When a Stranger Calls is a 1979 American psychological horror film It was directed by Fred Walton and stars Carol Kane and Charles Durning The film derives its story from the classic folk legend of The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs and the 1974 horror classic Black Christmas The film was commercially successful grossing $21 411 158 at the box office though it received a mixed critical reception It was followed by the 1993 television film sequel When a Stranger Calls Back and a remake in 2006.
Jill Johnson (Carol Kane) is babysitting the children of Dr. Mandrakis (Carmen Argenziano) at their home. When the children are asleep, Jill receives a telephone call from a man who asks her if she has checked the children. At first, Jill dismisses the telephone calls as a practical joke. However, as the calls become more frequent and threatening, Jill becomes frightened and decides to call the police, who promise to trace the caller if Jill keeps him on the telephone line long enough. Jill, frightened to extreme measures, arms herself as she receives one final call from the nefarious stalker. Soon after the conversation, Jill receives a call from the police, only to find out that the stalker is calling from inside the house. A light comes on at the top of the staircase, and Jill sees the stalker's shadow. In a panic, she immediately runs to the door, unhooks the chain lock and screams. The scene segues to a close-up of detective John Clifford (Charles Durning), who enters the very same doorstep to investigate shortly afterwards. Patrol officer Charlie Garber (Ron O'Neal) explains that Jill is unharmed, but the children had been murdered by the perpetrator several hours earlier, before Jill's ordeal even started. The killer is identified as an English merchant seaman named Curt Duncan (Tony Beckley), and is subsequently sent to an asylum.
Seven years later, Duncan escapes from the asylum. Dr. Mandrakis hires Clifford, now a private investigator, to find Duncan. Not knowing Clifford is after him, Duncan is now a homeless, vagrant loner. He is beaten after disturbing a woman, Tracy (Colleen Dewhurst), in a tavern, and later follows her to her apartment. Feeling sorry for his appearance and her involuntary role in the beating, Tracy makes light conversation with him and does not explicitly rebuff his awkward proposal to visit her for coffee the next night, hoping this will be the last of him she will see.
Meanwhile, an increasingly obsessed Clifford confides to his friend (now Lieutenant) Garber his intention to kill Duncan rather than arrest him. Garber, who was also present in the Mandrakis crime scene, agrees to collaborate. Clifford follows the trail to the tavern where Duncan was beaten, and from there to Tracy's residence—the same night Duncan is likely to arrive for his visit. Clifford tells Tracy just how dangerous her situation has become, revealing that Duncan had literally torn and hacked up Mandrakis' children with his bare hands, rendering their bodies unrecognizable. Tracy reluctantly accepts to be Clifford's bait at the tavern that evening. Duncan, hiding in her closet, does not appear until after Clifford leaves her place. Tracy screams for help when Duncan attacks her, and Clifford returns and chases him away from the scene, losing his trail in the streets of downtown Los Angeles.
Jill Lockhart (née Johnson) is now married with two young children. One night, she and her husband Stephen (Steven Anderson) go out to dinner in celebration of a promotion, while their children are babysat by Sharon (Lenora May). At the restaurant, Jill gets a telephone call and hears Duncan's voice again: "Have you checked the children?". She panics and calls Sharon; nothing seems to be wrong at first, but then the call is suddenly disconnected. The police escort Jill back home and find that everything is fine, and the Lockharts go to bed. Clifford is tipped off by Garber and tries to call Jill, but finds that the line is disconnected. When Jill goes for a glass of milk, the lights suddenly go out and she goes back her bedroom. The closet door opens a little, the phone line is dead and she hears Duncan's voice, at which point she tries to awaken Stephen—only to realize that the man lying next to her is actually Duncan. He chases her around the room and tries to strangle her, but Clifford arrives and shoots him dead. Stephen is revealed to be in the closet, unconscious but alive. As Clifford comforts Jill, the last view is of the house, superimposed to the frightening eyes of Curt Duncan.
- Charles Durning - John Clifford
- Carol Kane - Jill Johnson
- Colleen Dewhurst - Tracy Fuller
- Tony Beckley - Curt Duncan
- Carmen Argenziano - Dr. Mandrakis
- Rutanya Alda - Mrs. Mandrakis
- William Boyett - Sgt. Sacker
- Kirsten Larkin - Nancy
- Ron O'Neal - Lt. Charlie Garber
- Michael Champion - Bill
- Rachel Roberts - Dr. Monk
When a Stranger Calls is an expanded remake of Fred Walton's $12,000 short film for Columbia Pictures, The Sitter, which comprised the first 20 minutes of this film. Walton was inspired to turn the short into a feature-film after the considerable success of John Carpenter's Halloween (1978).
- When a Stranger Calls (1979) at the Internet Movie Database
- When a Stranger Calls (1979) at AllMovie
- When a Stranger Calls (1979) at Rotten Tomatoes
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