Stranger danger

Bloodless stalker remake gives teens toned-down twists

ADVENTURES IN BABYSITTING <br>Camilla Belle does a good job of carrying this film, which doles out suspense while forgoing enough gore to earn it a PG-13 rating.

Camilla Belle does a good job of carrying this film, which doles out suspense while forgoing enough gore to earn it a PG-13 rating.

When a Stranger CallsStarring Camilla Belle, Brian Geraghty and Tessa Thompson. Directed by Simon West. Rated PG-13.
Rated 4.0

1979’s When a Stranger Calls was one of the first stalk-n-slash films out of that cycle (hot on the heels of Halloween) and reached a sort of pop culture osmosis with the catch phrase, “Have you checked the children?” uttered ominously across many a school yard by tweens who really weren’t supposed to be allowed into the newly sprouted multiplexes to see the R-rated chiller.

Carol Kane played a put-upon babysitter hassled by phone calls from some nut job, a suspenser that builds within the first half hour into some memorable moments, peaking with a shocking revelation, topped by an even more shocking revelation that would probably freak out audiences if put into a horror film today.

They didn’t put the latter into the remake. Actually, the last hour of the original was pretty lame, so director Simon (Tomb Raider) West didn’t put that in either, instead expanding the narrative of the first film’s intro into feature length. Which means an interminable amount of teenybopper soap opera nattering about Jill Johnson (Camilla Belle) and her angst about having to take a babysitting gig because she overran her cell phone minutes, and having to deal with a boyfriend-stealing hippie tramp named Tiffany (talk about covering all the bases for impending psycho-bait).

Finally she is driven by her father up to a remote posh estate to watch the kids and things finally settle down into PG-13 creepy mode, as for the next hour Jill wanders about the house checking out the dark recesses as various ring tones chirp and jumping as that darned cat flies out at her as the soundtrack alternates between moans and shrieks. Actually, while generally I’m perturbed anytime a horror film resorts to the clichéd cat scare, here West uses it as a clever setup to a reference to the Grande Dame of Old Dark House suspensers, The Cat and the Canary.

I went into this expecting to hate it, what with it being PG-13 and the fact that they gave away the big twist in the effin’ trailer. But about halfway through, enough broad hints have been dropped that it is not really a twist, just the logical progression of the narrative. Even the substitute twist in the end has been played out so many times before that it was sort of like watching someone cross the street. “Well … that happened.”

Ultimately, there is a leisurely, ominously comfortable vibe going down that gives anyone who has seen this kind of thing before way too much time to consider the inherent absurdities of the narrative.

But all-in-all, there was a certain charm to it. Camilla Belle gets points for carrying what is essentially a one-person show. It wasn’t designed to satisfy the jaded horror fan, content only to be a solid suspenser for the teenaged girl crowd. No blood, no onscreen mayhem, just a capable thriller for any girl who has done babysitter duty.