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Overall Rating
1.88

Awesome: 3.53%
Worth A Look: 4.71%
Average: 17.65%
Pretty Bad: 24.71%
Total Crap49.41%

9 reviews, 31 user ratings


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When a Stranger Calls (2006)
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by Todd LaPlace

"The film you have reached is not in service."
1 stars

Last year, we dealt with “The Fog,” “The Amityville Horror” and “House of Wax.” Naturally, all three were awful. I believe I even referred to “House of Wax” as the worst movie ever. This year, we’re going to get “The Hills Have Eyes,” a new “Omen” movie and the first of the year, “When a Stranger Calls.” Anyone want to guess how well these are going to go over? I’ll give you a hint. They’re all going to suck.

Despite my lack of filmmaking experience, can I make a suggestion? If you’re a relatively new director cutting your teeth on a crappy horror movie, for the love of God, skip the inquisitive cat, especially if it’s black. It’s not creative. It’s not clever. We know all the early scares are going to be that cat moving about. At this point, we know its coming. It’s cliché and lame and we will never stop mocking you for including it.

It might be asking too much, though, for Simon West’s “When a Stranger Calls” to be original; after all, the movie is just a partial remake of the 1979 cult film of the same name. The first twenty minutes of the original features Jill Johnson (Carol Kane), a babysitter stalked by a crazed telephone-wielding maniac. But what was once creepy is now pretty lame, especially after the whole premise has already been condensed for the memorable Drew Barrymore sequence that opens “Scream.” The rest of the original — a future story that reunites Jill with the caller, now an mental hospital escapee — is jettisoned for the remake, which honestly may have helped the remake by making a more cohesive picture.

But cohesiveness can’t compensate for a fundamentally flawed premise. Fred Walton, director of the 1979 version, certainly realized there is only so long you can strand your protagonist in an empty house without the movie feeling redundant and slow. Even coming in at less than 90 minutes, the new “When a Stranger Calls” repeats its two or three scenes ad nauseam, until we pray for the stranger to show up, slit her throat and just get it over with.

Recapping the premise is pretty quick and painless, which definitely isn’t a good thing. Jill Johnson (this time played by “The Ballad of Jack and Rose’s” Camilla Belle) has racked up a huge cell phone bill after she caught her generic blonde boyfriend making out with her generic blonde best friend (amusing and poorly played by Katie Cassidy, daughter of David). Because of it, she’s lost her phone service, her driving privileges and is being forced to earn the money by babysitting for the Mandrakis family, wealthy WASPs that own a massive lake house in the middle of nowhere. Her charges are already asleep, so essentially she’s getting paid to snoop through the house and call said ex-boyfriend who’s up at a school-sponsored bonfire in the middle of the woods.

Then, just as the film is lulling you to sleep with its stupidity, it unleashes its massive twists, the two shocking lines that’ll change the entire course of the film. Of course, if you saw the original, another horror movie called “Black Christmas” or any of the film’s trailers, you already know what’s coming and you already know it’s not anything special. At this point, writing them out would be largely redundant, especially since the less shocking one serves as the film’s Web site.

Because we ultimately know we’re watching a horror movie, we know Jill will eventually have an in-person meeting with the caller. If I had to place a bet on his identity, I’d say he’s the architect of the house. The lights turn on automatically when there’s motion in the room. The house is made up of a maze of darkened hallways (where are the hall lights?) and huge two-story window panes. In the middle of the house is a huge koi pond and aviary, despite ample room for both on the compound. Also, inexplicably, the kids (a boy and a girl) share a single bedroom. Couldn’t the parents pony up the money to transform one of their many living rooms into a second bedroom? Everything about this house is designed to be as spooky — and cinematic — as possible; it’s not a practical living space.

I honestly feel bad about mocking the set design. Set designer Gregory Hooper and production designer Jon Gray Steele have actually done a wonderful job crafting a nice horror movie space. The real problem is West, who seems far more interested in the crafting good design than a good movie. His work on this movie is so inept, he doesn’t even know what to do with Belle, who is far better than the horror schlock they’ve stuck her with. It looks like she’s trying so hard to make the movie believable, but she’s stuck creeping around this big house, chasing red herrings. But even through this mess, she’s still managed rightly shine. In a few years, if she can land her own “Lost in Translation,” it’ll be clear that West wasted the next Scarlett Johansson.

