The first twenty minutes of this film are so powerful that the rest of the film is almost negligible by comparison. I've shown this film to numerous people over the years, and they almost always sort of lose interest after the prologue with Carol Kane as the babysitter in peril. Still, "When A Stranger Calls" is still a decent movie as a whole, but the height of tension we experience initially never quite peaks again, leaving the affair feeling kind of lopsided.
The infamous re-enactment of the urban myth which features a babysitter being harassed by eerie phone calls was initially shot as a stand-alone short film. Director Fred Walton received such positive responses for it that he decided to use the short to secure financing for the feature. What you see at the beginning is essentially the original short, with everything else just sort of tacked on. Still, the evolution of the Jill character as a woman who becomes stronger after her terrifying experience was refreshing even by today's standards.
Here's a teaser - format look familiar to you?
There was a sequel, "When A Stranger Calls Back," once again reuniting director Walton with Charles Durning and Carol Kane, but there's no moment that holds the same effectiveness as anything we see in the original film unfortunately. Still, it's enjoyable on some level to watch the John Clifford and Jill Johnson characters up against another adversary who recalls the bad guy from the original to some extent. That's probably the sequel's biggest set back. He's also a ventriloquist and performance artist who manipulates the senses of his victims, which is far more corny than it is actually frightening. It's better than your average straight-to-cable thriller from that period and worth seeing if you're a fan of the original film.