There's nothing more unnerving than receiving a unknown phone call in the middle of the night. Except, of course, receiving a phone call that consists of silence for a moment before you start to detect sounds of heavy breathing or fiendish laughter on the other end before the caller hangs up; the caller may even be an obsessive stalker that will keep calling you, even after you tell them to stop it. Sometimes there may just be a phone ringing and no one answers on the other line or someone just called and hung up without even talking. Sometimes the voice initially sounds so charming and trustworthy that you can't help but strike up a conversation with the person. When this happens, the caller then switches their kind tone for a more menacing tone and you suddenly find yourself wishing that you had not answered the phone at all. Particularly when you find out that the calls are coming from inside the house. Related to Evil Phone, when the case is more supernatural. Preferred tactic of the Evil Debt Collector, and it used to be common among marketers/salespeople, before they found spam.
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Anime & Manga
- In Perfect Blue after Mima quits her job as a pop idol to begin a career as an actress she starts receiving threatening messages and phone calls from her stalker, Me-mania.
- In episode 11 of the anime Ghost Stories Satsuki keeps getting these from a Creepy Doll named Mary.
- One episode of Paranoia Agent has a woman with multiple personalities get numerous harassing phone messages... left by her other personality.
- Death Note: Near keeps calling and harassing Light at odd hours of the day and night and hanging up.
- In Koharu No Hibi Koharu, Akira's stalker and Yandere, quite frequently calls and texts him.
- On Oruchuban Ebichu Ebichu gets a perverted phone call while her owner is out. Being a naive little hamster, Ebichu innocently answers all of his questions ("What are you wearing?" "Just an apron!"). He finally asks her to say "pussy", and when she does it almost seems to cause him to lose his mind.
- The killer in Scream (1996) does this several times, most notably in the opening "Casey's Nightmare" sequence.
- This is parodied, of course, in the Scary Movie movies. For instance, Ghostface calls one of his victims (played by Carmen Electra) while reading a porn mag where she's the centerfold. When he says he wants to know what her insides look like, she tells him to turn the page.
- Nancy tries to call Glen in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) to warn him not to go to sleep. Then the phone rings. She picks it up. It's the sound of Fred's claws being sharpened. She (understandably) freaks out, tears the phone out of the plug, and throws it across the room. Then, despite being unplugged, it starts ringing again. This time, it's Freddy again, telling her that "I'm your boyfriend now, Nancy", and then his tongue sticks out the phone.
- Played for comedy in Serial Mom. "Pussy Willows!".
- Alex calls Dan repeatedly in Fatal Attraction, but when he keeps ignoring her, she gets more and more unhinged.
- Spider-Man: Peter is worried about Mary-Jane and calls her home to make sure she's okay but instead of Mary-Jane he gets the Green Goblin on the other line who giggles and says in a creepy sing-song voice, "Can Spider-Man come out to play?"
- Lost Highway: At Andy's party Fred meets a strange looking Mystery Man in Black who tells Fred that he is at his house right now and is the one who sent the videotapes to him. He then tells Fred to phone his house, Fred does so, and the voice of the Mystery Man answers at the house while he's standing right in front of Fred.
- The Ring: Whenever someone watches the cursed video tape they receive a phone call with a child's voice on the other line warning, "Seven Days."
- Black Christmas (the original) featured disturbing phone calls throughout, as did the 2006 remake (though far fewer, and considerably less disturbing).
- The Peacemaker. George Clooney's character knows that the Renegade Russian he's after is in a truck stuck in a traffic jam near a war zone; he can see them via satellite but can't tell which truck it is. So he call his old enemy's mobile and makes him think a cruise missile is coming down on his head. The Russian naturally loses his cool and pulls the truck out of the traffic, giving away his position.
- In The Crush Darian does this to Nick.
- Ramsley calls Jim in The Haunted Mansion before hanging up without answering.
- Lolita (1962). While sick of a fever in a hotel room, Professor Humbert gets a phone call in the middle of the night from Claire Quilty posing as an "investigator" asking questions about Humbert's relationship with his step-daughter. It's clear Quilty is doing this just to Mind Screw Humbert, as he's already made off with Lolita.
- Memento. The protagonist gets several of these, despite one of his rules being 'don't answer the phone', as due to his lack of long-term memory he'll forget who he's talking to. When he does remember to ask, the caller hangs up.
- In Eyes of a Stranger, the villain likes to make obscene phone calls (which include heavy breathing, promises of intercourse and music box tunes) to his would-be victims before going after them.
- A woman was expecting an important phone call when she had an asthma attack. Of course the phone rang in the middle of it, and she had to answer. It turned out to be an obscene phone caller who upon hearing the woman's wheezing asked "Wait - did I call you or did you call me?"
