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Simon West
Camilla Belle, Tommy Flanagan, Katie Cassidy, Tessa Thompson, Brian Geraghty, Clark Gregg, Derek de Lint, Kate Jennings Grant, David Denman, Arthur Young
Writing Credits:
Jake Wade Wall, Steve Feke (1979 screenplay), Fred Walton (1979 screenplay)

Evil Dials Home.

To Jill Johnson (Camilla Belle), it was the perfect babysitting job. The parents were away. The fridge was stocked. The children were tucked into bed. But then the phone rings and an ominous voice asks, 'Have you checked the children?' Locked in with the lights out and the curtains drawn, a panicky Jill phones the police, who trace the calls only to inform her they're coming from inside the house. And as the frightened teenager goes upstairs to check on the children, Jill's quiet night of babysitting is about to turn into a nerve-shattering nightmare of suspense, horror and dread.

Box Office:
$15 million.
Opening Weekend
$21.607 million on 2999 screens.
Domestic Gross
$47.860 million.

Rated PG-13

Widescreen 2.40:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1

Runtime: 87 min.
Price: $28.95
Release Date: 5/16/2006

• Audio Commentary with Director Simon West and Actor Camilla Belle
• Audio Commentary with Writer Jake Wade Wall
• Deleted Scenes
• “The Making of When a Stranger Calls” Featurette
• Previews


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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When A Stranger Calls (2006)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 25, 2006)

When a remake appears, there’s a tendency to lionize the original and attack the new version. But what does one do when the first edition wasn’t very good?

It’s altogether possible that a remake can improve on its predecessor. I thought that was the case for the modern versions of Dawn of the Dead and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and I hoped it might prove true for the 2006 edition of When a Stranger Calls. After all, I referred to the 1979 original as “dissatisfying and hokey”, so there was lots of room to grow.

Too bad the 2006 Stranger fails to fill those gaps. Dissatisfying and hokey looks really good compared to this atrocious piece of horror nonsense.

As Stranger starts, we get hints of a violent attack. Someone slays a babysitter and her charges in a gruesome manner. After that short prelude, we head to a town 125 miles away from the crime scene to meet teenage babe Jill Johnson (Camilla Belle). When she goes over her cell phone minutes, her dad (Clark Gregg) makes her work off the bill as a babysitter.

This night she works for the Mandrakis family in their enormous estate. While Jill settles into the place, she receives periodic odd phone calls. At first these consist of little more than static, but eventually the mystery voice asks about the status of the children. Not surprisingly, these creepy calls start to scare her, and the film follows her evening of terror.

Scary films aren’t often known for their subtlety, but Stranger takes things to a ridiculous extreme. Nothing here comes from the real world, as from minute one, director Simon West portrays all the environments as terrifying and foreboding. Scenes of happy kids at the carnival threaten us and Jill’s high school looks like a place where the Manson family intersects with Columbine.

Matters get no lighter when Jill hits the Mandrakis estate. An enormous and exceedingly posh place, the film treats it like a haunted house and gives us the impression Jill’s about to enter hell when she gets there. James Dooley’s score creaks and swarms as it leaves the most foreboding of impressions. The girl turns on the TV and the movie treats this like a violent attack!

What’s the point of this constant attempt to spook the audience? Shouldn’t the film earn its scares in a natural manner and let us follow the events as they occur? Sure, that’s the way it should be, but a hack like West doesn’t trust the material enough to allow it to progress that way.

Instead, he figures that if he doesn’t beat us into submission with Big Scary Stuff, then we’ll lose interest – I guess. The inherent story of Stranger offers enough primal chills to succeed on its own. Who doesn’t get freaked by the notion of being stuck in the house with a killer? Why not let that premise work for itself?

That’s an excellent question and one that I can’t answer. Stranger feels more like a true horror movie than the psychological thriller it should be. Perhaps West thinks that if he keeps the audience on edge before the scary parts occur that they’ll have more impact, but the opposite is true. Lull us into a sense of complacency and the jumps might happen; telegraph everything and we’re numb before the first act ends.

West’s constant use of fake scares doesn’t help. From early in the film, it often tosses potential menaces at us, most of which inevitably prove to be nothing much. He does so to keep us off-guard for the real events, but instead, we cease to care. By the time anything potentially frightening occurs, we just want the nonsense to conclude and let us go on with our lives.

At least Belle is about 1000 times hotter than the original flick’s Carol Kane. However, she proves to be a much less effective actor. Belle has one expression: vaguely peeved. That’s it. No matter what happens, she shows this single look and never varies. Combine this with her wooden line readings and it’s impossible to care about Jill. Sure, we hope that she’ll lose her top at some point, but given the movie’s “PG-13” rating, even that seems unlikely.

The thriller elements of the 1979 version never seemed too logical, and the 2006 take doesn’t fix those problems. Technology should make it a tougher story to tell, but the modern Stranger simply ignores those advances except when convenient. Why does Jill so infrequently think to check called id? At first it looks like the Mandrakises don’t even have that feature, which seems absurd; they own a million dollar home but can’t afford a simple add-on? Later we see that they do have caller id, but Jill’s too dense to utilize it. The movie loves leaps of logic and lets them abound rather than offer a story that makes sense.

