Forty years ago on October 26th, 1979, When A Stranger Calls was introduced to the world to scare babysitters everywhere. Based on the urban legend from the 1960s called The Babysitter And The Man Upstairs, The Babysitter or just The Sitter. When A Stranger Calls follows a high school student Jill Johnson (Carol Kane: The Princess Bride 1987, Scrooged 1988) who, while babysitting, begins receiving unnerving phone calls from an unknown man (Tony Buckley: The Italian Job 1969, In The Devils Garden 1971) threatening the children under her care.
Let’s celebrate this unnerving film with some fun facts about the film that you may not know.
1) Wes Craven was a fan of When A Stranger Calls, particularly the first 20 minutes, and paid tribute to the film in the opening of his teen slasher, Scream (1996).
2) Star Tony Buckley was terminally ill throughout the production. Because of this, he did not fit the description of the killer. Director Fred Walton refused to recast him as they were good friends. He later passed away just after principal photography was shot. Walton dedicated the film’s 1993 sequel, When A Stranger Calls Back, to the memory of Beckley.
3) Walton originally shot this film as a short entitled The Sitter, which was essentially the opening 20 minutes of the film. However, after the huge success of Halloween (1978), Walton saw the potential of expanding the short into a full-length feature.
4) The character of disturbed killer Curt Duncan was based on a college acquaintance of Walton who could enter a room and automatically make everyone feel uncomfortable. Yet, Walton felt enough sympathy for this person that the character of Duncan is treated with a fair amount of sensitivity.
5) The opening 20 minutes of the film are number 28 on Bravo Channel’s 100 Scariest Movie Moments as they are known as one of the scariest openings in horror film history.
6) Throughout the opening segment, Walton gradually increased the feeling of suspense by making each subsequent phone ring a touch louder than the previous one. They escalate from eerie to jarring and finally infuriating.
7) In an interview for the film, Carol Kane, who played Jill Johnson, stated that, while watching the film in the theater, people were screaming and talking to the screen during those iconic opening 20 minutes.
8) There is almost no on-screen violence in this movie, in spite of its reputation as a classic seminal thriller.
9) The phone number at the house where Jill Johnson is babysitting – 555-2368 – is the same house phone number used for Jamie Lee Curtis’s house in the movie Forever Young (1992) starring Mel Gibson. It is also used in the Steven Spielberg’s film, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (1977).
10) The film stars actresses Carol Kane and Colleen Dewhurst, who played Tracy. The two share no scenes. The actresses previously appeared together in Annie Hall (1977), in which they also shared no scenes.
11) The film’s legendary opening 20 minutes of Jill getting harassed on the phone by a killer only to find out that the calls are coming from inside the house were inspired by a similar sequence in the original Black Christmas (1974).
Bonus Spoiler Fact!
12) As this movie was made because of Halloween’s (1978) success, it bears many similarities to the first movie. Both of them start out with an infamous murder scene ending with the killer being apprehended and sent to a mental institution. After a time gap of several years, the killer breaks out of the institution, with someone who has known him since his arrest pursuing him with the intent of killing him rather than apprehending him, despite objections from coworkers. In Halloween, it’s the killer’s former psychiatrist. In this film, it’s the killer’s arresting officer. The killer begins to stalk a woman (in When A Stranger Calls, it’s not only the female lead he’s after, unlike in Halloween). The killer narrowly avoids getting caught by the male protagonist several times. Both movies also end with a showdown between the female lead and the killer, with the bad guy beginning to overpower the Final Girl, but the male protagonist suddenly appears and guns down the killer. However, in this film, the killer dies from the gunshot wound. In Halloween, the killer survives.
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We here at PopHorror hope you enjoyed this fun list to celebrate the 40th anniversary of When A Stranger Calls.
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