- A woman receiving an obscene phone call:
"Hhhhh... Guess what I'm holding in my hand?""Buddy, if it only takes one hand to hold then I'm not interested." *click*
- In the novel The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami, the main character, a married man, keeps getting calls from some random woman trying to initiate phone sex. It's his wife. Maybe?
- Referenced in the Temps story "Sortilege And Serendipity" by Brian Stableford, where one of the Talented kids has the superpower to pick up a telephone and tell you where everyone who used it in the last day is now. He's nicknamed "the Phone Freak Kid", because tracing these people is the only use anyone can see for his powers.
- In Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, Susan Way gets a number of phone calls with nothing but the sound of faint wind whistling. She's more perplexed and annoyed than frightened, describing it as a minimalist heavy breather. It's actually the ghost of her recently-deceased brother Gordon, trying to complete the phone call he was making when he died.
- In Peter Moore's "Caught In The Act" Ethan receives frightening ones from Lydia.
- In Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, Achilles begins the dialogue "Air on G's String" by telling the Tortoise about an obscene phone call he received in which the caller merely shouted twice before hanging up, "Yields falsehood when preceded by its quotation!" When the Tortoise teaches him about quines, he realizes that the caller was stating a logical paradox.
- The one off BBC drama series Pig Heart Boy (about a boy who receives a heart transplant from a GM pig) has the fact his parents have been getting these as the reason his parents had been acting so stressed.
- Ryan's obsession with Dr. Nathan in Oz led him to write letters and call her non-stop. It unnerves her to the point where she eventually tells him to cut it out. Unfortunately, this makes his obsessive behavior even more extreme.
- Played for Laughs in one episode of the Brit Com Nelson's Column, in which The Ditz is phoned by the police and told a phone perv is going to call her and they need to trace the call, so could she keep him talking. So she discusses her underwear with him for ten minutes, before Nelson asks her what's going on and, on being told, asks "How would the police know that?"
- Are You Afraid of the Dark?: In the episode "The Tale of Laughing in the Dark" the character Josh is talking to his friend on the phone when the Monster Clown Big Bad of the episode suddenly speaks up on the other line "If you don't give it back, I'll come up and get it!"
- The "333" arc on season 4 of CSI NY had Mac getting these for quite a while. They always came at 333AM or PM and usually had only silence. The guy behind it escalated things to cryptic jigsaw puzzles and was eventually found to be the brother of a boy Mac knew as a teen, who was set on avenging his brother's death. They had all tagged along with one of the boys on a delivery job and got attacked. Mac grabbed a gun but he was just a scared kid and couldn't pull the trigger, resulting in the attacker's brother dying. It ended with a kidnap plot but naturally Mac escaped and got the guy.
- Supernatural: Gordon and Dean's relationship starts as Ho Yay in "Bloodlust" when they bond and find they're very much alike, with Gordon acting like a sort of mentor for Dean following the Winchesters' dad dying. Then Dean finds out Gordo's a whack-job and leaves him tied-up in his own mess for three days. When Gordon comes back, he tries to pit Dean against Dean's Not-Love Interest Sam and holds him hostage to lure Sam in, all the while trying hard to convince Dean that he's right, because A.) he still respects Dean as a fellow hunter, and B.) he feels a kinship with Dean as Gordon killed his own vamped sister and now must kill Dean's brother, who might join Hell. When he's turned into a vampire, his first action is to go to where Dean and Sam were, get Dean's scent and track him, leading to a very unpleasant phone conversation in which he tells Dean that no matter where he goes or what he does, he'll find him.
- The Sketch Show: In one sketch, a harassing caller tries to do this to a woman by claiming to know where she lives and that he is calling from upstairs. He's saying this to someone who's standing in a phone box.
- The Mitchell and Webb Situation had a set of sketches about harassing phone calls, including calling the wrong person, going to an answering machine ("I'll try your mobile"), calling someone who is completely unphased to hear that the caller can see what she is wearing seeing as she is on live television and finally calling another harasser and hitting it off.
- Gotham: Barbara gives one to both Jim and Leslie. To Jim she tries to accuse Leslie of having attacked her and being insane when its the other way around and to Leslie she calls her a bitch and says she hopes she dies screaming because she's jealous of her for having Jim's affection.
- Seinfeld contains romantic and non romantic ones:
- Russell repeatedly called Elaine after he fell madly in love with her.
- Crazy Joe Davola left a harassing message on Jerry's phone due to his particular hatred for him.
