When a Stranger Calls (1979)

when a stranger calls poster 1979 movie
6.5 Overall Score
Story: 6/10
Acting: 7/10
Visuals: 7/10

Great opening scene, good ending

Boring average detective story middle portion

Movie Info

Movie Name:  When a Stranger Calls

Studio:  Columbia Pictures

Genre(s):  Mystery/Suspense/Horror

Release Date(s):  October 26, 1979

MPAA Rating:  R


Oh yeah…your dirty “check the children stuff” is really hot…Hello? Hello?

“Have you checked the children?”  A caller on the phone terrifies a babysitter Jill Johnson (Carol Kane) in a dark house only for the babysitter to learn that he is in the house and the children are dead.  Seven years after the events, the killer Curt Duncan (Tony Beckley) has escaped the asylum, and the detective that initially brought him in John Clifford (Charles Durning) is trying to track him.  Does Duncan have more plans for Jill?

Directed by Fred Walton, When a Stranger Calls adapts the popular urban babysitter legend into a suspense thriller. The movie was released to mixed reviews but the opening sequence is often credited as one of the screen’s biggest screams.


Man…I have the urge to hunt down a babysitter…

Not many movies based on an urban myth do translate the story in an effective manner.  The idea of a man hiding right next to you is very scary.  It is the classic “don’t check the children and abandon them” type of fight or flight.  Granted in 1971 (when the story initially starts out), I guess that tracing a call in even a minute wouldn’t have been possible, but the babysitter would be hard pressed to keep someone on the line for ten to twenty minutes that she would need.  Still when she learns he is in the house is one of the terrifying moments in film.

The problems with When a Stranger Calls happen immediately after this scene.  It turns into an extremely average police drama for a majority of the movie as Clifford hunts Duncan.  The movie doesn’t seem to have much direction and it takes a long time for it to regain that direction.


Intro…the Screeching Halt…I kill stories.

When a Stranger Calls is one of those movies that is a better short film than a full length picture.  Initially it was shot as a short film (the opening 20 minutes) and intended to be called “The Sitter”, but it was expanded after the success of Halloween.  The movie just drags after the first scene, but does pick up again in the last act in which Duncan hunts down Kane’s character again (who has children of her own).  It is too bad that there is about fifty minutes of a bad detective show in between.  The movie was followed by a semi-related sequel When a Stranger Calls Back (which does not quite line up with events in this film) and a remake in 2006.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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