The Michigan Daily-Saturday, September 29, 1979--Page 5
WHENA STRANGER CALLS':
By ERIC ZORN
As if they don't have enough to worry
about, people these days are charging
off to the theater to see just how much
horror they can bear. There is evidently
nothing like the vicarious feelings of
wet-your-pants fright and anguish
visited upon you by frightening, mur-
derofis beasts and things that go bump
in the night to separate the American
from his dollar.
It follows, then, that there are a suf-
ficient number of people out there who
will be willing to accept the challenge of
director Fred Walton's When A
Stranger Calls. Certain moments and
images in Stranger are as stunning and
vividly haunting as gluttons for heart-
stopping catharsis could ask for.
What will draw them to the box office
is the subtle, chilling terror of
helplessness we feel at the hands of for-
ces difficult to predict and impossible to
understand. Like any good thriller,
Stranger exploits the viewer by preying
on basic fears such as being trapped in
the dark by an unseen and incom-
prehensible madman. There must be no
one who likes to be exploited more than
a horror-film buff.
WE ARE THUS exploited in
Stranger's opening scene in which a
teenaged babysitter (Carol Kane) is
harassed by an anonymous, late-night
caller. Ringing persistently, he deman-
ds, "Have you checked the children?"
Kane obligingly bugs her eyes and acts
every bit the traumatized at-the-mercy-
of character we never, ever want to be
ourselves. Eerie cello and bass viol
music plus cliche "terror" shots build a
stylized tension that seems to set up the
and-oh-we'reshocked sort of surprise
calculated to stun us now and disgust us
However, things are not as they
seem. The conventional surprise
becomes a deep-rooted, blistering
shock when it happens that the insistent
caller is in the house, and has been
smearing himself in the blood of the
murdered young children. How did he
get up in the bedroom? The doors were
locked, and there has been no sound. Oh
no! The psycho has been upstairs the en-
There is no real blood until later in
the film when the images of slaughter
burn in the mind of the crazed,
frightened killer. He remembers him-
self in the light-pierced darkness, caked
with blood and drooling into the
telephone; a.tableau of the most crisply
vivid fear we could have.' .
And seven years later, the memory of
this violence pervades the final scenes
of Stranger. The babysitter, now a
mother of two small children, is once
again terrorized by the psychotic killer
as °he bends the precedent established
in the opening scene.
TO BE SURE, the beginning and the
end bookend a somewhat weak detec-
tive story in the middle that draws in a
few unnecessary characters and simply
serves to prolong the final agony. After
say your life 1 acks thrills?
Philip Kaufman's 1974
Based on James Houston's true story of an Arctic adventure, White Dawn
relates the story of three sailors who are separated from their ship during
an Arctic hunt for polar bear and walrus. Eskimos come to their rescue but
one angry sailor brings fear and violence to all. Magnificent location footage;
and realistic hunting scenes bring a striking documentary flavor to the intense
conflict. With TIMOTHY BOTTOMS and WARREN OATES.
Sun: INDEPENDENT FILMMAKERS
those chilling child-murders, the killer
is arrested and consigned to a mental
hospital. We don't understand why he
let himself get caught in the first place,
and then how, seven years later, he
figures out how to escape. How crazy is
The killer, Curt Duncan, is a whip-
ped, middle-aged British man who
speaks little and frightens much. The
taut, quietly insane expressions of actor
Tony- Beckley simply compound our
suspicion that even the decencies of
savage crime have been contravened:
He plays his twisted games by rules we
cannot understand, and there is nothing
more disconcerting than not knowing
what he will do next.
Duncan shows up where he is not ex-
pected, and manages to hide where he
is not supposed to be. The almost
comical efforts of fatso-cop John Clif-
ford (Charles Durning) to outwit his
prey seem simply to fill the time before
we can be stunned again.
THE BODY OF the film is singularly
unilluminating. As Tracy, Colleen
Dewhurst plays a worn out barfly
whom Curt Duncan tries to befriend.
The acting here is good, the tension
rather middling, but the point of it all is
completely baffling. burning and
-Dewhurst, big stars, get a lot of face
time on camera, and a few feeble social
points across about the treatment of the
poor and the mentally ill are made, but
only. Beckley's portrayal of Duncan
drives the film forward.
An hour is wasted to show what kind
of fool he is and to demonstrate the
horror and violence available from the
twists of human expression.
The insidiousness of a mind so blitzed
that ,we cannot imagine how it thinks
draws on our primal fear of the
unknown. For all the conventions of
horror cinema dutifully trotted out -
the lights that turn off mysteriously;
the ominously swinging pendulum
clock; and the closet door mysteriously
ajar-what happens is starkly uncon-
ventional and gripping.
NOW, AT THIS very moment, film
professors are making a perfectly han-
dsome living explaining why it is people
subject themselves to knuckle-
whiteners like When A Stranger Calls.
Zeitgeist, epiphany, catharsis and all
that, don't you know. But great Scott!