- A coworker Elaine pissed off left a message on her phone threatening her: "Elaine, I'm going to find you! If not in the kitchen then (she goes on to list various rooms in their workplace leading Elaine to comment she must have a blue print of the building)
- Frasier features an episode in the third season during which one of Frasier's call-ins rings up to complain about this happening to her and becoming traumatized by it. The call is fielded by Roz as Frasier is running late. He then runs into the studio in an exhausted state and picks up the phone while trying to regain his breath. Suffice to say, the woman at the other end completely misinterprets what she hears.
- Die Ärzte made a song about this, "2000 Mädchen" (2000 girls), which is told from the PoV of the caller.
- Rockwell's 1984 hit "Obscene Phone Caller."
- "It's Me Again, Margaret" by Ray Stevens is a darkly comic version.
- The "Weird Al" Yankovic sung-by-a-stalker song "Do I Creep You Out?" (sung to the tune of "Do I Make You Proud?") has the lyric:
Call you every night and hang up/ Gonna carve your name in my leg/ In my leg, oh, oh!
- Madness's "Close Escape" from Absolutely is a black comedy number from the PoV of an obscene phone caller.
- "Under the Wire" by The Cramps has Lux Interior take the role of an obscene caller. Mostly Played for Laughs.
- BillyIdol "Crank Call"
- In the music video for Billy Joel's Sometimes a Fantasy, he calls a woman and sings the song to her, much to her annoyance. The ending shows she never answered and the whole thing was in his head. Rather creepily, Joel's nervous movements and the presence of another man in the room suggest he's being forced into making the call.
- A strip of Garfield has a woman answering a phone only to hear heavy breathing on the other end. She yells at the caller for being a pervert before hanging up. The last panel shows that it was just Odie, who was panting into the receiver.
- In New Dynamic English, Max received a phone call from someone who claimed to be his "brother", making him and his wife upset. It turns out to be Max's childhood friend from when he's under 5 years old.
Recorded and Stand-Up Comedy
- On Adam Sandler's comedy sketch album They're All Gonna Laugh at You!, one of the sketches is "Mr. Spindel's Phone Call," which features an Algebra teacher getting completely hysterical over a prank call and hang-up by one of his students.
- City of Angels has an obscene phone call as Narrative Filigree in a part of Stine's screenplay which he reads:
Scene 18. Exterior. Downtown LA Day. Overcast.
Medium shot of a public phone booth at the corner of Sunset and Anywhere. The camera intrudes on one of the city's slimier angels, a rather smudged carbon copy of a human being, as he tries to set the record for a nickel's worth of heavy breathing.
- In Silent Hill 3, Heather gets a number of harassing phone calls dropping unsubtle hints about her true nature.
- One of the more disturbing scenes in Higurashi: When They Cry involves Keiichi taking a phone call from a distressed Shion, who supposedly went missing a number of days previously. He has only recently found this out, and pleads with her to tell him that he's wrong. All she can do is sob. He then begins to poke holes in her confession that she spoke to another person who went missing around the same time; if she's telling the truth, the only way she could have spoken to them is to have done so after they went missing. There's a moment of silence after he points this out to her, and then she begins to laugh hysterically. Without another word, she hangs up.
- The PS 2 version of the scene is much creepier. The scene plays out the same right up until the moment of silence. Then Shion starts laughing in a more psychotic style than the anime, then out of nowhere, the volume suddenly become ten times louder as the screen goes, black, is then filled up with text that is Shion's laughter, and then we get a shot of Shion in a completely dark room where all that can be seen is her face, which can be only describe as a clown-esque deranged smile, all while the laughter goes on.
- Natsuhi receives several in Episode 5 of Umineko: When They Cry from a man who pretends to be her adopted son from 19 years ago. He gives her strange orders, and at the end we realize that he wanted to frame her for the murders occuring, leading Erika to designate her as the culprit. And that's only the beginning of her troubles.
- The Annoying Orange: In a parody of "The Ring" a guy gets a call from Orange after watching a cursed video tape who laughs repeatedly and warns him that in seven days he and his friends will become onion rings.
- The SCP Foundation has SCP-145, a phone which, if answered, connects to an unknown woman who pleads for help and describes torture being inflicted on various individuals (who can be heard screaming in the background). Using the phone without someone else watches causes the listener to vanish and join the other victims.
- Family Guy: Peter gets these from his boss Angela in the episode "Peter-assment". Also, while the Griffin's were out on vacation Herbert kept calling the house and leaving creepy messages for Chris.
- Spongebob Squarepants: Played for Laughs in one episode where Spongebob gets a phone call which consists of menacing heavy breathing heavily on the other line before the caller hangs up. The caller on the other side was a jellyfish.
