Writer/director Chad Ferrin’s Night Caller focuses on a psychic hotline worker named Clementine Carter (Susan Priver), who starts receiving calls from a serial killer. She has visions of the grizzly deaths before he commits them. The killer, James Smith on the caller ID, loves to taunt Clementine on the phone before each murder, with a Ghostface-like voice.
Some horror flicks rely too heavily on gore and shock value rather than actual scares. That is like a basketball player who depends solely on their height. It just doesn’t interest me as a fan of the genre. I prefer for the filmmaker to show me some skill and creativity by shooting the skyhook, or in the case of a scary movie, by featuring a psychologically creepy killer like in David Fincher’s Zodiac.
Ferrin does ensure that Night Caller has a 1970s vibe due to the way it’s shot, the inclusion of kitschy humor, and the overall atmosphere. He also loves to reference other movies, with mentions of Patrick, Dementia 13, Laurel and Hardy’s The Music Box (a key plot point), and dialogue about characters with the last name of Loomis. The killings are in the style of Maniac, due to the POV of scalpings. On top of all that, the deranged psycho here loves wearing the skin of his victims.
While the film lifts famous elements from other, better horror titles, it forgot the most important part: actual scares. There’s plenty of gore alongside sick and twisted things like necrophilia. But it never feels Clementine is ever actually in danger, despite a situation or two that the film tried to manufacture as perilous. Unfortunately, the director doesn’t amp up the tension to be unnerving.
“…has visions of the grizzly deaths before he commits them.”
The lack of scares generated by Night Caller can be partly attributed due to the over-the-top performances of Susan Priver and Bai Ling as Jade Mei, the owner of the psychic hotline. Their reactions are too heightened, hysterical, and silly to be believable. This may have been done purposefully to capture the campy feel of the era, and it works in that regard.
Overall, I did enjoy the performances, though Priver and Ling never sell the frightening scenario. Robert Miano as Charles Carter, the bedridden father of Clementine, who also happens to be a psychic, is quite good. He’s believable and affable as an elderly man stuck in the past, watching old movies and pinning for his deceased ex-wife.
However, I need to feel some level of fear to enjoy a horror movie. If it’s just blood, guts, and necrophilia, as is the case with this film, then viewers end up feeling gross afterward. That exhilaration of being like a kid hiding under the covers in the dark never manifests engagingly.
Night Caller goes to the depths of absurdity at times, albeit not in a funny way. As such, it just comes off as a sick and strange picture with copious gore, but it does not send chills down your spine. Some horror lovers (maybe a large portion even) may enjoy the depravity, but I need some scares to be down with the sickness.
"…some horror lovers may enjoy the depravity..."