Frank's Faves: Fateful-phone-call movies

Frank's Faves: Fateful-phone-call movies

"Hello, how are you? Have you been alright through all those lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely nights? That's what I'd say, I'd tell you everything if you pick up that telephone ... " — Electric Light Orchestra

I don't know about you, but weird stuff seems to happen all the time in my world.

Oh, I know, the real world is a weird place, and getting weirder all the time. And I know that weird stuff happens all the time to keep things weirder than we've been conditioned to expect.

And then there's my corner of the world, where weirdness occurs like changes in the weather — unpredictable in timing but totally predictable in inevitability — and with such frequency that it becomes the norm.

My latest example? One day last week, my wife's cellphone called her.

On her cellphone.

And no, it wasn't a case of "butt-dialing." I am her sworn eyewitness on this.

Her phone was sitting face-up on the sofa cushion beside her, untouched, when it rang. And the caller ID said it was her calling.

To my eternal regret, neither of us answered it at once, and it only rang two or three times before the call disconnected. And no, she didn't call herself back. So we have no idea what she wanted with herself.

Yes, I suppose it could have been a spammer spoofing her caller ID, but as I belatedly pointed out to her, what if it was Future Her calling with a crucial message for Present Her? What if she was calling to tell herself what stocks to invest in or lottery numbers to play, what upcoming flight or voyage she might want to miss, or what as-yet-unknown stranger or potential assailant she might want to avoid or distrust?

We'll never know. We missed the call ... which in my Wide, Wide World of Weird might just have been a good thing, especially when you consider what befell all these movie characters who didn't wait for the answering machine to pick up in what I'm dialing in as:


— "Cell" (2016). John Cusack and Samuel T. Jackson fortunately do not take the call the whole world gets in this apocalyptic thriller based on the Stephen King novel in which a mysterious, unexplained cellphone signal fries the brains of every person who hears it and causes violent mass chaos. Not the best story King ever conceived, as that initially intriguing premise inevitably devolves into a standard zombie flick, and yet, when you're out on the street and see nearly every head with a cellphone to his or her ear, this cautionary horror tale does give one pause to think ... and hang up.

— "When a Stranger Calls" (1979). Carol Kane takes the call I've previously listed among my favorite movie "uh-oh" moments as a baby-sitter tormented by an anonymous caller who turns out to be — just as in the urban legend that inspired the thriller — calling from inside the house. "Have you checked the children?" Enduringly chilling.

— "Phone Booth" (2002). Colin Farrell picks up the ringing payphone in the title location, one shockingly rendered obsolete since then, but here connected to a vengeful sniper on the other end of the line who sounds disturbingly like Jack Bauer gone rogue (because he's played by Keifer Sutherland, of course) but who has a very personal bone to pick with the poor sap he traps in the booth while trigger-itchy SWAT types close in. A great cat-and-mouse thriller that certainly did its part to doom the phone booth as a public place of refuge.

— "Cellular" (2004). Chris Evans is the accidental (but not at all super) hero in this crime thriller about an ordinary, easy-going guy who answers a random call from kidnapping victim Kim Basinger and winds up risking his life and the very dangerous ire of villain Jason Statham to save a total stranger and her son.

— "Sorry, Wrong Number" (1948). Barbara Stanwyck overhears a woman's murder being plotted over the phone and tries her best to prevent it, unaware that she is the intended victim in this film adaptation of the successful radio play. Yet, it's Burt Lancaster as her husband who gets to hear the movie's title in the heart-stopping final line — over the phone, of course.

HONORABLE MENTION — "Scream" (1996). This one doesn't quite make my top five by virtue of the fact that its phone scene is actually an homage to a previous fave on this list, "When a Stranger Calls," with its masked killer also terrorizing a teen-age girl who believes herself to be home alone when she makes the mistake of answering the phone. And yet, this opening scene, which features Drew Barrymore and launched director Wes Craven's successful franchise cleverly re-examining all the best-known tropes of modern horror movies, has become so iconic among creepy phone-call scenes that it demands its place here, if for no other reason than its "uh-oh" moment — when the anonymous caller ominously inquires, "Do you like scary movies?"

BONUS: My favorite fateful-phone-call movie I have yet to see — "Dial M For Murder" (1954). Yes, there really are a select few films by the Master of Suspense, director Alfred Hitchcock, that I have never seen, and this classic thriller about an adulterous couple played by Ray Milland and Grace Kelly is right at the top of the short list. I do know enough about it, however, to note the title refers to a murder scheme that hinges on the intended victim answering a carefully timed phone call intended to place her in just the right spot at just the right moment for the would-be assassin to strike. I also know, this being a Hitchcock film, that's not going to go quite as planned.

Topics (2):Film, Television