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When a Stranger Calls
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When a Stranger Calls (2006)

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Plot Summary:
"A young high school student babysits for a very rich family. She begins to receive strange phone calls threatening the children. When she finally realizes that it's not a joke, she calls the police, only to find that the call is coming from inside the house."


Review by
Ryan McDonald
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@horrorasylum
Review Date: 01 May 2008 My Rating: out of 5

 

Camilla Belle (in some scenes looking eerily like an uglier Anne Hathaway) is a babysitter at the absolutely stunning home of a wealthy doctor and his wife, who must contend with a bunch of bizarro prank calls while her charges are upstairs, presumably zonked out by elephant tranquillisers. The calls get creepier (have you checked the kids yet? An ominous voice asks), and Belle becomes more and more unnerved, especially when it seems the loon might be within very close proximity.

Admirable but futile 2006 Simon West (the genuinely entertaining action pic “Con Air”) attempt at a no-frills, straight-up suspense slasher, ala “Halloween”, “Black Christmas”…or that other movie called “When a Stranger Calls”. And that’s the main problem here, it’s a remake, and a remake of a film that ripped of “Black Christmas” in the first place. Needless to say, it never really gets out of first gear.

West does know how to shoot a slick and atmospheric picture, though, and the cinematography by Peter Menzies Jr. is really outstanding, as is the music score by James Michael Dooley. But with an unoriginal plot, barely there characters (it’s all well and good to give us a long prelude to the horror, but when your characters are dull as hell…), serviceable performances at best, and a total lack of sex, nudity or gore…the film has no hope. That last ingredient, the exploitation factor, is sorely needed in such a streamlined story. No-frills, stream-lined horror might be an interesting approach (it worked in 1978 with “Halloween”), but it doesn’t work here.

It is, however, by virtue of craftsmanship, better than the majority of second-tier slasher pics of the 70s and 80s. Screenplay by Jake Wade Wall, is essentially a reworking of the first twenty minutes of the 1979 original.

OVERALL SUMMARY
Serviceable, attractive, but unoriginal slasher film remakes a film that wasn’t original in the first place. Only if you’re starved of entertainment…



Reviewer: Phil Davies Brown @horrorasylum
Location:Scotland, UK
Review Date: 19 May 2006 My Rating: out of 5

Despite the fact that just about everyone who has seen it so far has hated it, you have to bear in mind that sentiment aside, the original film was pretty awful. Sure it managed to maintain its cult status over the years, thanks to the classic opening sequence and the equally chilling finale, yet the middle hour was pretty much boring despite the odd sequence or two. This leaves audiences expecting great things from a pretty much straight laced remake, which puts it in an awful position as it doesn't have the goods to live up to it's reputation.

When High School senior Jill Johnson catches her boyfriend Bobby making out with her bitchy best friend Tiffany, the two get into an argument on the phone and Jill goes way over her minutes causing her parents to take her phone and her car away, as well as making her take a paying babysitting gig to begin paying off her debt. Jill's dad drops her off at the remote mansion house (which is stunning) and she settles in for a quiet evening unaware that a family has just been slaughtered some 125 miles away. As she gets acquainted with the house, Jill begins receiving strange phone calls and the familiar tale is told in suitably creepy fashion.

Jake Wade Wall's script shows great promise and the elements he has added to the formulaic story are its greatest assets. He is hampered however by the need to fulfill some pretty big obligations and this holds any originality back. Camilla Belle is an appealing lead and it's very much her show here as there's not much else for the ensemble cast to do. She's cute as a button and totally believable, so anyone criticizing her acting talents is most likely jealous that someone can be so talented and beautiful at the same time.

The house truly is a character in its own right, as it acts as the backdrop for the majority of the action thanks to its clever technological gadgetry such as remote controlled fire, motion activated lighting and its very own indoor pond/aviary.

I wasn't sure what to expect when the film first started as it has an unnecessary tacked on prologue and epilogue for that matter, but once Jill arrives at the house until the climax (not the tacked on climax) it's well made, technically beautiful filmmaking at its creepy best. The creepy location, set design and architecture as well as the sound design for that matter make it an enjoyable movie from start to finish and for that, in my opinion at least; it made it better than the original.

OVERALL SUMMARY
In my eyes, the original film is a 30 minute movie because I skip the middle hour, whereas this is enjoyable from start to finish. Yes it's made for 15 year old girls and there's a whiff of self censorship present in some scenes, but its great fun nonetheless.




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