Who really needs the grief? Do you?
Like a snake in the bed, Stranger net-
tles the imagination well after the en-
counter. But that's it. It doesn't ever
/nean anything. Watching such a film is
like easting food you don't like so you
can feel brave afterwards. Really
though, you'd like best to forget about
it. "Didn't you feel like som ne pun-
ched you in the stomach?" "Yup." "Me
too." "Oh, well, ah, let's go have a
And so Stranger is just a particularly
frightening experience, and not much
more. The social portraits of skid-row
like in Los Angeles are quickly forgot-
ten, and the sympathetic portrayal of a
frustrated cop with one ambition lacks
Fortunately, there's not much of this
sort of pretense. As a film, it 'is just
what is promises to be and no more: A
nightmare come true.
7:00 & 9:05
OLD ARCH. AUD.
The Ann Arbor Fi/m Cooperative Presents at MLB $1.50
Saturday, September 29
DR. STRANGELOVE, OR HOW I LEARNED
TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB
(Stanley Kubrick, 1964) 7 & 10:20-MLB 3
Dr. Strangelove, an ex-Nazi adviser to the President of the U.S., advises him on
the impending destruction of the world in this hilarious Cold War black comedy
on sexual insecurity and nuclear deterrence. Winner of 6Q international
awards. Celebrate SALT II. GEORGE C. SCOTT, STERLING HAYDEN, SLIM
PICKENS, KEENAN WYNN.
A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM
(Richard Lester, 1966) 8:40 only-MLB 3
Zero Mostel in the "Mostellaria," one of Plautus' funniest comedies. A regalia
of some of the finest visual comedians of our time--BUSTER KEATON, JACK
GILFORD, and MICHAEL HERDERN. PHIL SILVERS gives undoubtedly his best
screen performance as a "gentleman and procurer" of ancient Rome. BURT
SHEVELOVE and LARRY GOLBART (of MASH) adapted the script. Music and
lyrics by Stephen Sondheim-his first independent score. Photography by
Nicholas Roeg. COMEDY TONIGHT!'
Next Wednesday: Monicelli's BIG DEAL ON MADONNA STREET and
Olivier's RICHARD III at Aud A.;
NOTE: Free preview screening of 'TIL MARRIAGE DO US
PART with Laura Antonelli. FREE. Aud. A; Wed., Oct. 3rd, 4:00.
This is old Carol Kane, 27, playing a teenaged babysitter in Columbia's
recent release "When A Stranger Calls." The person on the phone wants her
to go upstairs and "check the children," but Carol has become too scared
even to move. Good thing, too. The kids'have gotten the worst of their en-
counter with a psychotic killer, as kids often do, and this, screaming fans, is
just the beginning. If your nerves aren't tight enough these days, "Stranger"
, is available for viewing at the State Theater.
SLAVE OF LOVEW '#
(NIKITA MIKHALKOV, 1976)
A film-within-a-film, a touching love story. SLAVE OF LOVE is set in the
Russian countryside, for removed from the revolution that is simultan-
eously taking place in the cities. Stunning color photography. One of the
most popular and best received films to come out of the Soviet Union in
recent years. Russian, with subtitles.
ANGELL HALL $1.50 7:00 & 9:00
Tomorrow: LA CAZA (The Hunt)
Applications being taken for new members.
By DAN BOBER
And lo, Euterpe; daughter of Zeus,
goddess of music, said unto Bill Haley,
Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Elvis, and all
her children: "Go forth and multiply.'
And so they went, sowing the seeds of a
new music throughout the land, where
it found good soil and bore them fruit.
Rising up, the fruit named themselves
the Beatles, the Stones, the Who, Hen-
drix, the Kinks, the Byrds, and Led
in Through the Out Door
Swun Song 16002
Zeppelin. And they were good and
Euterpe was good.
Looking around, the young plant saw
that its roots were strong and hardy, so
it sent forth diverse shoots to insure a
long life. It begot the Moody Blues, Yes,
Genesis, Chicago, Lynyrd Skynyrd,
Aerosmith, and Grand Funk, and San-
EVER STRONGER, ever taller, the
plant and its offspring gave birth to
tendrils named Styx, Kansas, Journey,
ELO, and Supertramp. And all was
good for a time.
Presently, the new shoots began to
survey the world around them and
thought that they saw fertile soil. And
the soil was green and bore dollar signs
and was not good. Roots sent to the soil
found no nourishment. Growth stopped
and the new shoots festered.
From this stinking miasma came
parasites bearing the names Foreigner
and Van Halen and albums entitled
Breakfast in America, Evolution,
Monolith, Leftoverture, and Pieces of
Eight. Meanwhile, a legion of pus-filled
ticks marching to the beat of a drum
named Disco attacked other portions of
the plant. And soon the whole fruit lay
fallow and threatened to die.
HAVING FORESEEN this, Euterpe'
had pruned part of the plant carefully.
See NEW, Page 8