Monday, October 6, 2014

Festival Of Fear: Day 6 ~ The List: Phone Horror...Don't Call Us, We'll Call You

Phone horror is plentiful.  Many a filmmaker has used the telephone as a tactic for scaring the pants of a terrified victim (and us!)  There are dozens and dozens of films that employ this plot scheme.

Here are some of Fascination with Fear's favorites: 

WHEN A STRANGER CALLS - By far my favorite has to be this gem from 1979.  The first fifteen minutes are so tense, soooo suspenseful, that when I first saw it at age 13, I wasn't sure I'd be able to continue babysitting. The plot is entirely simple yet completely effective.  Jill Johnson (Carol Kane) is babysitting for a local doctor and settles in to get some homework done when the phone rings.  "Have you checked the children?"  And so begins an impressively chilling bit of film-making that is hard to top in the 'edge of your seat' category. The stranger calls over and over until Jill is frightened enough to call the police, who then put a trace on the call. In a jaw-dropping revelation, Jill finds out (spoiler alert) the creep is calling from inside the house. Anything negative that can be said about the last 2/3 of the film (which sort of turns into an extended episode of Criminal Minds) is brushed away by that riveting first act.

BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974) - Another of the "caller is inside the house" films, Black Christmas has the distinction of being one of the first original slasher films.  A college sorority house is plagued with obscene phone calls of the moaning variety, until one of the sisters (Margot Kidder) offends the caller by teasing him so he announces "I'm going to kill you!".  Which isn't exactly a lie.  The phone calls continue, bothering in particular Jess Bradford (Olivia Hussey), who begins to suspect her boyfriend of the pranks. As is the modus operandi in slasher films, victims begin to die off, all as the mysterious caller continues his relentless harassment.

THE CALL (2013) - Halle Berry stars in this unexpectedly effective thriller.  Berry stars as Jordan Turner, a seasoned 911 operator at an emergency hub for the LAPD.  After a young teenager dies as a inadvertent error on her watch, Jordan resigns herself to training - until another young woman needs her help. Casey Welson (Abigail Breslin) has been abducted and forced into the trunk of the perpetrator's car.  This leads to an exciting cat and mouse game in which Jordan seeks to help Casey by talking to her on the phone - which Casey just happens to have in the trunk with her. 

THE CALLER (2011) - In the same vein as the notable Twilight Zone episode, Night Call, this film has Mary Kee (Rachelle Lefevre) setting up house in her own apartment after a bad breakup. She is surprised to find an old rotary phone left behind, and even more surprised when it rings.  She picks up and begins to chat with an elderly woman, Rose, who claims to be calling from the past.  At first the calls seem harmless - maybe someone playing a prank - but then they escalate into disturbing and even threatening conversations. When she tries to break off contact with the woman, things turn deadly.  A decidedly decent film that definitely will have you throwing any old rotary phone out in your neighbor's yard sale.

SCREAM (1996) - "What's your favorite scary movie?"  The movie that started a trend of hip, self-aware horror back in the mid-90's, Scream had Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) being phone-stalked by a killer bent on revenge and looney enough to go through with it.  What seems like an innocent enough game at first becomes a terrifying reality when the killer promises to make good on threats like gutting someone like a fish. With her clique of overly perceptive teenage friends, Sidney doesn't let all the threats get her down, and what starts out as a phone prank turns into a serious bloodbath before it's all over.

INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1978) - Some films only have a few moments of phone time but they make an astounding impression on the entire plot.  When Matthew Bennell (Donald Sutherland) realizes his town is being overrun by pod-people, he anonymously calls the federal government to report the situation to report it.  They reply by calling him by name and telling him not to worry.  Matthew demands to know how they knew his name, because he never told them who he was, but the phone line goes dead.  Like I said - small moment, big impact.

CELLULAR (2004) - In this implausible but very watchable thriller, Jessica Martin (Kim Basinger) is accosted by thugs in her house who kidnap her and lock her in the attic of the safe house they are using.  When she is caught trying to use an old rotary phone, the head thug (Jason Statham) crushes it, leaving her helpless.  But she isn't stupid, and manages to put the wires of the phone together and call a random number, which happens to be Ryan Hewitt's (Chris Evans) cell phone.  From there, Ryan attempts to help Jessica find out where she is and why she is being held captive.  It's a fairly frantic film, as unbelievable as it may be.

