The Caller (1987) — A cult mystery begging to be discovered

“Who’s there?”

Justin’s rating: Random reminiscing about rotary phone dials

Justin’s review: I promise you, whatever movie you think you’re getting with The Caller, you’re wrong. And if that’s intriguing enough of a vague recommendation for you, then drop this review right now and go watch it. It’s the sort of experience best left as unspoiled as possible.

But if you still need some convincing or further explanation, I’ll do my best to provide that without tainting your expectations. In this mostly two-person tale set in a mostly singular location, something weird is going on. Weird and hard to nail down.

The Girl (Madolyn Smith) returns to a cabin where not all is quite right. For starters, there’s a broken-down car in front with doll parts strewn about inside. Then there’s the hat box she’s carrying that’s dripping what looks like blood out of the side. Weapons are all over the walls as decorations. The way she goes about the place, it’s not exactly a sure thing that this is her home, even though she’s acting as though it is.

In the first ten minutes, this movie puts you on edge with all of the out-of-place oddness that extends to the bizarre conversation The Girl has on the phone with her daughter and the way the camera keeps lingering on all sorts of seemingly trivial details in the house.

When a Dark and Stormy Night arrives, a stranger — The Caller (Malcolm McDowell) — arrives to ask to use her phone. But when the two start interacting, nothing quite adds up. They sort of seem like they know each other. There’s a bit of sexual chemistry buzzing about, as if this is roleplay. The Girl mentions her “company” and a “daughter” from time to time. And The Caller keeps awarding points for some reason…

Almost all of the runtime of this movie is spent with The Girl and The Caller going back-and-forth in various conversations. This could’ve been horribly boring, but it really isn’t. McDowell and Smith are electric as they test and prod each other through a variety of topics. They get more and more intense as the movie progresses, and so many questions are raised about what’s going on that you won’t know what to ask first.

As I said before, The Caller won’t end up being the movie you think it is, unless you’ve been spoiled somewhere else. It starts out all heavy-handed as if it’s playing out the beats of a horror movie that we’ve seen a hundred times before. But by establishing this smoke screen of expectations and tropes, something far more creative and sinister lurks below the surface.

And that’s all I’ll say about this, other than I definitely think you should see it.

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