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When a Stranger Calls

This latest horror remake may not necessarily pack the same horrifying wallop as the original, but When a Stranger Calls is still a classic example of a babysitter's worst nightmare.


Hands down, there is nothing more frightening than to be babysitting alone in a large unfamiliar house while simultaneously being terrorized by a homicidal maniac, who keeps calling and asking if the children have been checked. The original 1979 Stranger certainly hammered this point, with a young Carol Kane as Jill Johnson, the hapless babysitter. In this update, high schooler Jill is played by Camilla Belle, who has taken the doomed job in a beautiful but remote hilltop house, complete with surrounding lake, an indoor aviary and lots of windows. When the eerie phone calls start up, Jill's panic turns to abject terror when she finds out the calls are coming from INSIDE THE HOUSE! What's a girl to do? I guess running out of the house, down the driveway and onto the road without ever looking back is out of the question.


Kinda tough to carry a movie all by yourself at such a tender age, but Camilla Belle seems to handle the role of plucky heroine with aplomb. Some may remember this dark-haired beauty as the little girl who gets chomped on by those nasty mini-dinos at the beginning of The Lost World: Jurassic Park. Then, two years ago, she got glowing reviews as Daniel Day-Lewis' daughter in the indie gem The Ballad of Jack and Rose. Now, all grown up, she's making her way into more mainstream fare. Playing Jill, she's got all the makings of a model scream queen: breathy, wide-eyed and ultimately way too brave, as she investigates every single weird noise she hears. And when it comes time to kick some psychotic killer's butt, she's convincing enough.


Director Simon West (Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Con Air) had some pretty big shoes to fill, updating a cult horror classic like When a Stranger Calls. From an older generation's point of view, the first 20 minutes of the 1979 movie were perhaps some of the scariest moments ever. Yet, in this day and age of supernatural anomalies, videogame nightmares of virus-induced mutated zombies and Scary Movie spoofs, a simple story of a babysitter being terrorized by a real-life psycho may not make a dent. Or will it? Sure, West uses every clichéd trick in the book--from the foreboding music to setting the stage in a creepy, isolated locale. But the mere fact this scenario could really happen to any unsuspecting teenager out there, whose only source of income might indeed be babysitting, this Stranger may make a lasting impression on our horror-addicted youth.

Bottom Line rated this film 2 stars.