Recently, I had the unfortunate opportunity to see Simon West’s awful, moronic remake of “When a Stranger Calls”. It was a grueling experience even if Camilla Belle is gorgeous, but I thought I would challenge myself and watch the retread (in other words, rip-off) of the film called “When a Killer Calls” from Asylum. Why? I’m a sadist, or haven’t you noticed that by now? Asylum, as Leigh Scott claims, needs to pay them bills, so to do that they create rip-offs which apparently sell, and that in turn gives them a chance to create original entertainment.
The predicament with that theory is I find it incredibly illogical that these films would actually sell, and I haven’t really seen many original films from Asylum, lately. Only rip-offs. Coming soon: “666: The Demon Child”, “The Davinci Treasure”, and “Pirates of Treasure Island”! But I’m going to be easy on the folks, there. I’m sure only being prolific can’t pay the bills, so I approached “When a Killer Calls” unbiased. But I have to admit the reason I wanted to see this was to compare. Would “When a Stranger Calls (2006)” be better or worse to “When a Killer Calls”? Can a rip-off achieve what a remake couldn’t? In some ways, yes. Asylum’s retread is a lot stronger than the West remake, but in the end I found I’d rather watch paint dry than view either of these films ever again.
“When a Killer Calls” is much more watchable because of the simple fact that it’s much more willing to be gratuitous. Here, we see the killer, a rather anal murderer, who kills his victims in brutally grotesque methods, cleans up after himself, and has a glass of water all before leaving. After the obligatory opening murder scene, we enter into modern times where a young girl named Trisha is babysitting for a local family. Why is she babysitting? Who knows? Either way, after a long scene of her talking on the phone we’re set up with all the red herrings. Is the person calling her on her cell phone her prankster boyfriend, an ex, the neighbor, or the father getting his rocks off because of a loveless marriage?
What worked in this version was that we actually see the children—er—child. With a better actress, “Killer” could have benefited, especially in the scenes where the writers set-up the child Trisha has to babysit, which we know will eventually bite it, but Rebekah Kochan’s wooden performance often holds back what could have been an interesting peek into characterization, however vague. I suspect much of Kochan’s casting came from her obvious assets, since you can plainly hear her stumbling with her lines in many scenes, but for what entails she’s the blonde slutty girl who survives, a basic rare combination we haven’t seen since “Jason Lives”. So, after basic set-up of her job and character, she begins not only getting weird phone calls on her cell phone (the scenes of Trisha talking to the killer are shamelessly ripped off from the “Scream” films), but also pictures of the victims we saw murdered prior.
How the killer is able to watch her from her window and send the pictures through his computer, we’ll never really find out, but it’s supposed to be tense, and I imagine on paper it was a butt-clenching moment. Mervis’ dizzying direction really never adds to the atmosphere and quasi-tension as the bumps, and thumps, and shock scares occur. And then, we have the bloodshed. Save for the obvious noticeable flaws (The night shots are filmed during the day with obvious blue lens, and the camera dimmed), most of the film basically sputters on with Trisha constantly opening and closing her phone, Trisha staring off into space pretending she’s watching television, and the obvious introduction of fresh meat in the guise of her friends whom come over to party, and have sex with the child in the next room.
But what I was curious about was how does the killer find the ability to watch the babysitter through the window, and be on the road miles away to kill the parents at the same time? And how does the killer get her cell phone number, anyway? And you’re telling me in such a small house she’s not able to hear her friends being killed one by one? When you get right down to it, it’s still ninety minutes of watching someone talk over the phone pretending to be frightened when they could easily have shut off their phone and locked the doors.
Frankly, it’s better than West’s big budget remake, but in the long run, it’s really not much of an accomplishment to brag about. I’ve conceded that “The Babysitter” is just a better story when read as a short yarn around the campfire. I don’t think there’s anyone capable of turning it into a scary worthwhile thriller, be you an independent company like Asylum, or a bloated studio like Screen Gems.