Airplane Movie Reviews: When a Stranger Calls (1979)

I’ve been traveling pretty frequently for work lately, so I’ve had some long airplane flights. Most of the airlines now offer some form of free movies on demand during flights, and most of them have a small selection of both new and old horror films. So, I figured when I fly from now on, I’ll try to find a horror flick to pass the time, and I’ll review it for the site.

First up is an absolute classic from 1979–When a Stranger Calls. Starting Carol Kane, Charles Durning and Tony Beckley, this movie is one of the most influential horror films of all time, and yet a lot of younger horror fans have no idea it exists, or worse, they think the garbage 2006 remake is the actual original.

When a Stranger Calls features one most finely executed opening scenes of all time. Carol Kane plays Jill Johnson, a young woman who is babysitting for a couple of kids, when she starts getting calls from a random stranger, asking her if she’s “checked the children.” What follows is several minutes of increasing dread as the calls continue, followed by a horrifying crescendo of a reveal. Many of you may know what I’m talking about, but I won’t spoil any of it, and that’s also why I’m not posting the trailer here.

The good and bad of When a Stranger Calls is that the opening 15 minutes are the film’s strongest. It drags quite a bit in the middle, but really comes around again at the end. One of the reasons for this is that the movie was originally a short film called The Sitter that was mainly just the opening scene, and after the success of Halloween, writer and director Fred Walton turned it into a full-length film.

The performances in the movie are fantastic, led by Carol Kane’s Jill Johnson. Charles Durning as an increasingly obsessed former cop is also great, and Tony Beckley–who was actually terminally ill at the time of filming–turns in a great final performance as the completely disturbed killer.

For the opening alone, When a Stranger Calls is a must-watch. It’s a scene that has influenced dozens of other movies, including the entire opening (and premise) of Scream.

When a Stranger calls was absolutely an influence on Harrowed, the slasher story Jolene Haley and I wrote together. There are plenty of places besides an airplane where you can track this one down, and you totally should.

4 out of 5 Bags of Pretzels

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