Steve Feke and Fred Walton
Adapted from folk legend “The Babysitter and The Man Upstairs”
Starring: Charles Durning, Carol Kane, Colleen Dewhurst, Tony Beckley
Budget $1.5M Box Office $21.4M
IMDb 6.5/10 Rotten Tomatoes 33% Metacritic 58/100
I initially saw the sequel to this movie a long time ago. It was a made for TV movie that came out in 1993 called When A Stranger Calls Back. The memory of the chilling content of that movie is what pushed me to want to see this movie, both the remake, which I already reviewed HERE and this version, the original from 1979, which I am going to address in this post.
I found out some interesting things while researching this film for review. This film is based on an urban legend widely told in the 1970s. It was spun from a classic folklore story, “The Babysitter and The Man Upstairs”. It is a story about a babysitter that is called repeatedly through the evening by an unknown callers. He tells her over and over to check the children upstairs. When she calls the police they tell her they will trace the next call. Once they do, they call her back and tell her the calls are coming from inside the house on an upstairs line and to get out immediately. As with most urban legends, this story spawned from an actual crime that happened in the 1950s.
One of the articles about Ms. Christman's untimely death. (Note: The gentleman mentioned at the end of the above article was not only not part of the attack on Ms. Christman in any way but, he was later found to be exonerated of the crimes mentioned above and found to have been savagely beaten and coerced by police officials during interrogation.)
In March of 1950, at around 7:30pm on a dreary typical day, thirteen-year-old Janett Christman went to the Romack’s quiet secluded house just outside Columbia, MO to babysit Ed and Anne Romack’s three-year-old son while the two went for a well needed night out. The Romack’s had just recently moved to the isolated rural area and being well aware of this, Ed showed Janett his shotgun, how to load and unload it and how to fire it before they left her that night. He instructed her to keep the shotgun near the front door. He told her to keep the doors and windows locked and to turn on the front porch light if anyone came to the door.
The weather that night in late March was crummy and as the night went on, mere nasty rain turned into more of a thunderstorm bringing with it sleet and below freezing temperatures. Everything was fine in the Romack house until around 10:35pm.
The Romack’s had gone to play cards with their friends, The Muellers, at another mutual friend’s house. The Romacks were there all evening long until approximately 1:15am, when they left to head home. Anne Romack had called home around 10:45-11:00pm to check on how her son was doing but, she got no answer. Anne just assumed that young Janett had fallen asleep on the couch or perhaps one of the many family members subscribed to the multi-user party-line were using the phone at the time of her call. She brushed it off and continued her evening out with her husband until they went home to relieve the young babysitter.
At around 10:35pm, as mentioned before, things became unsettling at the Romack residence. A call was placed to the local police department where, upon answering, a young woman could be heard screaming in panic and hurling the words “Come quick!” Although the answering officer tried to get more information, the call was cut off and the line went to a dial tone before he could get an address to respond to. But, he knew the terror in the lady’s voice was real and anxiously awaited a follow-up call for the address on the call-out.
At around 1:35pm the Romack’s returned home to find their teen babysitter dead in a pool of blood on the living room floor, having been brutally murdered and violently raped. She had suffered a head wound from a blunt object, multiple stab/puncture wounds from a small cylindrical object and the perpetrator had cut a cord from an iron in the sewing room with a pair of scissors from the house and tightly wrapped it around Janett’s neck. The house phone was hanging off the hook, explaining why Anne was unable to get through and young Greg, the Romack’s three-year-old son, was upstairs asleep and unharmed. Apparently he had slept through the whole attack.
While there was a lot of circumstantial evidence for one suspect, a Mr. Robert Mueller, a close friend of the Romack’s and the only other family Janett babysat for (the Muellers), there was never a trial nor even charges brought against the man. Furthermore, the investigation was not only a tug of war between to departments looking for a collar, it was also so grossly mishandled that NO ONE would ever be able to get a conviction.
The case sits unsolved to this very day. And by now, all the files, evidence and reports are completely gone. It is said that nothing remains of this investigation or case except the rumors, the implications and assumptions.
