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When A Stranger Calls (1979)

“Have you checked the children?”

This spin on a popular urban legend became the film responsible for making a generation of teenagers afraid to answer the phone . . .

Student Jill Johnson (Carol Kane) is babysitting two sleeping children for Dr Mandrakis (Carmen Argenziano) and his wife when she becomes subjected to a night of terror by a mysterious and unseen man, who keeps telephoning, urging her to check that the children are alright.

Jill contacts the police, and they endeavour to trace the call.

While the mid-section of the film, which follows the villain and police attempts to track him down, doesn’t have the same raw terror as the opening and finale. this is still a brilliantly-made chiller that taps into a very primal fear.

When the police department does eventually trace the last call it turns out the deranged killer is calling from inside the house – he’s been there all the time using the upstairs phone line, and he has brutally murdered the children with his bare hands . . .

The cops save Jill at the last minute and the killer, Curt Duncan (Tony Beckley) is apprehended. Seven years later, he escapes from the mental hospital to which he was assigned, and Mandrakis – the father of the slain children – hires a private detective, John Clifford (Charles Durning) to track him down.

Clifford was one of the original police officers on the scene the night of the murders, and though Dr Mandrakis simply wants the killer taken back into custody, the ex-cop knows that won’t solve the problem. Convinced he’s dealing with an animal, Clifford quietly resolves to kill him once he finds him.

Years of drug-induced cooperation and shock therapy have left Duncan a docile – if somewhat spooky – shell of his former self. On his first night back on the streets he encounters a woman in a bar (Colleen Dewhurst) whose belligerent rebuff of his friendly overtures sets the stage for an instant replay of what transpired seven years ago.

British character actor Tony Beckley was gravely ill during filming and died just six months after his scenes were completed.

A 1993 made-for-TV sequel (When A Stranger Calls Back) reunited the original director and cast. It’s a decent enough television thriller and passes the time better than it should because of the excellent cast.

A 2006 remake with Camilla Belle was vastly inferior.

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John Clifford
Charles Durning
Jill Johnson
Carol Kane
Tracy Fuller
Colleen Dewhurst
Curt Duncan
Tony Beckley
Dr Monk
Rachel Roberts
Lt. Charlie Garber
Ron O’Neal
Stephen Lockart
Steven Anderson
Mrs Mandrakis
Rutanya Alda
Dr Mandrakis
Carmen Argenziano
Nancy
Kirsten Larkin
Sgt. Sacker
William Boyett
Bill
Michael Champion
Mrs Garber
Carol O’Neal
Bianca Lockart
Sara Damman
Stevie Lockart
Richard Bail
Sharon
Lenora May

Director
Fred Walton

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