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Film / When a Stranger Calls

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Poster for the 1979 original.

"Have you checked the children?"

When a Stranger Calls is a horror movie that uses The Calls Are Coming from Inside the House as a plot. It plays with the Urban Legend of "The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs".

There are two versions: the 1979 original, starring Carol Kane (followed by a 1993 made-for-television sequel, When A Stranger Calls Back), and a 2006 remake, with Camilla Belle and Lance Henriksen. The 2006 remake uses handheld phones (both home and cell phones) instead of the technical impossibility of a rotary-dial phone calling itself, and is no less effective for it. Also worth mentioning is that the remake is more of an extended re-imagining of the original's opening sequence, rather than a straight remake.

Both movies follow Jill Johnson, who, after being grounded by her parents, is working as a babysitter for the children of a wealthy doctor and his wife. Not long into her job, however, she is plagued by persistent, creepy phone calls from someone who is watching her every move...


Tropes present in both films:

  • Big Fancy House: The home where Jill is babysitting
  • Break the Cutie: Jill. Indeed, the ending of the remake implies that she's going to be psychologically damaged for a long time.
  • The Calls Are Coming from Inside the House: Said almost word-for-word (though this movie isn't the Trope Namer).
  • Evil Phone: As the Stranger keeps calling.
  • Faux Affably Evil: The Stranger talks in a very calm and smooth voice during his calls, and speaks with mock polite dialect.
  • For the Evulz: There's really no purpose to the Stranger's phone calls, except to freak out Jill. And the audience. In fact, his MO can basically be described as: "stalk and harass these women for hours, drive them into a paranoid terror, then murder them (and anyone else who gets in the way)".
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  • Harassing Phone Call: Many, from the Stranger.
  • Infant Immortality: The kids survive in the remake, but it is entirely possible that the Stranger intended to kill them after bumping off Jill. This is averted in the original, however. A deleted scene from the remake subverts this - it is implied that the murder at the beginning of the movie was not just limited to the babysitter. In addition it is never made clear what became of the kids in the sequel to the original.
  • Jump Scare: Many and varied. The first half of the remake has several fake scares, while the second half contains several very real ones.

Tropes present in the 1979 original and 1993 sequel:

  • Evil Brit: The Stranger, aka Curt Duncan.
  • Time Skip: After the opening sequence, the film skips forward seven years, following Curt's continuing psychopathic exploits after his escape from a psychiatric institution.
  • Would Hurt a Child: The Stranger has no problem doing it.

Tropes present in the 2006 remake:

  • Abandoned Hospital: In Jill's nightmare.
  • Action Survivor: Jill, particularly during the last half-hour or so of her ordeal.
  • Adaptational Jerkass: The Stranger in the original was given moments of pity due to the fact that he was shown to be genuinely mentally ill, and unable to help himself. This Stranger receives no such humanizing moments, and is portrayed as more evil than insane.
  • Alpha Bitch: Tiffany has shades of this.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Jill survives and the Stranger is taken into custody, but Jill has been left severely traumatised by everything she's gone through and is plagued by nightmares of the Stranger.
  • Break the Cutie: Jill. Being terrorised for hours on end, discovering two corpses (one of which is her best friend) and very nearly dying are not kind to her mental state.
  • Brick Joke: When Jill is being given a tour of the house, Chester the cat is first seen eagerly watching the birds in the aviary. Come the end of the film, and he finally gets to eat at least one of the birds.
  • Cat Scare: Constantly, mainly during the first half of the film.
  • Catapult Nightmare: It happens to Jill.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The fire place, the sharp fire poker and the tequila bottle. Subverted with the creepy statue on the first floor - the camera focuses on it frequently, but it never gets used.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Jill's sprinting abilities.
  • Dangerous Key Fumble: Tiffany.
  • Diabolus ex Nihilo: Unlike the original, this Stranger gets no identity. He's just there. We never learn anything about him.
  • Dies Wide Open: Rosa and Tiffany.
  • The Faceless: When the Stranger is finally revealed, his face is partially hidden by shadows. It isn't until he is being driven away in the police car that his face is clearly seen.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: The opening scene. The sight of the murdered babysitter is never shown, just the police chief's horrified reaction to it. Then, instead of one body bag being carried out of the house, several small bags, misshapen and bloody, are carried out...
  • I Can See You: "How were the children?"
  • Impaled Palm: Jill pins the Stranger's hand to the floor with a sharp fire poker during their final struggle.
  • Kill It with Fire: Jill utilises a bottle of tequila and the fireplace to overpower the Stranger.
  • Mirror Scare: During Jill's nightmare.
  • My Car Hates Me: Tiffany, when she tries to leave the house.
  • Nightmare Sequence: After surviving her ordeal, Jill has a nightmare of waking up in an Abandoned Hospital, and being attacked by the Stranger.
  • No Name Given: The Stranger, in contrast to the original.
  • Rule of Symbolism: The red popsicle. It starts to melt and resembles a bloody mess as Tiffany gets menaced and killed.
  • Short-Distance Phone Call: Tiffany does this to Jill as a joke.
  • Sickening "Crunch!": Several are heard in the opening when the police chief is shown the remains of Stacey the babysitter.
  • Sinister Silhouettes: The Stranger, combined with Face Framed in Shadow, when he's first revealed.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: The kids and the Stranger.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: The Reveal that the Stranger is inside the house was completely spoiled by the marketing.
  • Vader Breath: Many of the phone calls made by the titular Stranger consist of his creepy, heavy breathing.
  • Wham Line: "We've traced the call. It's coming from inside the house!" Unfortunately, the trailer made this common knowledge.
    • Also (though mostly In-Universe), the moment when the stalker finally responds to Jill's endless questions on the phone about what he wants from her: "Your blood. All over me. And judging by those small body bags at the beginning, he must really mean what he says...

"Have you checked the children?"

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