When the remake of When A Stranger Calls was out, obviously I was interested in watching the original. Then when I read about the original [which I recall had my sisters totally freaked out back in the day] I saw that the real money is on Black Christmas, which apparently beat everyone to the “the caller is in the house” punch. So I Netflix that, and it sits at the top of my list for months due to its “very long wait.” All this time I am getting more and more eager to see it! Then one day, out of the blue, it finally arrives! ...And it’s a total snore.
Sure, maybe I had elevated expectations, but I don’t think it would have gained more than half an Olivia had I seen it fresh. The thing is it’s Christmas in some Canadian college town, and there’s this sorority having a party. We see some killer-POV shots as he climbs this trellis and sneaks into the attic. So we KNOW he’s in the house. Then we’re introduced to our characters—Olivia Hussey as the mousy, whiny, Canadian-accented Jess. Margot Kidder as the annoying, overtly aggressive alcoholic Barb. She’s so annoying even her mother dis-invites her for her Christmas festivities. There’s also this irritating Janis Ian clone [“Phil”] and this alcoholic den mother Mrs. Mac, seen taking nips from the various bottles of booze she has stashed all over the house. We also meet Jess’s highly-strung boyfriend Peter, played by Keir Dullea of 2001 and Bunny Lake is Missing fame, though halfway through the film I was still asking myself “Which one’s Keir Dullea?”
So it seems that the house has been receiving obscene phone calls, the first one saying that he wants to eat their “pretty pink cunts” and have them “suck my big dick,” but this was before email, so they couldn’t ask him to send a photo. Then—well, you know how they say those plastic dry-cleaning bags are not a toy? One of the sisters finds that out the hard way. Don’t worry if you don’t catch the first 14 shots of the plastic-encased corpse face as it reposes in the attic—there’ll be 28 more interspersed throughout the film, obviously there to make you say “Oh my God! There’s a corpse in the attic!” Though after the first hour that changes to: “How come the fucking dumb police haven’t found the rather prominently-placed plastic-encased corpse in the attic?” Especially as it is made abundantly clear that it is clearly visible from outside the house. Really, any time before CSI came on the air must have been such a golden age of crime; the cops are SO DUMB. Fortunately some of them look like John Saxon.
Anyway, after a lot more FUCKING BORING human drama, the house mother fears that her precious kitty has ascended a vertical LADDER and has pushed open a heavy-looking trap door that rests atop it [those wily cats!], for she sticks her head in there and ends up with a hook pulley in her neck for the trouble. Now we have two corpses up in the attic—hey, why don’t we have 75 more shots trying to chill us by the fact that there are now TWO corpses in the attic?
So by now the police have begun to take the situation seriously, and tap the houses’ phone and station a cop outside. They inform Jess and her pal Janis Ian that if the obscene caller calls back, they need to keep him on the phone. Jessica, who has grown even more whiny, mousy and annoying keeps asking the caller “Who is this? What do you want? Who ARE you?” after like the first 89 calls, when it is clear that HE IS NOT GOING TO FUCKING ANSWER HER. Isn’t that like a sign a developmental disability? The inability to learn from unsuccessful attempts at something? And what’s he going to do, suddenly say “Oh yeah, hi, it’s Bob from the Laundromat?” Fucking dumb Jess.
Saxon stands around looking concerned, though tragically always with his shirt on. If this were my movie [and it was this boring] I would have had him strip it off and run his fingers over his hairy chest while he suggests that maybe Jess needs “something to take her mind off her tension.” But no, he just furrows his brow and tells her for the fortieth time to try to keep the caller on the phone.
SPOILERS > > >
Anyway, soon Janis Ian and Lois Lane [Kidder] are piled in bed with ketchup splashed on their faces [this film’s idea of gore], and idiot Jess realizes that not a single door or window in the house is locked. Hello dumbfuck! Are you being stalked or what? Then the cops realize that the killer is in the house, and call Jess and tell her “don’t ask questions, just do as I say… walk to the front door and get out.” So what does moron Jess do? Starts screaming “Phil? Barb? Phil? Barb?” Hey, great idea sister. Now why don’t you go right upstairs where you KNOW a psychotic killer is lurking? Of course she does, and sees her former friends, all splashed with ketchup, prompting this critic to scream at the screen: “Have fucking clue NOW?!”
Now, obviously one needs to be understanding and realize that this movie was made before the classic slasher movie tropes were solidly in place, and that it doesn’t move to the same pace we’re used to, and seeing a plastic-covered corpse in the attic like 206 times probably WAS scary back in the day, and people weren’t used to being stalked by psychopaths, so they wouldn’t think to, you know, lock the doors or windows. And they might be tempted to wander upstairs when they have just been told that a rabid killer is up there. You see, people were stupid back in the 70s. We have to understand that. One of the big shocks is that we don’t even see our proto-Final Girl kill the psycho. But believe me, that fact is more interesting being read in this review than sitting through the movie for.
< < < SPOILERS END
The movie also has two ILLUMINATING interview segments with John Saxon, totaling about 3 minutes, wherein he says that he thought this movie was crap when he made it, but now, woah, it really gets to him! The end. Hey, thanks for the insight. The director of this movie, Bob Clark, also directed Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things, Porky’s 1 and 2, A CHRISTMAS STORY, Rhinestone, and Baby Geniuses 1 and 2! Dude could be tried for crimes against humanity or some shit! It’s only that Christmas Story that’s keeping him out of Gitmo, if it were up to me!
If you are writing a dissertation on the origins of the slasher movie, you might want to see this. If not, I wouldn’t bother.