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In spite of what the naysayers might claim, When A Stranger Calls (1979) was one of the scariest horror movies from the late 1970s, in the league of fellow 'boogie man' movies Halloween (1979) and Friday the 13th (1980). It was smartly made, scary as hell and featured an effective, believable heroine who evoked so much sympathy it almost hurt. It was directed and co-written by Fred Walton whose career only broke from the shackles of anonymous telemovies with this hit. Stranger starred three of the sturdiest character actors of the day: Charles Durning, Colleen Dewhurst and Carol Kane in the pivotal role of 'the baby sitter', a young woman harassed by a phantom phone caller as she spent her Saturday night childminding at a neighbourhood house. The caller's terrifying catch cry was 'Have you checked the children?' It entered the vernacular with the same ferocity 'Shark!' did on Australian beaches when Jaws hit cinemas two years earlier. When A Stranger Calls was a dark, nihilistic and utterly terrifying movie, neared only by David Fincher's Se7en (1995) for palpable screen melancholy. Hollywood remakes of 70s horror movies are currently in vogue, mostly re-versioned as hollow, unimaginative and un-scary exercises in visual effects, poor scripting and bad acting. (See the recent remakes of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Dawn Of The Dead, Amityville Horror and The Fog. Lame all). Thus you'd be forgiven for being suspicious of this latest especially since it's directed by Simon West who gave us the uninspired Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001). The worst thing that could happen to Stranger would be for it to be transformed into yet another soulless 'video game movie' passing itself off as a legitimate scary movie. There are three main characters in When A Stranger Calls: the house, the phone and the baby sitter. Camilla Belle (Chumscrubber) plays the baby sitter, our teen heroine with a talent well beyond her 'pretty' looks and years. After running up a huge mobile phone bill talking to her boyfriend, Jill is grounded by her parents and has to pay off her debt by working a series of babysitting jobs. Her first is a 'doozy', minding the two young kids of a very wealthy doctor in a house to die for (literally). After exploring the amazing designer pad, (an architect's dream), Jill settles in with a good book only to be interrupted by the phone ringing incessantly. It's not a pesky telemarketer but the voice of a man with murder on his mind. The first smart move made by these film 'remakers' was to use the first third of the original film as the basis for their feature script. It results in a notably minimal film, and makes the most of the three main 'characters', creating a great game between these three chess pieces. As a result it film gets scarier by the minute. The second smart move was the casting of Belle, who brings a very credible and nuanced perfomance. (She reminded me very much of a young Liz Taylor). And the third was fashioning an intelligent teen genre script, which took Jill's teen character and her dilemmas seriously. She and her friends come off as realistic teenagers, not quite comfortable with their oncoming adulthood and the childhood they are leaving behind. Perhaps the worst thing that can be said about this remake is the overblown music score and soundtrack, present in every scene making sure we were cued in to the oncoming threat of the phantom phone caller. A more judicious use of silence would have made the tension even more unbearable. Otherwise this is a rare teen horror movie that works, and works well. When A Stranger Calls gets it right, a film that honours the original and updates it perfectly into a new technological age without being obvious. It's a tightly orchestrated symphony of terror. Be afraid, be very afraid'