When a Stranger Calls (1979) - Rotten Tomatoes

When a Stranger Calls1979

When a Stranger Calls (1979)




Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

When a Stranger Calls Photos

Movie Info

In this thriller, a baby-sitter is terrorized by an anonymous telephone caller who turns out to be a particularly persistent serial killer. When a stranger calls to ask, "Have you checked the children lately?" teenaged sitter Jill Johnson (Carol Kane) is understandably spooked. After a series of increasingly creepy calls culminates in a request for "your blood...all over me," Jill learns from the police operator that the man is calling from inside the house. One narrow escape and two dead children later, the police capture British maniac Curt Duncan (Tony Beckley). Several years later, the killer escapes from a mental institution and plagues Tracy (Colleen Dewhurst), a hard-drinking New Yorker. Foiled by John Clifford (Charles Durning), the same cop who investigated the original case, Duncan sets his sights back on his original victim, Jill Johnson, who, now married and out to dinner with her husband, has left her own young children at home -- with a baby-sitter. When a Stranger Calls helped inspire Drew Barrymore's famous opening scene in Wes Craven's Scream. Kane, Durning, and director Fred Walton would return for 1993's TV-movie sequel, When a Stranger Calls Back. Beckley died a year after the original film's release.

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Carol Kane
as Jill Johnson
Charles Durning
as John Clifford
Tom Beckley
as Curt Duncan
Tony Beckley
as Curt Duncan
Rutanya Alda
as Mrs. Mandrakis
Carmen Argenziano
as Dr. Mandrakis
Bill Boyett
as Sgt. Sacker
Ron O'Neal
as Lt. Charlie Garber
as Houseboy
Joe Reale
as Bartender
Ed Wright
as Retired Man
Louise Wright
as Retired Woman
Carol O'Neal
as Mrs. Garber
Dennis McMullen
as Maintenance Man
Wally Taylor
as Cheater
John Tobyansen
as Bar Customer
Sarah Dammann
as Bianca Lockart
Richard Bail
as Stevie Lockart
Steven Anderson
as Stephen Lockart
Lenora May
as Sharon
Randy Holland
as Maitre D'
Trent Dolan
as Policeman
Cheryl Wilson
as Mrs. Shifrin
Frank DiElsi
as Policeman
Arell Blanton
as Policeman
DeForest Covan
as Policeman
Charles Boswell
as Policeman
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Critic Reviews for When a Stranger Calls

All Critics (17) | Top Critics (3)

To appreciate just how different it is from the other entries in this then still nascent subgenre [the slasher], we need to move on from its opening to its more critically neglected middle section.

December 17, 2018 | Full Review…

Although Walton contrives to keep most of his contrivances on the safe side of absurdity, "Stranger" is at best a close call.

April 30, 2018 | Full Review…

Aggravatingly devoid of suspense.

January 30, 2006 | Rating: C | Full Review…

With an effectively chilling beginning, a frightening edge-of-your-seat finish, and superb characterizations in between, Stranger is guaranteed to make your skin crawl.

May 27, 2020 | Full Review…

When a Stranger Calls does not herald a major film-making talent -- it's just another textbook experiment in terror. You will jump, though.

July 19, 2019 | Full Review…

What counts in a suspense movie is the way in which tension mounts in which the film leads you on, in the way climaxes explode on the screen.

October 3, 2018 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for When a Stranger Calls


This is like two completely different movies in one, only the first and last 20 minutes are much tenser and vastly superior to the 60 minutes in between - which sadly shifts its focus to the killer and clearly wants to be more like Peeping Tom than Halloween or Black Christmas.

Carlos Magalhães
Carlos Magalhães

Super Reviewer

This was originally based off of a short, which is the first twenty minutes of the film, and it obviously shows. The creators tried to build off of it, but lost all the suspense by shifting the genre from horror to dull thriller. While I believed the film would be about a cat and mouse game between a babysitter and a killer on the phone, that's only the first part of the film. The rest of the film revolves around the killer and his escape from a sanitarium. Instead of making him creepy and perverted to an extreme degree, much of the film humanizes him by showing his exploits after he escapes. The film does share with us how he has killed, and the depravity in those actions, but we see none of it. How are we, the audience, supposed to be scared of someone who we constantly see being afraid, alone, and pathetically misunderstood? There's absolutely nothing tense or thrilling about the intermingling middle hour of this film. Even when Charles Durning's character tracks the killer down and blows a door off its hinges, it's more comical than anything. The very end is at least thrilling, but it comes too little too late after sitting through the tiresome slog of the middle.

Spencer S.
Spencer S.

Super Reviewer

When a Stranger Calls is a pulse pounding horror film. This is one of those films that use suspense to build effective horror to create the tension on-screen. Director Fred Walton crafts a tension filled horror film that combines suspense, terror with a few slasher film elements and crime film rolled into one film. The thing that impressed me about When a Stranger Calls is the fact that director Fred Walton keeps the gore on a down low, unlike so many other horror films in the slasher genre of the 1980's, this one relies more on the suspense factor to build up the terror and tone of the entire film. Like with every viewer, I have to say that the first twenty minutes of this film are the most terrifying and intense; ion other words, it starts the film off with a bang. I enjoyed this film and I think it's a very good concept for a horror flick. I think the fact that the film limits its gore factor much like Halloween did, adds a lot more credibility to the film. The acting is good here, and the actors deliver memorable performances. When a Stranger Calls is different, and it's a film that blend psychological horror with a few slasher elements, but isn't a straight forward bloodbath. When a Stranger Calls is a terrific horror flick that uses traditional horror elements to create the horror that we see on-screen. The result is a terrifying and memorable film

Alex roy
Alex roy

Super Reviewer

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