PHONE BOOTH (2002) Another psychological thriller, this one puts Stu Shepard (Colin Farrell) in a city phone booth and pits him against a Jigsaw-esque maniac (Keifer Sutherland) who demands that Stu come clean about his sins.  Somehow, the caller has discovered that Stu is cheating on his wife and needs to tell her or the caller will kill her - or the woman he is cheating with.  Another white-knuckle drama with elements of horror.  And who doesn't want to look at Colin Farrell stuck in a phone booth for 90 minutes?

A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET - Just a small ode to the funny man himself.  Couldn't leave Freddy off the list.  When Nancy ( Heather Langenkamp,) tries to call Glen (Johnny Depp) to warn him not to fall asleep, Freddy (Robert Englund)  has already dispatched of Nancy's boyfriend via bloody tornado-bed.  Freddy just can't help getting his kicks and when Nancy is waiting for the call to go through, Freddy slips her some tongue and says "I'm your boyfriend now, Nancy".
Classic Fred.

HALLOWEEN (1978) - Speaking of small moment, big impact... Halloween has a few moments of unfriendly phone banter that turns out pretty poorly. For one, when Lynda (P.J. Soles) calls to check in with Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis), Laurie thinks it's Annie "fooling around again", but it's really Michael, choking Lynda to death with the phone cord.  Then later when Laurie picks up the phone at a different time, it's once again Michael.  But he's a man of few (read: no) words, and just does a little heavy breathing.  Creepy.

THE WALKING DEAD - Poor Rick.  After losing his wife Lori, everything went from bad to worse. Being at the breaking point does something to someone.  What it did to Rick (Andrew Lincoln) was make him hallucinate like hell. When he receives several random phone calls from "beyond" on an old disconnected rotary phone at the prison, he seems to know the people that are on the other end of the line, and in fact believes the final call is Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) calling him. Did she just want to try to get through to him to move on with his life - to stop living in the past and live in the now, since he has a son and newborn daughter to live for?  That whole episode was like a page from The Twilight Zone.

976-EVIL (1989) - Whoa, hold the phone! It's Satan on the line.  This ridiculous flick has two teens using the aforementioned number to get their fortunes told.  But it's really the devil in disguise, and he is using the exchange to try to get people to turn to the dark side.  One of the boys (Stephen Geoffreys) falls under the spell of the dastardly demon and seeks revenge on all the kids who bullied him at school.  But as there always is, a price will need to be paid for the devil's help.  Not a whole lot more to say about this stinker.

LOST HIGHWAY (1997) - David Lynch is such a weirdo.  But in a great way!  In perhaps the creepiest film on the list, there is really one key scene in Lost Highway that is phone-related.  But it's a doozy.  Fred Madison (Bill Pullman) has been having a pretty bizarre week already, but when he attends a party of a friend, he is approached by a man (Robert Blake) who tells him he is at Fred's house as they speak.  No, he means he is ACTUALLY at Fred's house - even though he is standing right in front of him.  He tells Fred to call home, and when he does, the man answers the phone, indicating that he is one and the same as the man in front of him.  It's a total trip, to be sure....but hey - that's the beauty of David Lynch.

DIAL M FOR MURDER (1954) - I love Hitchcock, as most know, and this is another great thriller from the master.  Margot (Grace Kelly) and Tony (Ray Milland) are married, but not happily.  Margot had a secret affair with Mark (Robert Cummings), but she doesn't realize Tony has found out and is planning to murder her because of it.  He hires a man to kill her and they devise a scheme in which Tony will call Margot at a specific time so that she goes to the phone, at which time the killer will do the deed and make it looks like a burglar.  Unfortunately Tony's watch stops and he is late calling, which turns the entire plot upside down. Again, one key scene with a phone but pertinent to the entire story.