In this movie a young teenager is babysitting for a couple. While she is there she begins to receive taunting phone calls from a stranger telling her to check on the two children upstairs. At first she blows it off but, after the calls persist she phones the police. They tell her to keep the caller on the line and they will trace the next call. The young sitter is terrorized on this night and it takes years for her to move beyond it. Unfortunately, the man who terrorized her escapes from the asylum where he was being treated and a private detective is determined to find him.
This film is widely acclaimed for its first twenty minutes as it is touted as one of the scariest openings in horror film history. If that doesn’t make you want to see this movie, nothing will. Beyond that, the rest of the film is pretty well made with a good deal of suspense. Carol Kane has the perfect eyes for a horror movie. It’s as if she’s naturally in that state of fright all the time, with those big wide eyes. In my opinion, this might be her best role (other than her role as the ghost of Christmas Present in Scrooged, that is just hilarious). But, Kane gives an excellent terror factor when you are looking at the fact that this was made in 1979, one year after Carpenter came out with Halloween in such massive success with Jamie Lee Curtis.
In the 70s, horror was really just in the beginning stages of pushing the REAL envelope and trying the new things that paved the way for the horror we know today so, there wasn’t a whole lot of blood and gore like we might normally see now. That’s true with this film as well. However, the director does an excellent job with allowing what you DON’T see to be the thing that actually terrifies you, a creepy voice with no body or face. I would think that is more giving a nod to Spielberg and Jaws because he more or less did that in 1975, even though the shark not being in most of the film was purely unplanned. (Hey, it still worked out magnificently and if the shark had freakin’ worked, honestly, the movie probably would have sucked. There. I said it. Now you can hate me. If you don’t already. Still…moving on.)
I do love the nostalgia of this movie. I grew up when there were no cell phones. I remember my parents, my Dad especially, being all stoked because we got our first cordless phone with an answering machine built into the base station. Up until then we didn’t have anything called voicemail. There was no call-waiting. And there weren’t all these fancy ringtones. A phone just rang. There were three places a phone would usually be in a house. The kitchen, the bedroom, or the living room. The kitchen phone sometimes had a VERY LONG springy cord that allowed you to walk through many rooms of the house IF you didn’t mind knocking over a bunch of stuff, getting tangled in everything and having to unwind and untangle the cord later. But usually, there was one phone and it was in the kitchen. This meant that if you wanted to talk on the phone, everyone got to hear your conversation. Your parents heard it, your siblings heard it, friends if they were over, company if there were people over with your parents, everybody. There wasn’t privacy. Kids didn’t talk in private. Privacy was what you got when you got a job and got your own place. But, as usual, I get sidetracked.
The fun thing for me is the old school phone ringing. Back in the late 70s and in the 80s this definitely would have changed how I felt about hearing the phone ring when I was alone at night. They all sounded the same and it a quiet, dark house, it almost has an echoing kind of sound as the phone rings over and over, like it’s taunting you.
It’s easy to see why this film would have developed a cult following over the years. It is also understandable why it did so well at the box office. What I am having trouble with is the remake. How did they get to THAT when they had THIS and the original crime, which is just awful and horrifying, to start with???? It’s almost like they tried to make it bad. When they made the remake I think they did a serious disservice to this film. And I’m not biased because I saw the remake first. Most of the time you are slanted toward the film you see first. I will not be watching the remake again after seeing the original.
Bradley Cooper, Leslie Bibb, Brooke Shields, Roger Bart, Ted Rami, Vinnie Jones
Budget $15M Box Office $3.5M
IMDb 6.1/10 Rotten Tomatoes 72% Metacritic 58/100
I watched this movie and for the life of me, I can’t figure out why it got a 72% on RT but, then again, I rarely agree with those people over there. Not only is the plot very thinly woven together in my opinion, but Bradley Cooper is one of the last people that I would choose for this kind of role. I suppose for the role as an insecure and sensitive artist, yeah, he’s your guy but for a horror movie? I mean, come on!!! This guy what voted Sexiest Man Alive at one point (yuck) AND is probably the better looking one in at least half of his romances, which should be outlawed. I’m sorry gents but, the guy should never be better looking than the girl, period. But, let’s get back to the plot for a second.
