When a Stranger Calls

Watch When a Stranger Calls

"...Fear is the Message!"
  • R
  • 1979
  • 1 hr 37 min
  • 6.4  (13,953)
  • 58

When a Stranger Calls is a 1979 psychological horror film directed by Fred Walton, which tells the story of a babysitter named Jill Johnson, played by Carol Kane, who receives a series of terrifying phone calls from an unknown man who keeps asking her if she has checked on the children she is supposed to be taking care of. The movie is considered a cult classic of the horror genre, and its opening scene is often cited as one of the most suspenseful moments in cinema history.

The movie starts with the scene of a teenage girl named Jill Johnson at a house in a remote area, talking on the phone. She is a high school student and has agreed to babysit for Dr. Mandrakis' (Carmen Argenziano) children while he and his wife go out for the night. As the night progresses, a series of calls come in, with a man on the other line who keeps asking Jill if she has checked on the children yet. Jill becomes increasingly frustrated and scared, eventually calling the police for help. They trace the calls and tell Jill that they are coming from inside the house.

The film then fast-forwards seven years, at which point the audience is reintroduced to Jill, who is now a college student. The film moves into what is essentially a second story, and deals with Jill's continued coping with the traumatic experience she had as a teenager. She is still haunted by the memory of the night and has trouble relating to people, becoming obsessive about keeping her apartment locked and installed a security system.

Charles Durning plays John Clifford, the lead detective on the original case, who has since retired from the force. Clifford comes back into Jill's life when he receives word that the man who terrorized Jill back then has recently escaped from a mental institution. Rutanya Alda plays Tracy, the friend who introduced Jill to the Mandrakis family and who acted as her confidant and comforter during the original crisis, who also begins receiving threatening phone calls.

The film is short, but deeply suspenseful, with great pacing and a strong central performance by Carol Kane. Her portrayal of Jill Johnson is harrowing, capturing the realistic fear and anxiety of the situation, and elevating the material beyond the standard "babysitter-in-peril" fare. The script is tight and well-constructed, with a number of sequences that still pack a punch, even after all these years.

When a Stranger Calls relies heavily on the power of suspense, which it builds to a feverish crescendo before revealing its big twist, which will keep audiences on the edge of their seats till the very end. It is a movie that understands how to manipulate its audience cleverly, with jump scares and spine-chilling music, but never at the expense of its script or characters. In fact, even though the stranger only ever gets a handful of lines, the film's villain, played by Tony Beckley in his final role, is one of the most memorable villains in horror movie history, and his presence looms like a shadow over the rest of the movie.

In conclusion, When a Stranger Calls is a classic psychological thriller that holds up even today, nearly four decades after its original release. It is a masterclass in suspense, tension, and pacing, with a terrific lead performance, a great script, and a chilling score that will keep viewers on edge from start to finish. The movie is rightly regarded as a classic of its genre, and its influence can still be felt in the horror movies of today.

When a Stranger Calls is a 1979 horror movie with a runtime of 1 hour and 37 minutes. It has received moderate reviews from critics and viewers, who have given it an IMDb score of 6.4 and a MetaScore of 58.

When a Stranger Calls
Where to Watch When a Stranger Calls
When a Stranger Calls is available to watch free on Vudu Free and Kanopy. It's also available to stream, download and buy on demand at Hulu, Paramount+, Amazon Prime, Apple TV Channels, FuboTV, Philo, The Roku Channel, Apple TV, Amazon and Vudu. Some platforms allow you to rent When a Stranger Calls for a limited time or purchase the movie and download it to your device.
  • Release Date
  • MPAA Rating
  • Runtime
    1 hr 37 min
  • Language
  • IMDB Rating
    6.4  (13,953)
  • Metascore