This is a classic urban legend horror scenario: A young woman who is home alone. Often she is a babysitter. She gets a creepy phone call asking "Have you checked the kids?" She calls the police. They trace it and they tell her "The calls are coming from inside the house."
This is a partly Discredited Trope, because the whole urban legend relies on a myth about old analog land lines: the idea that you could, by tapping the receiver button carefully, manage to dial the telephone number of the building/home you were occupying at the time. note However, in at least some areas of the U.S., it has been and still is possible to dial your home phone number, hang up on the busy signal and get a ring to your own line. The reason the phone company allows this isn't clear, however it has been used by some as a poor-man's home intercom. On a line which does not have caller ID, it could be used to pretend to be calling from outside the house while actually calling from another room. Of course, this scenario can also arise if said home has a phone that also functions as an intercom, two different phone numbers, or to simply call the landline by cellphone.
The sense of dread that a phone call is coming from the very building you are occupying may be lost on people who are used to being able to call anyone from anywhere at any time. However, learning that instead of being safe in your home, you're actually locked in the building with the psycho who's been making threatening calls, can still be pretty scary, cell phone or not.
This trope predates the adoption of 911 services, (as well as Caller ID and Call Waiting,) especially as the original version of the legend usually highlights that the victim has to "call the operator". The terror in the trope comes from the fact that before cellphones the "caller inside the house" would presumably have to be using the house phone linenote or a second phone linenote , so most people couldn't call someone else in the house - inside the house was the last place expected.
- Budweiser spoofed this trope with ads showing penguins calling some guy from upstairs and asking him how his Bud Ice is. Beware of the penguins.
- A tagline from one of the Chiller channel's promotional ads is: "The tweets are coming from inside the house".
- Black Christmas (1974) was the first horror film to use this line. The cast has been receiving disturbing phone calls throughout the movie, and when the police with the help of the phone company investigate the matter, this is the conclusion.
- When a Stranger Calls is built around this.
- Played for laughs in the second The Beatles movie, Help!. John uses this to prank the other Beatles with an alarm clock.
- Inverted in Lost Highway: "I'm there right now. Call me."
- Used in the first Urban Legend movie. A character gets a call in his house during a party, checks the ID and proclaims it's this trope. He starts up the stairs when the killer on the phone corrects him with: "Wrong legend. This is the one about the old lady who dries her wet dog in the microwave."
- Spoofed in the first Scary Movie. The killer boasts that he is calling from inside the house, but Cindy can see his feet sticking out from behind the couch.
- Used as foreshadowing in Carry On Spying. When the villain threatens MI-6 in a phone call, the Chief of Police makes his secretary trace the call, who discovers that the phone number is identical to theirs, making the two men assume that their technology wasn't strong enough for the signal. It's revealed that the villain's lair is directly underneath MI-6 and can be easily accessed through the wardrobe in the Chief's office.
- In The Mechanic (2011), the hitman uses this to get the mark out of the building, by making him think the call is coming from a room above — in actuality the hitman has rigged the switchboard to give a false signal.
- Spoofed in Shriek If You Know What I Did Last Friday the 13th when the killer stumbles into the backyard pool while menacing a girl over the phone.
- Used loosely in the first Scream (1996). In the age of cell phones and caller ID, however, the trope was lost in the sequels.
- Near the end of Open House, the killer's call is traced to the very radio station whose show he is phoning in to.
- North by Northwest has a variant of this. Thornhill gets a call from the bad guys while casing "Kaplan"'s room at the Plaza Hotel. He then finds out from the hotel's switchboard operator that the call came from the lobby.
- Another variation happens in RED, where after capturing the female lead, the antagonist receives a phone call at work. It's the protagonist, telling him of how bad one can feel when their loved ones are threatened, and how he'd be capable of anything if she ever gets hurt. When his colleague announces he has traced the call, the antagonist learns to his horror that it came from his own house, giving him a taste of "how bad one feels".
- Sinners And Saints (2010). The Big Bad is torturing a cop, but gets a call from The Dragon. When he answers the phone, it goes dead. So he rings him back, only to be surprised to hear the ringtone from inside the house. Then the cop's partner chucks a flash-bang grenade into the room, having killed The Dragon earlier and taken his phone.
- Best Seller. Cleve talks to his former employer via the school speaker system, just when he's about to call the police. Cleve uses an extension, which also cuts off the call.
- In F/X: Murder by Illusion, a phone call is traced to the lobby of the same government building where the call is being taken. Turns out that two pay phones have been taped together earpiece-to-mouthpiece so tracing the call wouldn't work.
- Done with a supernatural twist in Peter Crowther's "Ghosts with Teeth." The poltergeists keep calling the protagonist on his own phone line.
- The Executioner. A favourite Mind Screw tactic of Mack Bolan is to ring some Mafia boss, and halfway through the call mention that he's looking at them through a telescopic sight. After the inevitable Oh, Crap! reaction the Mafioso assumes Bolan is bluffing, because he would have fired by then. Mack then concludes the conversation by doing something impressive like shooting the phone or blowing up a nearby building.
- Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark has "The Babysitter", who starts receiving threatening calls from upstairs. She calls the police, who arrive promptly and catch the creep before he can hurt anyone. You expected a scary ending, didn't you?
- Used in the Only Fools and Horses episode "Modern Man" where Rodney, annoyed with Del Boy, calls an ad in the local paper to apply for another job, not realising that the ad has been placed by Del who is taking the call in the other room. Although Rodney is ignorant to this Del is fully aware of who he is talking to and milks the situation to optimal comic effect.
- Spoofed on 30 Rock.
- In CSI a murder victim had been receiving harassing phone calls which all originated from her house. The team eventually found the killer had tapped into her second phone line in the attic.
- Criminal Minds: in the episode "Somebody's Watching." Justified because the caller was using a cell phone.
- Frequently spoofed on Mystery Science Theater 3000, usually when a character in the movie being skewered is holding a phone and looking worried about what they are hearing. For example, in the movie The Giant Spider Invasion, when a NASA scientist is answering a phone call about giant alien spiders invading northern Wisconsin:
Tom Servo: The calls are coming from inside NASA!
Kevin: The cat noises are coming from INSIDE THE CAT!!!
- Kevin Murphy continues this joke on RiffTrax, as in this quote from one of Alien's many cat-seeking scenes.
Kevin: The steam is coming from INSIDE THE KETTLE!!!Kevin: The tea is coming from INSIDE THE TEABAG!!!Kevin: The ennui is coming from INSIDE THE TEENAGE GIRL!!!
- ...and in When a Stranger Calls Back.
- Spoofed on The State, with the call "coming from inside your pants. YOU'VE GOT TO GET OUT OF YOUR PANTS!!!".
- Parodied on How I Met Your Mother. Ted, working out of his home, gets a call from his personal assistant saying he's sick and won't be coming in. Ted accepts it, but then notices on his cell phone's caller ID that the call came from INSIDE HIS HOME. The assistant is in the next room sleeping with his roommate Robin.
- Played straight in the The Twilight Zone episode "The Living Doll", when a man receives a phone call from his daughter's evil doll, who threatens to kill him.
- Spoofed during The Daily Show, when Jon announces his Rally to Restore Sanity only to have it be interrupted by Colbert over the phone. It takes Jon a minute or two to realize that Colbert is, in fact, calling from inside the studio. The punchline? They were talking on an aluminum can walky-talky the entire time.
- Also used after the 2012 election, when pointing out that many of the lines of attack Barack Obama used against Mitt Romney were first used by Romney's Republican rivals during the primaries.
- One of Al Franken's "Daily Affirmation With Stuart Smalley" segments on Saturday Night Live tells a scary story in a Halloween Episode based on this. The mysterious caller was completely incomprehensible and mumbling and the big, scary reveal comes from the phone operator responding to one of the mysterious calls to warn the girl "The caller is inside the house! It's your father, and he's been drinking!"
- SNL also did a short sketch using only close-ups of the ringing phone handset and the worried face of the woman getting the threatening calls. Eventually the police call to warn her that the calls are coming from inside the car! and the camera pulls back to show her sitting in a parked car. The operator advises her to get out of the car, so she does so and opens the hood, revealing an attacker, and then a plainclothes police officer climbs out of the trunk and saves her.
- Also Played for Laughs in Drop the Dead Donkey. Damien has received death threats from a South American drug cartel after doing a story on them. He gets a phone call from a heavily-accented man claiming to be looking at him through a telescopic sight, but halfway through the call his colleague Dave turns round and we see it's him on the phone.
- Non-threatening game show examples: He Said, She Said and It's Your Bet (as well as its original version I'll Bet) used telephones to communicate with the players in some manner.
- Parodied on Modern Family, Phil sees several creepy things while he is holding an open house on Halloween night and believes it is his wife trying to scare him. When she calls from their home to ask when he'll be home he ominously says "So you're telling me, the call isn't coming from inside the house".
- Spoofed in a monologue from The Late Show with Stephen Colbert that referenced an incident where Donald Trump accused the media of spreading rumors that he was thinking about firing his chief of staff, Gen. John Kelly, despite a Politico article claiming otherwise.
Colbert: But here's the thing. Trump was very upset by rumors that he was about to fire Kelly, "...even though there appeared to be no such reporting by the national media." Oh my God, the fake news is coming from inside his head! Get out of there!
- Aqua's song "Halloween"
- An episode of Suspense, "Sorry, Wrong Number", starring Agnes Moorehead. Probably the oldest use of this trope in the media, it was so popular when it aired that, the next week, a new episode was preempted so that the radio play could be rebroadcasted. Eventually, it was made into a feature length movie.
- Hydrophobia has a variant where the hack is coming from inside the ship.
- Happens with The Reveal in Metal Gear Solid 2, when Raiden finds out that the Codec calls from his two mission contacts are coming from inside the Big Shell, since they're actually both AIs put there to manipulate him. Everything becomes clear when he tries to crash the Big Shell's computers with a virus, and his contacts suddenly start blurting out random gobbledegook ("I need scissors! 61!").
- Happened in Metal Gear Solid too, when it's revealed Master Miller actually Liquid Snake in disguise is calling Snake from inside Shadow Moses.
Campbell: Master Miller's body was just discovered at his home. He's been dead for at least three days. I didn't know because my Codec link with Master was cut off. But Mei Ling said his transmission signal was coming from inside the base!
- Layton Brothers: Mystery Room has a threatening fax that was sent from inside the studio.
- Referenced by... Peasant's Quest. If you try to "scare horse" without the maskus, the game says "You tell Gary the "THE CALLS ARE COMING FROM INSIDE THE HOUSE!!" one but he doesn't act very scared. He's probably heard it before."
- Spoofed in Basic Instructions, when Scott tries this on Rick while the later is out of the house. It wasn't very effective.
- xkcd uses a modernized version. (See also the Alt Text.) note
- The amusing thing is that it is possible for two computers to have the same external IP address. That is, two computers on the same local network will share the same IP address that the rest of the world sees.
- Butch tried this once. Caller ID foiled him.
- Variations on this theme are a Running Gag in Sent From The Moon.
- Mulberry had a variation during a story where Straw Feminist Jezebel slandered Jack on her website. Eventually, she starts replying to Jack's text messages before he sends them, causing Mulberry to exclaim that Jezebel's posts are coming from inside the house.
- Referenced by the title of this Commander Kitty strip, where it turns out that the recent weirdness has been caused by Zenith being uploaded to the ship's computer.
- Referenced in Grrl Power: Sydney manages to convince Heatwave that the call originates inside the phone.
- Referenced in Precocious.
- Spoofed in a mock Creepypasta where a babysitter calls the parents to ask if she can browse /b/ on their computer. They say yes, and she asks if she can look at the original content. The parents respond with "GET OUT OF THE HOUSE... /B/ HAS NO ORIGINAL CONTENT!"
- In the Halloween episode of Rooster Teeth Shorts, Griffon gets a call from something growling and snarling that's coming from inside the office. Turns out it was just Burnie, who had fallen asleep at his desk with the speaker phone on
- Board James: "Dream Phone". The calls are coming from inside the house. But not from the phone line. It's the phone itself.
- The Simpsons: At the beginning of the first "Treehouse of Horror" episode, Lisa is seen wrapping up the original story with Bart in the treehouse, but Bart is less than impressed.
- Spoofed by Brak on Cartoon Planet. The operator had made a mistake.
- "THE MANIAC IS IN THE MAILBOX!"
- The episode "Octi-gone" of The Powerpuff Girls included this trope, but any horror was pretty much passed over for a gasping gag; plus, occurrences like villains breaking into your house and pretending to hold a stuffed octopus hostage are pretty normal in Townsville.
- In one episode of Archer, Pam gets kidnapped in place of Cheryl, and the kidnappers, with a voice modulator, contact ISIS to discuss the ransom. Later on, Cyril kidnaps Cheryl in order to get her to repay her debt to him, and stuffs her in a random room at ISIS. He then contacts Mallory from his own office, again with a voice modulator, demanding the rather specific amount of $32,000. Mallory freaks out that the caller is calling from ISIS.
- Parodied at the beginning of the Regular Show episode "Terror Tales from the Park III". In it, Thomas totally botches telling a horror story, ending it with "...and the maniac was calling from outside the house! Wait, is that right? I mean, I mean, inside the house!"
- Comedic effect: The Looney Tunes short Daffy Duck In Hollywood has studio head I.M. Stupendous and director Von Hamburger talking on the phone...each phone is connected to a line immediately across Mr. Stupendous' desk.