Tuesday, 8 October 2013

30 Days of Horror | Day 8

A Terrifying Inanimate Object
When A Stranger Calls

I had quite the list of options for today's post. Many directors have found masterful ways to make completely mundane objects a source of terror. I considered talking about Chucky the killer doll, the videotape from Ringu, the ventriloquist dummy from Dead Silence or any child's toy from any horror film ever. Finally I settled on a prop that in some way features in the majority of horror films; the phone.

As a way of connecting to almost anyone, including the police, it has become compulsory in horror films, particularly the slasher, to address why the terrorised teenagers never call for help; whether it be a bad signal, a dead battery or a missing phone. 1979's When A Stranger Calls explored the use of a phone line in horror in a much more terrifying way, adapting the familiar urban legend of a murderer who terrorises a young babysitter through a series of sinister phone calls. While that event only made up the opening scene of the film, which developed into more of a crime thriller, in 2007 that single event was stretched out to feature length in a remake of the same name.

The concept of having a complete stranger repeatedly phone you while you are alone and vulnerable is one that has proved extremely effective. The Scream franchise thrived on this idea, while Ringu used a phone call to ominously announce a seven day countdown until the recipients death. The remake of When A Stranger Calls was not very well received, which I believe was related to a perceived lack of originality, but it was never striving to be original. The film is effective because it creates a tense atmosphere that persists throughout the 86 minute runtime, due in no small part to the impact the director was able to create through the simple, familiar sound of a ringing phone. The benefit of the viewer already knowing the story is that the film comes with pre-established level of suspense as the they wait for the iconic moment in which it is revealed that 'the call is coming from inside the house', a line that would surely cause anyone to lose their shit.

And I've been suspicious of blocked callers ever since.

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