Day 18 - When A Stranger Calls Back (1993)
PLOT - A young babysitter, all alone in the house with two children asleep above, is bothered by a stranger. Unfortunately, the phone's dead...
LOWDOWN - The original When A Stranger Calls was based off the ever so popular urban legend about the babysitter in the 1960's who's alone in a big giant house and begins getting phone calls of a man only saying "Have you check the children?" It isn't long before she calls the police and they find out that the calls are being made on a separate line upstairs and that the caller has killed the children and on his way down the stairs to get the babysitter. = Creepy stuff.
Babysitters have been a source of pure horror for years. Let them be from urban legends, ghost stories, or horror movies and novels. Over and over again the same tale has been told about a young girl alone, and an unseen stalker/killer going after her. In fact Halloween was simply made because of Debra Hill's own stories of when she used to babysit and how scared she would become when she was alone. The original working title for Halloween was The Babysitter Murders. Still scary, but doesn't seem to have the same ring Halloween has.
The original idea long before Halloween came from Bob Clark's Black Christmas where yet again a bunch of young women are being stalked and picked off one by one in a big empty house, while the killer uses a spare phone to calls them. In my eyes this movie is one of the most terrifyingly made films ever. It's often over shadowed tho by When A Stranger Calls which was made several years later in the late 70's. The movie opens with a young baby sitter played by Carol Kane who's babysitting two children who are fast asleep upstairs. Relaxing in the living room, she begins receiving strange phone calls of a man asking the million dollar question "Have you checked the children?". This continues several or so times before she gets so worked up she calls the police who decide to tap the phone (can you do this over the phone, maybe? I don't question it.) Of course it isn't long before the police receive a trace and it seems the calls are coming from inside the house. The killer has all ready brutally murdered the children upstairs and has been calling the young babysitter who sits just downstairs. In a true moment of pure suspense and terror, the poor baby sitter starts slowly walking to the front door when she sees the bedroom door upstairs on the landing slowly open as the unseen killer makes his way up the stairs. Frantic, and scared to death she fumbles with the locks before stumbling out right in front of a police officer and she screams at the top of her lungs.
Sadly this is really the only good part of the entire movie. The killer is revealed to be a very unstable man from England who broke into the house, killed the children with his own bare hands, and hooked up and old phone to stalk and tease the babysitter. The rest of the movie becomes really dull and boring when you find out years later the killer has escaped and on the run. The police officer the babysitter ran into is on the case and tries to track him down before it's too late. Here we watch this sad and unstable man wander around, unable to cope with his urge to kill again.
The movie becomes full circle ending back with the babysitter all these years later happily married with two little ones. The ending scene of course was very well done, but whenever people ask me if I'm a big fan of the original When A Stranger Calls I shrug and simply say I prefer the sequel much more.
Today instead of talking about the film as a whole, I decided to talk about the opening. Which just like the original is the strongest part of the entire film.
When A Stranger Calls Back was made as a made for TV movie in 1993. This time the films opens almost the same exact way. It's late autumn in a nice dark peaceful neighborhood. A babysitter, this time played by the lovely Jill Schoelen is hired to watch after two children who are fast asleep upstairs. It's not long before there's a knock at the front door and a man's voice comes from the other side asking to use the phone since his car broke down. Nervous, and not about to answer the door to a complete and unseen stranger, the babysitter tells him to go to another house which he explains she's the only person who's home. Deciding to be nice, she tells him she'll take the auto club's number and his info and make the calls herself. Going to the phone in the next door, she discovers the line is dead. Not wanting to alert this guy outside her phone is dead, she pretends to call and goes back saying the auto club said they would be by within the hour. The man leaves and it isn't long before some time passes and the man returns angry saying the auto club never came. Here he begins to accuse her of never calling. Telling him she did, he then asks for her to call his wife so she won't worry. Pretending to call again, she returns saying there wasn't any answer. The man leaves and nervous, the babysitter walks around the house to make sure all the doors are locked.
Here she discovers the kitchen door in the back has been unlocked the entire time. Going around the house checking on everything she's scared by the tea kettle whistling, which she never put on the stove. Returning back, she's scared by the man's voice coming from the other side of the door. He asks if she's babysitting since while he was outside he thought he saw somebody walking around upstairs and tells her she needs to get out of that house now. Terrified, she runs upstairs to find the children's bed empty. Hysterical, she returns downstairs opening the front door to find a rain coat thrown on the ground. Hearing her name, she slams and locks the door, saying she never told him her name. Starting to cry she asks what he's done with the children where she hears her name called again. Turning she sees a dark figure start walking towards her in the living room. Much like the original movie, the babysitter screams, fumbling for the door's locks and stumbles out knocking right into the husband who she's been babysitting for. The couple has returned, confused on what's going on.
Trust me, even this doesn't even do it to justice. The opening of When A Stranger Calls Back is truly a heart stopping build of suspense which was done perfectly. You can't help but feel like you're in this poor girl's shoes.
Unlike the original, When A Stranger Calls Back is actually a really good movie as a whole. The film continues years later following the babysitter now in college trying to re-group her life since the children she was watching became missing and nobody was ever found inside the house. Living in an apartment of her own, she's convinced the man responsible is back since little things begin getting moved in her place in the middle of the night. With some stars returning from the original, the pieces of the puzzle start to come together and with one hell of a shocking twist of how the killer can be in two places at once, When A Stranger Calls Back proves three main things. First, sequels can sometimes be even better than the original. Second, made for TV movies back in the day were awesome and down right scary when they wanted to be. And third, that the 90's had some real hidden gems that are often over looked.