Let’s not kid ourselves — 1979’s tepid horror/thriller When A Stranger Calls, starring Carol Kane and Charles Durning, is hardly a horror classic. It’s effective enough, I suppose, to be “fondly remembered” by at least a few folks (most anything is these days, it seems), and it even spawned a direct-to-video sequel reuniting the original cast nearly two decades later, but all in all it’s rather milquetoast stuff.
Still — Hollywood being Hollywood, in 2006 somebody somewhere figured it was ripe for a remake. Sure, the initial premise of an anonymous prank caller with ideas above his station is pretty well impossible to duplicate in this era of cell phones and caller ID, but what the hell, director Simon West was game to give it a go.
It’s my duty to report at this point, dear reader, that he should have left well enough alone, because flawed as the original was, it’s Citizen fucking Kane compared to this listless, lifeless, utterly pointless “reimagining.”
The particulars : plucky young high school student Jill Johnson (Camilla Belle) goes over her cell phone plane by 800 minutes (!), gets grounded as a result, and while her friends and on-again/off-again boyfriend are off at a keg party/bonfire, she’s stuck babysitting a couple of entitled little rich brats at their family’s semi-palatial estate. She gets some drunk calls from her pals at the number of the home she’s working at (her cell phone being cut off by her dad and all), and later some random calls from some psychotic creep who we eventually learn has killed 15 people in other towns, and eventually they all decide to pay her personal visits in succession.
Couldn’t they all just show up at once, kill each other, and be done with it? Because that would have been better and quicker than sitting through 90 minutes of this. It’s not too often that I can think of a film with absolutely nothing to recommend for it, but When A Stranger Calls circa 2006 definitely fits that bill. The suspense is flat, the characterization cardboard, the acting sub-par (Tommy Flanagan is especially lame as the random psycho), and the dialogue often embarrassingly stupid. The whole thing’s just insipid from wire to wire.
Let this be a lesson to all wannabe-remake auteurs out there : some films should be left well enough alone not because they’re such monumental works that they deserve to remain untouched, but simply due to the fact that they weren’t that great to begin with and the ideas at their core don’t effectively translate to our new technological landscape. Honestly — what kind of a dumbfuck even attempts the old crank-call routine anymore?
Still, some culpability needs to be laid at the feet of yours truly for even being stupid enough to watch this thing. What can I say, it was a lazy Sunday afternoon, the Vikings just laid an egg to the tune of 35-10 to the Carolina Panthers, my wife was at work, and there was literally nothing on the tube, so I flipped on over to the cable on demand menu, scrolled down to Fear Net, and decided to watch the first movie on their list that I hadn’t seen. I wasn’t even expecting it to be any good, but I queued it up anyway out of pure lethargy.
I promise you this much : I’ve learned from my mistake. Next time I’ll just take a nap.