When a stranger calls

The telephone has a sordid history in cinema, dating back to Dial M for Murder and even earlier. And as we all know, any time the phone rings in a horror film, you can be sure that it’s Satan on the other line.

Part of what makes telephone calls in horror films so frightening is that the viewer typically cannot see Satan on the other line tormenting the film’s protagonist. It’s the same basic idea as the unseen perpetrator; we fear that which we cannot see. The telephone has been used for many a game of cat and mouse and to terrify countless babysitters. In honor of one of the most nefarious tools of terror that horror cinema has to offer, we are about to count down eight of the most terrifying phone calls in horror. Check them out below!

Ghostface Calls Casey in Scream

It may be tame by today’s standards, but when audiences saw the opening scene in Scream, where Casey (Drew Barrymore) receives threatening phone calls and is forced to play a deadly game of movie trivia, we were naturally frightened. Ghostface was not only threatening her, but also making threats against her boyfriend who was tied up in the back yard. Since Barrymore received top billing for the film we expected her to be the requisite final girl. Killing her off in the first fifteen minutes was a bold and genius move. The unexpected decision to kill off Casey as well as a genius script and keen direction made Scream one of the most intelligent horror films in years. It had audiences afraid to answer the phone in the same way that Jaws had audiences afraid to hit the beach!

Scream The Billy Phone Calls in Black Christmas (1974)

Billy was and probably still is a major creep and a huge pervert. He made sexually explicit remarks that would make even the most sexually experienced individual blush. Not only that, he was half murmuring and half screaming about the murderous proclivities that were afoot. He terrified the poor girls in that sorority house as well as the film’s audience. Keeping Billy’s identity a mystery made the film much scarier than if Bob Clark had shown us everything and taken the suspense out of the mayhem.

Black Christmas The Stranger Calling in When a Stranger Calls

When a Stranger Calls is the holy grail of the telephone terror film. Jill (Carol Kane) learned first hand just how scary five simple words could be. “Have you checked the children?” The stranger was ominous, perverse, and relentless. His performance was so chilling that it felt as if we were on the other end of the line. Carole Kane was the perfect blend of vulnerable and tough. We felt for her, but we also wanted to see her start some sh**. When a Stranger Calls went on to inspire countless slasher and suspense films to come out in the years since its release.

When a stranger calls All of the Calls in Ringu and The Ring

The phone calls in Ringu and The Ring weren’t terrifying because of what was being said – or what wasn’t being said – on the other end on the line, it had everything to do with the realization that you were about to die. It’s part of human nature – for most people at least – to not want to know when they are going to die. To have that information is more than most people can bear to handle. To receive a phone call letting you know that you are about to kick the bucket is an unimaginably terrifying fate and had more timid viewers hesitant to pick up the phone after watching for the first time.

The Ring Fred Krueger Telephones Nancy in A Nightmare on Elm Street

It was scary enough that the phone was ringing when it wasn’t even plugged in to the wall, but the proverbial cake was taken when Fred tried to give Nancy a little smooch through the receiver. Though it is slightly comical to watch after having seen it one hundred times, the first time viewers saw Fred trying to give Nancy a French kiss by way of her telephone, it was equal parts disgusting and terrifying. Poor Nancy had already been through Hell and back, the last thing she needed was for Fred to try and mouth-rape her through the phone.

A Nightmare on Elm Street All of the Phone Calls from Rose the Bitter Old Wench in The Caller

This little known low budget horror flick packed a lot of punch. Though it doesn’t utilize any mind-blowing special effects or a lot of locations, it succeeds at what it set out to do: terrify its audience. The calls that poor Mary continued to receive from Rose, who claims to be calling from the past, were chilling, traumatic, and mean spirited. As Rose goes more and more insane, her calls become more and more terrifying. When Mary tries to cut contact, Rose retaliates by brutalizing Mary as a child. Making things even worse, Rose phones after the fact to coyly gloat about her nefarious handiwork. Way to go, Rose.

The Caller All of the Calls from 976-Evil

Poor Hoax (Stephen Geoffreys) just wanted to fit in. Unfortunately, her wore sweater vests, let his eccentric mother run his life, and had a really creepy obsession with spiders. So, when Hoax began calling a ‘Horror-Scope’ line, he finally began to experience a taste of being slightly less of a creep. Unfortunately for young Hoax, his newfound popularity was short-lived; he began receiving phone calls from Satan – or one of Satan’s minions – telling him to do all sorts of terrible things. But, it’s not just Hoax that is tormented by the ‘Horror-Scope’ line, one unlucky caller becomes the victim of an exploding phone booth. How’s that for a terrifying phone call?

976-EvilThe Indrid Cold Call in The Mothman Prophecies

When John (Richard Gere) receives a call from a friend who has the evasive Indrid Cold on the line, it starts out fairly uneventful, but within seconds, Cold is telling John where he grew up, details about his parents, and even what John is doing as the two of them converse. Moreover, Indrid Cold has a fantastically creepy voice, which amps up the tension by about one thousand percent. Seeing that scene for the first time in a dark theater scared the tar out of me.

Mothman Prophecies

A very honorable mention to Takashi Miike’s One Missed Call. 

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Tyler Doupe' is the managing editor at Wicked Horror. He has also written for Fangoria, Rue Morgue, FEARnet, Fandango, Ranker, ComingSoon, STYD, and more.