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When a Stranger Calls - suspense DVD review
When a Stranger Calls rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America rating: 3 1/2 stars
Actors: Camilla Belle, Tommy Flanagan, Katie Cassidy, Tessa Thompson, Brian Geraghty
Director: Simon West   Studio: Sony Pictures
DVD release: 16 May 2006   Runtime: 87 minutes (1 disc)
Format: AC-3, Closed-captioned, Color, Dolby, Dubbed, Subtitled, Widescreen, NTSC
DVD features: Subtitles (English, French), Audio tracks (English, Dolby Digital 5.1; French, Dolby Digital 5.1), Commentary by director & cast, Writer's commentary, "The Making of When a Stranger Calls," Deleted scenes

So, the current trend in Hollywood is to remake everything. In the horror/thriller genre, we've had remakes of The Fog, Dawn of the Dead, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, House of Wax, and on and on and on. The question becomes not why are they making this remake, but will it be entertaining in some way? If you are old enough to have watched the original, then you know the basic premise of the plot (if you can remember that long ago) and, most importantly, the ending. With that knowledge, all the scares and twists are essentially moot, so why watch the remake? Well, if it's done well, you can watch it strictly for mindless entertainment on a rainy day or, if you are a fan, you can compare the two.

This is how I went into When a Stranger Calls. Having seen the original starring Carol Kane of Taxi fame a long, long time ago on cable, my brain was fresh to accept this remake. The story is essentially the same. High-school student Jill Johnson (Camilla Belle) gets picked up by her dad and taken to a routine babysitting job. The night starts off uneventfully for Jill, but soon she starts getting prank phone calls. Spooked but not frightened, Jill thinks it might her friends who are attending a party that night. The movie doesn't start kicking into high gear until Jill's self-acknowledged bitchy friend Tiffany Madison (Katie Cassidy) shows up. Tiffany makes a quick exit, but it's at this point the visual suspense starts to build with good shots and a decent musical score creating solid misdirection. Jill finally calls the police, and (spoiler alert!) she soon realizes that the phone calls are emanating from inside the house.

With so many modern horror movies being directed in that MTV style where one image is hyper-cut to another image after a few milliseconds with throw away Nu-metal songs trying to pass for a musical score, When a Stranger Calls is a refreshing change. The score has a lot of good Hitchcockian string trills and tremolos, and the shots are all done with the appropriate camera angles to create suspense - the bonus is you can actually see what's going on without the seizure-inducing editing.

Okay, so the high school teenager babysitting in a dark house isn't exactly Oscar-worthy material. I'll give you that. But this remake is - gulp - actually not half bad. There are some inevitable dull spots (really, how can you make a girl watching TV and calling her friend exciting?) but the last third of the movie is pretty entertaining, with just enough damsel-in-distress moments to get your heart pounding.

The DVD is pretty light on extras -the usual voice commentary, deleted scenes, and a ton of previews. Overall, When a Stranger Calls is a solid movie (provided you don't overthink the plot points and motives) that will certainly make you jump in your seat at least once.
reviewed by Bobby Blades
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