I suppose I should give the 2006 Stranger credit for the fact it doesn’t simply offer a literal remake of its predecessor. In that film, Jill’s babysitting assignment only occupied the first act. The rest of the flick leapt seven years into the future as it looked at the murderer and the aftermath of the slaying. The 2006 flick goes the straight horror route and only follows the events of the single evening.

That’s what I – and probably a lot of people – thought the story of the original would be, so I don’t see the narrow focus of the 2006 When a Stranger Calls to be a problem. I do dislike the flick’s heavy-handed storytelling and lack of any drama, real scares or reason to exist. It takes an intriguing premise and turns it into nothing more than just another cheap slasher film.

The DVD Grades: Picture A-/ Audio A-/ Bonus B

When a Stranger Calls appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.40:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. No problems emerged during this terrific transfer.

At all times, sharpness appeared excellent. The movie featured virtually no soft spots and always seemed crisp and detailed. I noticed no jagged edges or shimmering, and edge enhancement created no distractions. Neither did source concerns, as the image was clean and fresh.

Although most modern horror flicks go with stylized hues, Stranger offered a surprisingly natural palette. Granted, it tended toward a somewhat subdued tone, especially in the darkness of the Mandrakis estate. Nonetheless, the colors were rich and warm. Blacks also seemed deep and dense, while low-light shots presented good clarity and delineation. Overall, the movie consistently looked strong.

Along the same lines, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of When a Stranger Calls was very good. Much of the mix stayed with general ambience, but it kicked into gear when required. The atmosphere helped set the creepy mood and establish tension. When the action hit, the various speakers worked to put the viewer in the middle of events and did so well. Many sorts of attempts at scary noises like emanated from all around to help make things involving.

Audio quality seemed fine. Speech was consistently accurate and concise, with no edginess on display. Music sounded clean and clear, while effects offered the right mix of definition and punch. They showed nice bass and represented the various elements well. This track worked well for the movie.

Moving to the DVD’s extras, we find two separate audio commentaries. The first presents director Simon West and actress Camilla Belle. Both sit together for their running, screen-specific chat. The pair cover a mix of production topics. We hear a lot about sets and locations, and West also tells us about pacing, tone, music, changes made to the script, and dolloping out scary sequences. Belle relates performance challenges both physical and emotional, and both let us know various tales from the set.

I can’t quibble with their choices, but I also can’t claim this commentary ever becomes terribly interesting. The pair maintain enthusiasm and make the track chatty. They just don’t give us a lot of insight into the production, especially since they occasionally do little more than narrate the flick. I should probably expect a superficial commentary for a superficial film, but this one remains ordinary nonetheless.

For the second commentary, we get notes from screenwriter Jake Wade Wall. He gives us his own running, screen-specific discussion. He discusses his decision to work on the remake as well as story and character challenges. Wall gets into changes from the original film along with differences between his script and the final film, pacing and the flick’s use of technology, and his goals for various sequences.

Wall takes a surprisingly studious tone as he discusses the film. He takes it all very seriously and seems to think a lot of the flick. Wall gets into the nuts and bolts with reasonable efficiency, but some dead air mars the proceedings. Still, he presents a fairly full examination of his work and helps make this a pretty informative piece.

Two Deleted Scenes fill a total of two minutes, 37 seconds. The first shows the cops to whom Jill speaks, while the second depicts the other side of Jill’s prank phone call before it turns into an odd music video. Both segments are dull at best and useless at worst.

A featurette called The Making of When a Stranger Calls runs 18 minutes and four seconds. It mixes movie clips, shots from the set, and interviews. We hear from West, Belle, Wall, producers Jon Davis and Ken Lemberger, executive producer Paddy Cullen, production designer Jon Gary Steele, and actors Madeline Carroll, Katie Cassidy and Arthur Young. The show looks at the film’s tone, story and psychological elements, designing the house set, casting and elements of the Jill character, working with young kids, and the movie’s impact. “Making” definitely veers into the lightness I expect of this sort of general featurette, but it manages to amount to more than that. It provides decent insight into various issues and offers a nice little synopsis of its topics.

At the start of the disc, we get a collection of ads. These include clips for Ultraviolet, RV, and The Da Vinci Code. These also appear in the Previews area along with promos for The Cave, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, The Cutting Edge: Going for the Gold, Marie Antoinette, The Benchwarmers, The Pink Panther (2006), the “Ultimate James Bond Collection”, Click and the 2005 version of The Fog. Even with all that, the DVD fails to include the trailer for Stranger itself.

When a Stranger Calls features some of the cheesiest, most heavy-handed filmmaking I’ve seen in years. Except for the hotness of its lead actor, it does nothing right and proves to be a simplistic bore. The DVD offers excellent picture and audio along with some reasonably good extras. I can’t complain about the DVD itself, but the movie is a real stinker.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.3928 Stars Number of Votes: 28
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