a posh guesthouse and everything. He drops her off without even checking that it’s the right house. He could have been dropping her off at the Manson compound or Ted Bundy’s gaff for all the attention he pays, the self-involved git. It’s not like he was even keen to get to that chamber music concert his wife’s making him go to, haha. The filthy-rich doctor and his glamorous missus toddle off to their swanky soirée and Jill is left all alone in the huge, remote house in the middle of nowhere. Then the phone starts ringing and the anonymous caller starts asking: ‘Have you checked the children…?’ They’ve done a few things differently this time round. They’ve added a live-in maid, a son who may conceivably return from school at any time to the guesthouse where he lodges, and a completely implausible visit from a schoolfriend, incidentally the one who got off with Jill’s boyfriend. I mean, this chum (the slutty blonde alcoholic Tiffany) is apparently able to find this out-of-the-way house in the arse-end of nowhere in the dark without any difficulty and get herself inside the doctor’s posh fortress of a house without setting off the alarm. A bit far-fetched, if you ask me. They’ve also gotten the children up and about and running around the place like mad things, something which didn’t happen in the original film. Mind you, in this re-make the killer isn’t remotely interested in the children, thanks be to God. They’ve changed him into your average sex-killer this time round. Young women are his focus and he’s concentrating his energies on tormenting, terrifying and tracking down the vulnerable Jill with a view to doing (presumably) you-know-what to her when he gets her in his clutches. God love her, though. She’s a nice enough girl but she’s sooooo dumb. She says every stupid wrong thing imaginable to the anonymous phone-caller. ‘Who are you? How do you know my name? Why are you doing this to me? Are you trying to scare me? Can you see me? How do you know I’m here? Why won’t you leave me alone?’ And of course, the classic ‘victim’ line: ‘Why are you doing this to me…?’ And so on and so forth. That’s right, love. Keep saying the stuff he wants to hear. Keep reacting to him and feeding his ego and letting him know how scared you are. That way, he’s bound to stop. He’ll probably be all contrite and all like: ‘Oh, I’m sorry, I totally didn’t know I was scaring you! I am sooooo sorry, I’ll just toddle off right away to the nearest cop-shop and turn myself in. Goodnight now and, once again, a thousand apologies for the misunderstanding…!’ That reminds me of that funny post that’s doing the rounds on Facebook at the moment. You hear an intruder in the darkened house at night (or whenever) and you call out: ‘Who’s there? Who is it?’ The joke is, of course, that the killer or intruder is hardly like to call back: ‘Oh hi, it’s only me, I’m just in the kitchen making a sandwich! Would you like me to fix you one…?’ The film-makers basically expanded the first twenty minutes of the original film and made an entire movie out of it, which I suppose is good because after all those were the best twenty minutes of the whole thing. There’s plenty of scope for a good horror flick in a scenario like that. You could come up with probably a million variations on ‘The calls are coming from inside the house’ and some of them could actually be quite effective. Remember the horror movie BLACK CHRISTMAS? Such a good film. They’ve left out the killer’s back story, though, and the bit where Jill’s a grown woman with kids of her own and a husband. They’ve also left out the sub-plot which sees the detective searching for the killer on the orders of the bereaved Dr. Mandrakis. They’ve literally just concentrated on the babysitter’s night of horror alone in the house with the killer and the sleeping children. Fair enough, I suppose. The ending is good and the atmosphere throughout is actually pretty spooky, thanks to the amazing house with all its creepy little nooks and crannies, so this is by no means a bad re-make. It’s really more a question, I feel, of whether the re-make was strictly necessary in the first place. Some might say it wasn’t. Others probably feel that anything that’s out there is fair game for a re-make. And me…? I love ’em both, but the original edges it for me every time because of the era in which it was made. That was a great era for horror. You can make up your own minds, though. There’s a lot to be said for both films. Let me know what you think. Don’t phone me, though. For the love of God don’t phone me. I’ve been scared off phones for life thanks to these two films. Send me an e-mail instead. Or write me a letter. No harm ever came from reading a letter, did it? Did it…?
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Vampirology. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:
The sequel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS LATER,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books: