WHEN A STRANGER CALLS (1979) Reviews and overview


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‘Every babysitter’s nightmare becomes real…’

When a Stranger Calls is a 1979 psychological horror feature film directed by Fred Walton (The Stepford Husbands; I Saw What You Did [1988]; April Fool’s Day) from a screenplay written with co-producer Steve Feke. The movie stars Carol Kane, Charles Durning, Colleen Dewhurst and Tony Beckley.

A massive success at the US box office, taking $21,411,158, the movie was followed by the 1993 made-for-cable-television sequel When a Stranger Calls Back – also written and directed by Walton – and a remake in 2006.

High school student Jill Johnson is traumatised over an evening of babysitting by a caller who repeatedly asks, “Have you checked the children lately?” After notifying the police, Jill is told that the calls are coming from inside the house…

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When a Stranger Calls is essentially an expanded remake of Fred Walton’s $12,000 short film The Sitter, which comprised the first 20 minutes of this film. Walton was inspired to turn the short into a feature-length film after the massive success of John Carpenter’s Halloween. The film derives its story from the classic urban legend of “The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs”.

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Tony Beckley, who plays Curt Duncan, was terminally ill throughout production. Because of this, he did not at all fit the description of the killer, but Fred Walton declined to replace him. Beckley passed away soon after he finished filming his scenes. The 1993 sequel, When a Stranger Calls Back, was dedicated to his memory.

On December 17, 2018, Second Sight is issuing the film in the UK on Blu-ray as a Special Edition.

Buy Blu-ray: Amazon.com

  • Brand new scan and restoration
  • The sequel When a Stranger Calls Back in HD
  • New interview with director Fred Walton
  • New interview with actor Rutanya Alda
  • New interview with composer Dana Kaproff
  • Reversible sleeve with new artwork by Obviously Creative and original poster artwork
  • English subtitles for the hearing impaired for both films
  • Original Soundtrack CD
  • 40 page perfect bound booklet with new essay by Kevin Lyons
  • Reversible poster with new and original artwork
  • Rigid slipcase packaging


“I admire Walton for not having relied solely on cheap scare tactics to carry the day, and for having the courage to attempt something on the order of a character-oriented thriller, even though he does allow the story to give way to some contrivances along the way.” Jack Sommersby, Monsters at Play

“While it is occasionally effective, When a Stranger Calls is also a somewhat listless film. Fred Walton strains for atmosphere and tension but the story hangs in a vacuum – the characters are virtual enigmas about which we are told almost nothing, and the exchanges of dialogue are banal. It is only Dana Kaproff’s excellent score that gives the film any atmosphere, creating a great deal of menace and tension in all the right places.” Richard Scheib, Moria

“Filmmaker Fred Walton does an absolutely superb job ratcheting up the tension during When a Stranger Calls‘ almost flawlessly executed first act, and it’s clear, too, that Kane’s utterly affable performance plays a key role in the movie’s early success. It’s equally obvious, however, that the film’s hold on the viewer dwindles considerably once that opening stretch concludes…” David Nusair, Reel Film Reviews

“Long before Drew Barrymore inadvertently answered her cell, poor Jill found herself in an increasingly demoralizing pickle. In truth, Walton’s film belonged more to the thriller genre than slasher and could not possibly expect to maintain the high levels of apprehension it delivered so effectively in its prologue. What an icebreaker though!” Rivers of Grue

“After the initial opening sequence when the film shifts to the escaped lunatic seven years later, the overall tone of the film also changes drastically from a tense and unbearable horror film to a slow, seedy dramatic thriller almost akin to the depressing character study of Taxi Driver. Quite unexpected, this change doesn’t really work for the film as a whole and these two sections feel like separate films with different agendas.” Tyler Baptist, Sound on Sight

“Quirky actress Carol Kane is very good as the young babysitter at the beginning of the film and as the older near-victim during the last half hour. A terrific opening and ending – and a watchable middle involving the search for the killer – make When a Stranger Calls a must see.” The Terror Trap

“In the ’79 film, the mid-section is pitifully dull. There’s a brief catch-up on the case when the cops learn Duncan has skipped the asylum and then largely nothing happens for about an hour. What differentiates When a Stranger Calls from the other slasher films of the era is that we get to know Curt Duncan a little.” Vegan Voorhees

“While flawed and overlong, When a Stranger Calls ’79 is still a solid enough movie for genre fans that like their slasher flicks more on the respectable side.” Mitch Lovell, The Video Vacuum

Cast and characters:

  • Carol Kane … Jill Johnson –Vampirina TV series; Ava’s PossessionsOffice KillerAddams Family Values; Transylvania 6-5000Pandemonium; The Mafu Cage
  • Rutanya Alda … Mrs. Mandrakis – Late Phases; The Dark Half; The StuffAmityville II: The Possession; Christmas Evil; The Fury; Rosemary’s Baby (voice only)
  • Carmen Argenziano … Doctor Mandrakis
  • Kirsten Larkin … Nancy
  • Bill Boyett … Sgt. Sacker
  • Charles Durning … John Clifford – Dark Night of the Scarecrow
  • Ron O’Neal … Lt. Charlie Garber
  • Heetu Heetu … Houseboy
  • Rachel Roberts … Doctor Monk
  • Tony Beckley … Curt Duncan – Doctor Who: The Seeds of Doom; Assault
  • Colleen Dewhurst … Tracy
  • Michael Champion … Bill
  • Joe Reale … Bartender
  • Ed Wright … Retired Man
  • Louise Wright … Retired Woman


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Buy with Happy Birthday to Me on Blu-ray from Amazon.com


Black Christmas (1974)

When a Stranger Calls Back (1993)

When a Stranger Calls (2006)