“A psychopathic killer terrorizes a babysitter, then returns seven years later to menace her again.”

Director: Fred Walton
Writers: Steve Feke, Fred Walton
Staring: Carol Kane, Charles Durning, Rutanya Alda, William Boyett, Tony Beckley
Streaming: Amazon Prime
Release Date: October 26, 1979

You do not need to show violence on screen in order to create terror. When A Stranger Calls has an air of uneasiness imprinted throughout and forcefully puts the audience in the blender in the first 15 minutes. Credit to director Fred Walton and writers Steve Feke and Walton for creating something that is simple and effective.

Jill Johnson (Carol Kane) is a young babysitter on an innocent job. All is normal until she starts receiving threatening phone calls asking “Have you checked the children?” It turns out that an insane killer is in the house with her and the children she was protecting were dead before she even stepped in the door.

Flash forward to the future and we get a glimpse of the killer, Curt Duncan (Tony Beckley). Duncan was sent to the insane asylum after murdering the aforementioned kids with his bare hands, and now he is free in the world again after escaping his white clothes cocoon. His eeriness is focused on Tracy (Colleen Dewhurst). His mind is set solely on her and it quickly succumbs to obsessions level.

Private detective John Clifford is on the beat to catch Duncan and only by a whisker hair is he able to save Tracy from an untimely death. After a close call, Duncan decides it is time to return to the past. He wants to be reunited with the women he tortured better than anyone, Jill Johnson.

Johnson is married and going out to dinner with her husband. They have hired a babysitter to watch over their two kids. Naturally let the drama commence. When A Stranger Calls ends with Duncan and Johnson face-to-face once again.

Tony Beckley makes When A Stranger Calls. Playing the most important part, it is remarkable how controlled and unhinged he is. He has a deadpan stare is disconcerting to absolutely everyone. His self assuredness is only comprehensible if you have the blessing of a true lack of self awareness. His character is similar to that of Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) from Taxi Driver (1976). When A Stranger Calls came out three years after Taxi Driver, so it makes sense there is some comparison.

If one is to pick nits against When A Stranger Calls, one can say that there is a lot of coincidences in the story. Duncan is able to get from place-to-place and have money despite not having a job and being homeless. Also, how is Duncan able to find out where Johnson is? The script doesn’t identify that they are still close to each other residentially. The screenplay asks for a lot of people to assume things are happening off screen.

The one thing that When A Stranger Calls does have in its benefit is that the origin for the torture, AKA the killings, takes place off screen. It is kind of like a safety net; they are putting the most horrific scenes off screen which are truly believable, so the audience can infer the small things and have them to be believable.

When A Stranger Calls surpassed my expectations and really does stand out in terms of 70s horror movies I have seen.

Fun fact, Walton also directed the remake to When A Stranger Calls in 2006. With 100% certainty, the original movie is much, much better.

STANKO RATING: B+ (4.0/5)


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