Tuesday, July 8, 2008

When a Stranger Calls (2006)

When a Stranger Calls (2006)

Starring: Camilla Belle, Lance Henriksen, and Tommy Flanagan

Written by: Jake Wade Wall (Based on 1979 Screenplay by Steve Feke and Fred Walton)

Directed by: Simon West

Production Companies: Screen Gems and Davis Entertainment

Let's face it Horror Movie Night Orgy Revelers, horror movie remakes rarely hold up. But like a masochist, we watch the remakes thinking maybe, just maybe, they original fear can be recreated and even accentuated with modern movie making technologies and a keen eye for fixing errors in the original. Then we find the remake to be actually muted. Not as likely to push the envelope. Not as likely to scare.

But I have to give actress Camilla Belle, writer Jake Wade Wall, and director Simon West their due. I was thoroughly impressed with the tension they created. Wall's story brings the classic urban legend of the killer calling the babysitter from inside the house into the 21st century without muddling it up like I was afraid would happen. I mean, let's face it, When a Stranger Texts just wouldn't have the same effect.

Jill Johnson (Belle) is being driven by her father (Clark Gregg) to the house where she is being forced to babysit rather than attend a party with her friends. Why? She went over her minutes on her cell phone.

At the Mandrakis house, Jill is shown around the sprawling home sprinkled with red herrings perfect to take the first 20 minutes of the original film into an 87 minute full length feature. We have a guest house where the Mandrakis's son sometimes stays, but he never tells them when he's going to show up. We have the maid who stays upstairs and still hasn't learned how to use the home alarm system.

Even though we know there's a stranger in the house, they make it believable that poor Jill hasn't panicked with phone calls from friends, including a prank phone call, and friends popping by unannounced, and motion activated lights that the cat can trigger.

An interesting point to this version of the story is what it leaves out. The original legend was about a teen being irresponsible and not checking on the children she is babysitting, choosing instead to stay glued to the television. It was a cautionary tale about responsibility. However, in this 2006 remake, Jill is not irresponsible. She didn't go over her minutes calling people. Her ex-boyfriend kept calling her forcing her over her minutes. She doesn't stay away from the children's room because she's watching television. In fact, she can't get the TV to work. The Mandrakises told her to leave them asleep in their room because they are recovering from illness.

If there's a caution in this horror tale, it's about choosing ones friends. After all, it was the ex-boyfriend that went over the cell phone minutes. It was the friend who kissed the boyfriend that lead to the break-up and the repeated calling which went over Jill's minutes which led to being forced to babysit. With friends like that, who needs homicidal maniacs?

Speaking of homicidal maniacs...Lance Henriksen and Tommy Flanagan team up to bring us this madman. Henriksen, best known as Bishop from Aliens, gives us the voice that chills us when he asks, "Have you checked the children?" Tommy Flanagan, also a part of the Alien series appearing in Alien vs. Predator, is the shadowy body that makes us jump. Henriksen, though, deserves top billing as the phone calls are always scarier than when the killer surfaces in the flesh.

Another oddity which helps this film is the police officer, Officer Burroughs (David Denman), actually takes Jill's complaint of harassing phone calls seriously rather than just blowing her off as is typical in slasher flicks.

Camilla Belle does a reasonable job in her role as Jill Johnson. I can't say she does anything phenomenal with the role, but plays the part well enough. A murderer's intended victim can be a difficult role to pull off and I think with a few more parts like this, Camilla could probably become an accomplished scream queen.

The one thing missing was skin. A good slasher flick should have nudity. But I'll be honest, in this case, with this well thought out, fairly realistic approach to this urban legend, a gratuitous breast shot would probably cheapen the film. But I promise you this will be one of the few times I say it's ok to not see some nipples.

Camilla Belle doesn't seem to have any horror films on the horizon, but she'll be in a sci-fi thriller called Push about "a group of young American ex-pats with telekinetic and clairvoyant abilities, hiding from a clandestine U.S. government agency. They must utilize their different talents and band together for a final job enabling them to escape the agency forever." That film is set for 2009.

While Lance Henriksen has appeared in several horror films since When a Stranger Calls came out, his next new release will be The Lost Tribe about a group of friends stranded on an uncharted island where they encounter an ancient tribe of humanoid creatures. That film will come out September or October of this year.

Tommy Flanagan seems to specialize on police dramas, but he may be returning to this genre in The Blackening a UK thriller set to come out this year. I have been unable to find any details about this project.

Jake Wade Wall followed up writing this screenplay with 2007's The Hitcher which is on my list of movies to watch and I'll get to at an unspecified future date. His next new release will be Amusement scheduled for release in November of this year. Starring Katheryn Winnick, Jessica Lucas (Cloverfield), and Laura Breckenridge, three women are stalked by a killer with a grudge that extends back to the girls' childhoods.

Simon West hasn't returned to horror films. His next directorial new release will be Let it Ride a 2009 thriller about a blackmailer and con man set to come out in 2009.


kelloggs said...

lmao, I agree completely, I really liked this film, although I'm embarrassed to admit I didn't know it was a remake. Give me a break, I'm 22. However, in regards to the lack of nudity, how many GOOD horror flicks have you seen nipples in since the 80's? email me the titles so I can watch 'em, lol.

Bodog said...

No no...See, I've read how the more helicopters there are in an action film, the worse the movie...For horror films, it's nips...If I was a mathematician, I could probably develop a formula that would give the appropriate rating based on the number of nips seen throughout.

Rob said...

talking about home alarm system whoever has learnt to use them. They go off when you never want them too.