- In the Invader Zim episode "Bestest Friends" Zim gets a "best friend" named Keef in order to be seen as more 'normal' by the other students. However, when he tries to get rid of him Keef becomes something of a Stalker with a Crush towards Zim. One scene features Keef calling Zim right after Zim tells him to go away and Zim reacts by pulling the phone cable out of the wall.
Keef: Hey, buddy, wanna go to the circus?Zim: Hang on, I've got another call. Switches to other line. Hello?Keef: On the other line: You're gonna love the circus!
- Hey Arnold!: One of the ways Helga keeps reminding Arnold he has "24 Hours To Live" is by repeatedly calling him.
- A Freaky Stories story involves a babysitter constantly being called and asked "Have you checked the children?". She loses it when she finds out the calls are coming from a second line in the house, but it's strongly implied that it was the children making the calls.
- One Halloween Special episode of The Simpsons hilariously subverted this trope when the family accidental ran over and killed Ned Flanders. Homer later receives a creepy stalkerish phone call from a raspy-voiced psycho, but when he replies to the caller it turns out that the caller is his friend Moe the bartender, who accidentally dialled a wrong number while trying to stalk Ned's wife Maude.
- American Dad!: Francine tries to prove to Roger that Stan cares about him by using a voice modulator and pretending to hold Roger for ransom. When she returns home, Stan is nonchalant and gives surprisingly elaborate explanations for Roger's absence. Ultimately he tells Francine that Roger's people came back for him, and if they stood on the roof waving kitchen utensils they'd receive a special telepathic message. While they're waiting, Stan points out that they have caller I.D. and Francine was using her own phone.
- Harrassing phone calls are the bread and butter of bill collectors. In the United States, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) limits calls to between 8 AM and 8 PM, though not every collector honors this; additionally, many individual states have consumer protection laws that further limit such calls. (NOTE: If you live in the US and are receiving harassing phone calls from any company, contact your state consumer protection agency; even if they will not pursue your case, they can direct you to people who will.)
- Less Truth in Television than it used to be, thanks to telemarketers. More people use answering machines and caller ID to filter phone calls, rather than picking up every call. It used to be that any incoming phone call was viewed as important; now they're viewed with suspicion.
- Modern cold calling centres have lead to a rise in "phantom" calls - the centres computers dial their calling list till they get an answer then attempt to transfer the call to a live operator. If all operators are busy the computer hangs up without saying anything.
- Let's not forget obscene phone calls, where the caller gets off on delivering sexual or foul language to an unknown called party, and which to the person receiving them is a form of stalking and sexual harassment. Making such calls in many cases is a class 1 misdemeanor. Even without Caller ID, the phone company logs such calls, so the perpetrator's phone number can be discovered, but most people who regularly engage in this nowadays use prepaid cellphones or payphones, which requires a more extensive investigation.
- Senior Power, an old movie meant to teach old people to defend themselves from crime (and mockingly reviewed here), includes the "obscene phone call" scene. Apparently, when someone harasses you over the phone, the right thing to do is to... whistle really loud into the phone. So that the harassing caller will freak out and fall over.
- It works. Thing is, you don't just put your lips together and blow, you use a pea whistle such as sports coaches use, and you can seriously inconvenience (if not deafen temporarily) the harasser.
- Note this is now explicitly not recommended, as the harrasser may retaliate in kind on the next call. The correct procedure is to simply place the phone down and walk away for around 10 minutes, then return and quietly hang up. The caller is looking for a reaction so not giving them one of any kind stymies them.
- It works. Thing is, you don't just put your lips together and blow, you use a pea whistle such as sports coaches use, and you can seriously inconvenience (if not deafen temporarily) the harasser.
- An unfortunate television ad campaign in France for phone company 9 Telecom featured a man being accidentally harassed because his name sounded like the company's... Which triggered a slew of harassing prank calls in real life.
- Genevieve Sabourin, alleged stalker of Alec Baldwin supposedly called and texted him a lot.
- People living in Beijing have apparently been getting phone calls like this recently, from an unknown number which supposedly 'didn't exist' when they tried to call back. The calls featured noises like a woman screaming, a baby crying or cries for help. It's mentioned in this article.
- Taking this trope's title quite literally, telephone calls can constitute the crime of harassment in some jurisdictions. Even if the report of harassment by telephone is insufficient to support a criminal conviction, the pattern of calls may, if made by particular individuals, be sufficient to support entry of a restraining order forbidding the person in question for making calls. (Consult your local domestic violence laws for precise details.)
- You can now hire a monster clown to stalk small children a week before their birthday. He'll leave phone calls, post notes about how he's watching them and how he'll attack them and on their birthday, he'll smash a cake in their face.