When a Stranger Calls

1979

When a Stranger Calls

Critics Consensus

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38%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 16

49%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 32,188
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Movie Info

In this thriller, a baby-sitter is terrorized by an anonymous telephone caller who turns out to be a particularly persistent serial killer. When a stranger calls to ask, "Have you checked the children lately?" teenaged sitter Jill Johnson (Carol Kane) is understandably spooked. After a series of increasingly creepy calls culminates in a request for "your blood...all over me," Jill learns from the police operator that the man is calling from inside the house. One narrow escape and two dead children later, the police capture British maniac Curt Duncan (Tony Beckley). Several years later, the killer escapes from a mental institution and plagues Tracy (Colleen Dewhurst), a hard-drinking New Yorker. Foiled by John Clifford (Charles Durning), the same cop who investigated the original case, Duncan sets his sights back on his original victim, Jill Johnson, who, now married and out to dinner with her husband, has left her own young children at home -- with a baby-sitter. When a Stranger Calls helped inspire Drew Barrymore's famous opening scene in Wes Craven's Scream. Kane, Durning, and director Fred Walton would return for 1993's TV-movie sequel, When a Stranger Calls Back. Beckley died a year after the original film's release.

Cast

Carol Kane
as Jill Johnson
Charles Durning
as John Clifford
Tom Beckley
as Curt Duncan
Tony Beckley
as Curt Duncan
Rutanya Alda
as Mrs. Mandrakis
Carmen Argenziano
as Dr. Mandrakis
Bill Boyett
as Sgt. Sacker
Ron O'Neal
as Lt. Charlie Garber
Heetu
as Houseboy
Joe Reale
as Bartender
Ed Wright
as Retired Man
Louise Wright
as Retired Woman
Carol O'Neal
as Mrs. Garber
Dennis McMullen
as Maintenance Man
Wally Taylor
as Cheater
John Tobyansen
as Bar Customer
Sarah Dammann
as Bianca Lockart
Richard Bail
as Stevie Lockart
Steven Anderson
as Stephen Lockart
Lenora May
as Sharon
Randy Holland
as Maitre D'
Trent Dolan
as Policeman
Cheryl Wilson
as Mrs. Shifrin
Frank DiElsi
as Policeman
Arell Blanton
as Policeman
DeForest Covan
as Policeman
Charles Boswell
as Policeman
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News & Interviews for When a Stranger Calls

Critic Reviews for When a Stranger Calls

All Critics (16) | Top Critics (2) | Fresh (6) | Rotten (10)

Audience Reviews for When a Stranger Calls

  • May 14, 2018
    This is like two completely different movies in one, only the first and last 20 minutes are much tenser and vastly superior to the 60 minutes in between - which sadly shifts its focus to the killer and clearly wants to be more like Peeping Tom than Halloween or Black Christmas.
    Carlos M Super Reviewer
  • Jan 02, 2012
    When a Stranger Calls is a pulse pounding horror film. This is one of those films that use suspense to build effective horror to create the tension on-screen. Director Fred Walton crafts a tension filled horror film that combines suspense, terror with a few slasher film elements and crime film rolled into one film. The thing that impressed me about When a Stranger Calls is the fact that director Fred Walton keeps the gore on a down low, unlike so many other horror films in the slasher genre of the 1980's, this one relies more on the suspense factor to build up the terror and tone of the entire film. Like with every viewer, I have to say that the first twenty minutes of this film are the most terrifying and intense; ion other words, it starts the film off with a bang. I enjoyed this film and I think it's a very good concept for a horror flick. I think the fact that the film limits its gore factor much like Halloween did, adds a lot more credibility to the film. The acting is good here, and the actors deliver memorable performances. When a Stranger Calls is different, and it's a film that blend psychological horror with a few slasher elements, but isn't a straight forward bloodbath. When a Stranger Calls is a terrific horror flick that uses traditional horror elements to create the horror that we see on-screen. The result is a terrifying and memorable film
    Alex r Super Reviewer
  • Apr 25, 2011
    After being locked up for seven years in an insanse asylum for murdering two children, a psychotic Englishman escapes his confines and is loose on the streets of New York. The opening 15 minutes are a real nail-biter and the film ends in a similar fashion too with a couple of genuinely frightening moments. The suspense lets off during the middle parts and things move along at a slower pace, but the menace and threat is always there with the chilling performance by Tony Beckley, which would be his last film after passing away due to cancer just after completing the film. A real good thriller for those that don't mind low body counts and zero gore.
    Lee ? Super Reviewer
  • Jan 23, 2011
    This one wasn't really a slasher it was more of a... I don't really know what it is. It isn't a horror film and it isn't a slasher film it isn't anything that it says it is really. Anyway the story behind this is I went to go see a play called Scary Musical and the whole thing was just one inside joke and reference for horror fans so I had to watch a horror movie. This was one of the big ones that was referenced and the only one I hadn't seen so yeah, I watched this. On another note, This one will not be as creative as my review of T3. If I get another good idea for an original review I will utilize it. Sorry. Well, I must give the film props for keeping an urban legend alive far longer than it probably would have otherwise. And if the whole movie had been just like the first 23 minutes, this one would have gotten 98% on RT (there's always one...) and would be lauded as one of the greatest horror films of all time. As it is, the first 23 minutes is only 1/5th of the film so it goes downhill very fast from there. I'm not gonna do my regular structure for this because the movie is styled in a way that I can't. At the very least, I would be repeating myself. as I mentioned before, if the whole movie was just the first 23 minutes, it would be lauded as one of the greatest horror films of all time. It is an absolutely fantastic scene. One of the best opening scenes I have seen for a horror film. It is deservedly iconic. But...That's the last shred of quality that this film has. The film then drastically changes genres. it goes from an excellent horror film to a chase movie. Kinda like The French Connection or Soylent Green or something. It isn't horror. Then in the last 15 minutes it changes back to horror but by then, no one cares anymore. It isn't scary. Overall, this film is kinda like a reverse Sleepaway Camp: It has a great Beginning that everyone loves and then it dies...that's it (as opposed to Sleepaway Camp which starts dead then has an iconic ending everyone loves). So, my overall advice is this: watch the first 23 minutes and shut this off and pretend that there isn't anything else to the movie. If you do that it will become a favorite horror film of yours. If you don't like to leave things unfinished, well, you're in for a pretty crappy film. Final Score: 8/40 20% (S) TRIVIA TIME: 1. Star Tony Beckley was terminally ill throughout the production and passed away just after the principle photography was shot. Director Fred Walton dedicated the film's 1993 sequel 'When A Stranger Calls Back' to the memory of Beckley. 2. Fred Walton originally shot this film as a short entitled 'The Sitter', which was essentially the opening 20 minutes of 'When A Stranger Calls'. However after the huge success of Halloween Walton saw the potential of expanding the short into a full-length feature. The script was then expanded into a feature length film about the pursuit of the villain. 3. The character of the disturbed killer was based on a college acquaintance of director Fred Walton who somehow could just enter a room and automatically make others in the room uncomfortable.
    Lord N Super Reviewer

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