Bottom line, West has taught us PG-13 warmed-up horror is nothing but limp. There’s nothing inventive here, like “Saw” or “Final Destination.” There’s nothing supernaturally creepy here, like “The Ring.” There’s not even anything campy here, like the ’80s horror full of boobs and blood. “When a Stranger Calls” is simply a cliché tagline, one genuine scare (pay attention to that odd aviary), one potential star and a lot of less than mediocre schlock. The only thing scary here is paying $10 for a ticket.

Why oh why did someone feel the need to remake an obscure ’70s horror movie? We don’t want it. We don’t need it. And unless you can catch a screening with a roomful of noisy, sarcastic neighbors, this going to be the least entertaining hour and a half you may have all year.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=13780&reviewer=401
originally posted: 02/09/06 16:27:18
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Horror Remakes: For more in the Horror Remakes series, click here.

User Comments

2/21/17 morris campbell some scares otherwise same old same old 3 stars
3/23/16 David H. Pointless, predictable, and overdone 1 stars
1/12/15 Jay Five stars for the exquisite Camilla Belle, an underappreciated and rare gem. 5 stars
9/24/08 PAUL SHORTT THERE'S LITTLE OF ORIGINALITY OR NOVEL INVENTION HERE, & CERTAINLY NOTHING OF ESSENTIALITY 1 stars
10/18/07 Beau It had a freaky vibe to it, i like Camilla belle! it was suspensful! good thriller 4 stars
3/11/07 Bee You can't call it a thriller just because you have creepy music and cat jokes/ 3 stars
2/16/07 Axel Leos Stupid careless babysitter that lets a stranger inside the house intentionally 1 stars
1/13/07 David Pollastrini I liked it better than the original 4 stars
11/10/06 American Slasher Goddess Another crappy, bland remake. 1 stars
10/30/06 Roger Wilks It could have been better, but overall it was a pretty good thriller. 4 stars
10/03/06 Kaylin I actually found this thrilling and freaky. 4 stars
9/30/06 Stanley Thai VERY suspenseful. I'm not being genrous. This thriller doesn't rely on violence and gore. 3 stars
7/28/06 Indrid Cold Maybe I'm off base, but I actually found it moderately thrilling. 3 stars
6/18/06 Danny Not EVEN suspensful. Stupid and boring. 1 stars
6/05/06 misty Great movie. 5 stars
5/29/06 Chad Anderson SUCKS ASS!!!!!! 1 stars
5/17/06 Paddy I felt like i'd had 87 minutes of my life stolen - AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE! 1 stars
4/06/06 Anthony Feor Another terrible remake 2 stars
4/01/06 Jasmine A Terrific Movie! 5 stars
3/30/06 CeCe Okay,But it coulda been a lot better 3 stars
3/09/06 Dk A weak thriller that was pathetic from start to finish 1 stars
2/23/06 janyce taylor it had a slow beginning and it really led up to nothing. 2 stars
2/15/06 Hi MOM! I havent even seen it and its total crap! 1 stars
2/13/06 Quigley when I was laughing my head off through the "intense" scenes, I knew this was good comdey 1 stars
2/13/06 yomomma not as bad as paint drying but not as good either 3 stars
2/09/06 Keith Traynor One word: total crap 1 stars
2/07/06 karla glisson wasnt bad,but could have been better 3 stars
2/07/06 Sean D THE WORST MOVIE THAT I'VE EVER SEEN!!! 1 stars
2/06/06 Anthony Feor Not good and not bad, but too predictible 3 stars
2/05/06 Evil Wolfie Too much build up not enough pay off 2 stars
2/04/06 Anthony Feor On of the most predictible movies of a lifetime, but not total crap 3 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  03-Feb-2006 (PG-13)
  DVD: 16-May-2006

UK
  12-May-2006

Australia
  16-Mar-2006


Directed by
  Simon West

Written by
  Jake Wade Wall

Cast
  Camilla Belle
  Brian Geraghty
  John Bobek
  Molly Bryant
  Madeline Carroll
  Katie Cassidy



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