Before Scream made the line, “Do you like scary movies?” everyone’s favorite creepy thing to say on the telephone, the even scarier, “Have you checked the children?” from Fred Walton’s When a Stranger Calls (1979) marked a bone-chilling achievement in the world of horror movies—with babysitters everywhere taking note. Sure, the killer-in-the-house motif was an area covered before in Black Christmas (1974), but Walton’s movie is a suspenseful delight in that it makes the telephone look as scary as the knives used by the movie’s killer. Based on an urban legend, the story follows Jill Johnson (Carol Kane), a woman whose previous experience as a babysitter nearly killed by a psychopathic murderer comes back to haunt her and her own family when the killer escapes from an asylum and comes looking for revenge some years later.
While the original worked as a great slasher flick that made no apologies about being so, Simon West’s 2006 update, with Jill (Camilla Belle) forced to babysit as a punishment for logging too many cell phone minutes and the killer’s all-too-easy ability to call from a mobile phone, seems to be trying a bit too hard to put a message about the pitfalls of technology into a movie that should be making you feel terror instead of thinking about it.
For his remake, however, West did have the insight to forgo the unnecessary revenge angle and passage of time that slowed the original down. Instead, the remake leaves the audience right in the midst of the action, focusing on the babysitter as she and the children she’s looking after try to escape a killer whose murderous phone calls are coming from inside the house. The result is a nice update of the classic with suspenseful moment after suspenseful moment. Unfortunately, quantity is not always quality and while West’s movie delivers quite a few terrifying moments, it can’t beat the truly memorable scenes in Walton’s original.