Welcome to 50 first times; the movie-related post in which I watch, discuss and debate films that I’VE NEVER SEEN. I aim to work my way through 50 movies that I’ve previously missed/avoided, recording my thoughts along the way.

This collection of posts is a follow-up to 90 from the ’90s. However, while I previously focused on films from the 1990s, this time around I’m widening the field to cover any movie from any decade.

I’m going to watch good films, bad films, forgotten classics, Oscar winners and everything in between. Today I’m watching…

When a Stranger Calls (1979)

If you were reading the blog yesterday, you will be aware that I watched The Sitter – the 1977 horror short about a babysitter who is terrorised by a mysterious telephone caller. As discussed in the previous post, The Sitter had a lot of potential but it wasn’t as creepy as it could have been.

Anyway, two years after its release, the short – directed by Fred Walton – would go on to inspire a feature length movie called When a Stranger Calls (also directed by Walton). Today I am going to watch said movie, to see if it manages to improve on what The Sitter started.

I’ve heard good things about When a Stranger Calls – and I’ve previously watched its sequel (which is great) – so I’m very excited to give this one a whirl. So here goes.

*Clicks play*

1min – I can tell you straight off the bat that this movie is going to be scarier than The Sitter. The music used during this opening sequence – which introduces the babysitter (as played by Carol Kane) – is much, much spookier.

3mins – The setting, some of the dialogue, even the name of the babysitter are all lifted from that original short. The difference here is that the tone has been greatly improved.

4mins 55secs – “Have you checked the children?” It begins! The anonymous caller has started ringing the babysitter.

Image: ©Columbia Pictures

9mins – I can’t help but feel that if someone was constantly ringing my house phone, asking me if I have “checked the children”, I’d just take the receiver off the hook. Also, I’d pull the phone line out of the wall, chuck the phone in the trash, then set fire to the bin… just to be safe.

17mins – The narrative continues to follow the same story beats as The Sitter, but I’m genuinely feeling terrified now. It just goes to show how important music and lighting are to creating the right atmosphere.

22mins – As with The Sitter, the caller has been telephoning from inside the house… and he has killed the children. The b@$tard!

Observations:

It’s strange how you can watch the same story in the space of 24 hours and get a very different outcome. The Sitter had potential, but When a Stranger Calls has nailed it!

More observations:

A seven year time jump. An escaped killer. Charles Durning. Yet more creepy music. Oh, and a distinct lack of Carol Kane.

Where has Carol Kane gone? Is she only in the first twenty minutes of this film?

Additional observations:

*Checks time*

OK, so now I’m about an hour into this film and while the opening has been the strongest part of the movie so far, it’s still holding my interest. Director Fred Walton has expanded on his short to craft a tense thriller, with a seedy underbelly. It’s bloody good!

1hr 7mins – Damn! A brief glimpse into what the killer did at the beginning of the movie.

1hr 17mins – Oh… and now Carol Kane is back! Things are linking up with that opening sequence.

Final observations:

The final twenty minutes of the movie bring Kane back into the fold so she can be terrorised once more. It is a really effective way of drawing the film to a close, to ensure the tension mounts once before the film concludes.

Great stuff!

*Clicks stop*

Conclusion:

When a Stranger Calls is regarded as a classic and rightly so. This was a solid film, that demonstrated how you can take a simple idea and transform it into a fully fledged story.

I loved the sequel, When a Stranger Calls Back – which I watched as part of 90 from the ’90s – and I loved this film too. I’m so glad I finally got around to watching it.

Oh, and why has it taken me this long to watch this movie?

Erm… I have a lot on, OK?

I’m now ten movies into 50 first times, which means I have 40 unseen films to go. But what will they be?

I’ll give you a clue – one of the films on my list is a picture that is broadcast on UK television screens EVERY Christmas, even though it has nothing to do with the festive season. It’s also considered a classic and it stars Steve McQueen.

Yes, it is what you think it is.

But that’s a discussion for another day. For now, if you want to check out my posts on other previously unseen films then dive into The Sitter (1977)A Night at the Roxbury (1998)The Dark Crystal (1982)Starchaser: The Legend of Orin (1985)Super (2010)When Harry Met Sally (1989)What We Do in the Shadows (2014)Shin Godzilla (2016), and Road House (1989).

Read: Part 11