BLACK SABBATH ( I tre volti della paura, 1963) - This anthology's segment, The Telephone, is a great example of our subject. Rosy (Michele Mercier) is a French hooker who lives in a basement apartment.  After work one night she gets a series of threatening phone calls, apparently from her ex pimp, Frank, a convict just released from prison and hell-bent on revenge because it is her testimony that put him away. She calls her friend Mary (Lydia Alfonsi), who she has been fighting with but she needs the company.  Alas, the phone calls continue and Mary gives Rosy a knife to take to bed with her in case of trouble.  Which comes in heaps and bounds when Frank does break in...and kills Mary by accident.  Whoops.

ONE MISSED CALL (2003) - Let's just skip right over the 2008 redux and stick with the Japanese original directed by Takashi Miike. Yoko (Anna Nagata) receives a creepy voice-mail that turns out to be herself - her own phone number, calling from a few days in the future. Yumi (Kou Shibasaki) is then told the story by her friend and listens in fear a few days later as she hears Yoko being killed while Yumi listens to it happen on the phone. This film is often criticized for being unoriginal, and it in in fact rather lame, but you can't deny it's creepy to hear yourself scream bloody murder on a voice-mail and then have it turn out to happen exactly that way just a few short days in the future.....

THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES (2002) - One of the actual prophecies depicted in the film is when a journalist (Richard Gere) who is investigating the mysterious "Mothman" in the small town of Point Pleasant (home of said Mothman, who is told to predict great tragedy), gets a series of creepy and supernatural phone calls in his hotel room from an unknown source. One of these calls claims that there will be a great tragedy involving the Silver Bridge.  In fact, this was true - 46 people died in real life at the Silver Bridge accident.

PSYCHO 2 (1983) - Being the huge Norman Bates fan I am, this was an easy pick. Norman is released 22 years after his committal to the psycho mental hospital for the poisoning of this mother and subsequent murders of several people in his mother's house.  He's doing well, and even meets a friend, Mary (Meg Tilly), at the diner where he has secured a job.  But soon, Norman starts getting phone calls from his dead mother.  At first he balks, brushing it off, but then he begins to think that all is not well....Mother has returned and is in full "mother-mode", trying to influence poor Norman and pull him back to the dark side. 

THE RING (2002) - I chose the American remake of this one because simply put, I like it better.  This phone horror means business.  Here's the deal: watch the tape, get a phone call right after, die in 7 days. Easy peasy.  Rachel  (Naomi Watts) is investigating the death of her niece when she discovers there is a video tape made that if you watch it you die in 7 days.  The call of doom, if you will.  Well, little Samara didn't want anyone to forget about her - she wanted everyone to know how long it took her to die in that cold, dank well.  One of my favorite movies, let alone because of the phone!  And you can't get out of it...that damn curse will just leave you a message on your machine if you try to balk. 


Marie Robinson said...

I haven't seen 976-EVIL but I always wanted to because it's directed by ROBERT ENGLUND!!!!

Michella Sarah (The Movie Starlet) said...

The phone calls in Black Christmas are absolutely bone chilling. I didn't want to answer my cellphone for weeks after seeing it for the first time. Needless to say, my mom wasn't pleased. The chapstick-call in Mothman Prophecies was also pretty creepy, and probably the only part of the movie that was really memorable (at least to me).

Glad to see 976-EVIL get some attention...even if it was on a more negative note :) I have to admit that i really enjoy it, but it could have something to do with my affinity for Evil Ed. I love that monster-look he gets, it reminds me of a dorky Gollum. Did anyone seriously think that would be scary?

Really great list! I'm really loving these Festival Of Fear posts.

Christine Hadden said...

Marie: Just don't get your hopes up too high...

Michella: Hi! Agree with you about Black Christmas, and also that The Mothman Prophecies is actually fairly forgettable (just not scary enough!). But we'll have to agree to disagree about 976-Evil. Just not a fan. But you know, I think it could be because I wasn't much of a fan of Evil Ed - so I can see why you like this one if you love him :)

And thanks for stopping by! Stay tuned :)

Michella Sarah (The Movie Starlet) said...

Marie, i agree with Christine, don't set your expectations too high. I really like the movie, but it's far from masterpiece of horror or anything. There are some creative ideas, and i do really like the actor, but it does get very cheesy and really silly.

I enjoy the hell out of it, despite it's flaws, but I can understand why others wouldn't like it. It does have a small cult following, though, and i would recommend giving it a chance :)