Monday, July 24, 2017

When A Stranger Calls (1979) [R]

Director: Fred Walton
Writer: Steve Feke & Fred Walton
Tony Beckley as Curt Duncan
Charles Durning as John Clifford
Carol Kane as Jill Johnson
Colleen Dewhurst as Tracy Fuller

Synopsis: The legendary scary story about the babysitter who gets a call to "check on the children", comes to the screen in this creative adaptation.

Acting:  17/20

Writing:  31/40
Directing/Editing/Production/Etc:  27/40

Overall:  75/100 C

Review: Carol Kane did not really prove why she deserved to be in Hollywood with this performance. There were a couple scenes where she really hit her mark and did a good job, but all of her other scenes were the opposite: very mediocre and unconvincing.  The rest of the cast did a great job though.

Spoiler Alert! 

I'm not quite sure why Carol Kane is billed as the star of the film as she's hardly in it and isn't very good in it. I suppose at the time this film came out, it was a twist that the film would follow the "private detective" and the murderer more than the babysitter and the murderer etc. That being said, she did do a better job playing the mother at the end than she did the babysitter in the beginning - particularly the scene in the restaurant on the phone.

The real star of this film, was Tony Beckley as the psychotic murderer. He genuinely captured an insane man and portrayed him in a way that was much more realistic than the more common Hollywood route of showing people who are insane. The way they showed his descent back into madness after experience "shock-therapy" a total of 38x over 6 years was actually very realistic and compelling. From the writing to the acting to the way it was shot, all of the scenes involving this character were very well-done, particularly where he was being reborn into the "monster" that he had been.

Charles Durning as the officer-turned-private detective/hit-man, also did a great job playing his character. It wasn't outstanding but it was very convincing, the second-best performance in the line-up.

Colleen Dewhurst as the potential victim and/or romantic-interest of Curt Duncan did a decent job as well. Nothing great but still better than Carol Kane's performance in some scenes.

Sort of like the acting, the writing had some extreme highs and extreme lows. The originality and creativity if the writing of this film needs to be commended. I went into this film expecting the entire thing to be about the original Babysitter-Caller legend yet it was only about the first 20 minutes of the film. Taking this route actually made the film even more exciting, as well as bringing it back full-circle to Carol Kane's character as the mother out for a date instead of being the babysitter.

The fact that the film went so much into the character of the psychotic killer and followed his descent into madness - along with the ex-cop trying to hunt him along the way - was very riveting.

Unfortunately, there were a few plot holes that really took away from the quality and consistency of this film. The idea that Curt Duncan was able to find the babysitter at the end of the film - as well as wanting to, almost out of nowhere instead of having that desire the entire time - was not very credible. Jill Johnson was supposed to be married with kids now, so she presumably changed her name so how could Duncan have known what that name would be to be able to find her? The edit to this didn't explain anything about how he found her which is a shame because it could've easily been done. For example: Durning was already going after Duncan and knew he was loose. It would be reasonable for Duncan to start stalking Durning, since he knows he is trying to kill him and Duncan's already a stalker. If Durning got into contact with Jill Johnson to see if she had been contacted at all by Duncan, it could've been the perfect way for Duncan to have found Jill, through following Durning.

Furthermore, the fact that Duncan didn't try to stalk and kill Durning after he knew that Durning was after him, was illogical as well. It's odd that he just ran away from Durning and randomly decided to go back after Jill Johnson. In addition, the fact that Duncan went after Jill and her husband before her kids was also inconsistent with his character. I think a more accurate and even more frightening ending would've been if Jill Johnson had come back completely full-circle to find her kids slaughtered by Duncan with the babysitter running out - just as she had before.

End of Spoiler Alert!

The film did a great job of keeping the suspense building and creating a very suspenseful atmosphere with the right pace, etc. However, there were some scenes that were very characteristic of B-movies. A fight scene where fists obviously weren't making contact and blood randomly appears out of nowhere with inconsistent injuries, along with a shooting scene that doesn't match up when taking in the angles and positions into account, were some classic production mistakes. The music had some great moments of adding to the film but there were also some moments that it wasn't so great and took away from the scenes just a bit. 

Overall this film was very suspenseful and original - despite being based on a common urban legend. It's not one of the best films ever done but it's definitely still worth a watch, especially if you're a horror or movie fan in general.

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