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When a Stranger Calls

When a Stranger Calls

Rated PG-13, 83 min. Directed by Simon West. Starring Camilla Belle, Tommy Flanagan, Tessa Thompson, Brian Geraghty, Clark Gregg, Derek de Lint, Kate Jennings Grant.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Feb. 10, 2006

Long distance information? Get me Hollywood, USA: I’ve got a rusty ice pick to bury in the gullet of whoever greenlighted this pointless exercise in masturbatory tedium. I’d have given up entirely on American horror as a viable genre years ago if it weren’t for the increasingly rare masterpiece, such as Rob Zombie’s gutwrenching The Devil’s Rejects or John McNaughton’s wicked Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. Sadly (and worse, predictably) the deep red frissons of the genuine horror movie – and by that I refer to those films that not only play upon our worst and most personal fears but also, by dint of the participatory nature of theatergoing, implicate us within their own realities and thereby (like the icky little parasitic phallusi from David Cronenberg’s Shivers, if you’re looking for an analogy) take up permanent residence in our subconscious, knocking psychological boots with that toothy reptile party animal forever coiled around our cortex like some creepy anti-Caduceus and shadowing the dullish daylight of our workaday lives with the brilliant darkness of where we came from and, heh heh, where we’re going: oblivion, baby. You need look no further than George Romero’s most recent zombie epic, Land of the Dead, to see how neutered the horror genre has become. That film, the director’s first with something approaching a real budget (a reported $15 million, downright paltry by Hollywood standards), has more to say about the human (and inhuman) condition than 90% of the non-genre, oh-so-grittily-realistic indie outburst slouching into your local arthouse these days and – it is to laugh, people – Land of the Dead wasn’t even a very good film, by Romero’s usually high standards. One look at the original Night of the Living Dead, or for that matter the original The Hills Have Eyes or, what the hell, the original When a Stranger Calls, and what you see stays with you for life. The only thing that sticks with you about this tepid remake of Fred Walton’s 1979 creepfest is how cowardly (and craven, but Tinseltown was never anything less) Hollywood has become when it comes to ... well, when it comes to virtually anything, but horror films specifically. There’s more genuine horror, shock, sadness, and honest-to-goodness passion – the kind of deep-core emotional overload that all good art (horror films included) evinces and reciprocates in its audience – in five minutes of Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain or Gregg Araki’s Mysterious Skin than in a thousand years of wrong numbers like this one. Simon West’s do-over is a hollow, shallow, and just plain boring exercise in snooziness. The plot, such as it is, has babysitter Belle menaced by a stranger with a phone who probably isn’t that guy from Verizon. And with no Carol Kane on hand (as in the original), this might as well have been titled When a Stranger Yawns. Hey Hollywood, can you here me now? Yeah? Well, fuck off and grow a spine already. Don’t make me call Takeshi Miike.
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