To me, it’s barely held together. It’s based off a short story by Clive Barker, which I admit I haven’t read. I have a feeling though that it’s definitely lost something in the translation from the written word to the produced film. Maybe it’s a movie I need to watch more than once, though I suspect with the Bradley Cooper aspect, I won’t be doing that any time soon. I can see how over many, MANY years it MIGHT develop a cult following but with everything else there is out there that ALSO has that potential, I don’t see this being as big of a deal as other films like The Shining or The Nightmare on Elm Street series or Maniac (another one I’ve disagreed with).
However, it IS pretty hardcore in the gore scenes and the blood splatter is done fairly well. I enjoyed the kill scenes, the violence and the death in this flick even if the acting wasn’t at the top of my list. The film also displayed an excellent suspense factor that was sorely needed in any point but, again, I felt the story line was missing some cohesion in parts that would have helped with the flow.
Our villain, now there’s a creepy character. Not only is he ugly and bulky, he’s got this silent stare with dead eyes that could send the coldest of chills down your spine if you were the one to encounter him on the last subway train of the night. There’s also something very unnatural about the physique of the villain, played by Vinnie Jones. I know I’m probably showing my age here but, the was a movie called “Innerspace” that came out in 1987 with Martin Short and Dennis Quaid. One of the bad guys, played by Vernon Wells, had this very boxy build, unusually square shoulders, very short hair, barely speaks, creepy smile. The guy in Midnight Meat Train reminds me of that guy in Innerspace.
I don’t know if I will watch this film again but, for the rest of you, it may very well be worth watching once.
Written and Produced by
Franck Khalfoun, Alexandre Aja and Gregory Levasseur
Rachel Nichols as Angela Bridges
Wes Bentley as Thomas Barclay
Budget $3.5M Box Office $7.7M
IMDb 5.9/10 Rotten Tomatoes 33% Metacritic 37/100
When I first started watching this film I have to admit, I wasn’t impressed. I felt it was flat and lacked any kind of action or substance. But then we got to the parking garage and the creepy guy that made watching plastic bags in the wind famous, he kicked the movie into high gear and we were off for a ride on the crazy train.
Everything starts normal enough. Angela is at the office, trying to leave as she is running late for a family Christmas get together. When she gets to her car it won’t start. Thomas, the nighttime security guard for the parking garage, tries to help her but, they are unsuccessful. She is slightly less than grateful I guess you could say. I mean, she’s already irritated and in a hurry, then her car won’t start and this guy that tries to help her is really only being more of a hindrance rather than being of any aid. So, she gets a little snarky and yeah, he picks up on it. Still he offers for her to spend the Christmas evening with him since she is without a running car and late for her event anyways but, she turns him down.
She goes to the lobby of the building to call and wait for a cab however, when the taxi arrives she finds herself locked in the building. She motions for the cabbie to wait as she runs to the parking garage to try to get out that way but, she is too late as she sees him drive off as she runs up to the gate. Shortly thereafter the lights in the garage go out and Angela is left with just the light of her cell phone.
Thomas then swiftly attacks her, doses her with chloroform over her face and takes her to his office in the parking garage where he chains her foot to the table and has an entire Christmas feast (in Tupperware) set up for them. He has candles and champagne and tries to make it a romantic dinner date. He has changed her clothes into a white dress, instead of the business attire she had been wearing when he put her out.
Then, over a creepy psychotic attempt at a romantic dinner date conversation, Thomas starts explaining to Angela that he’s been watching her on the security cameras for some time now. He knows about a particular co-worker making an aggressive drunken pass at her in the elevator during a work function one evening. He tells her he knows about her family. In fact, he makes her call them to cancel her evening, something she apparently does often so, to them, it’s not unusual. He then continues to terrorize her. At one point, he puts her in his car and takes her to a lower level where he shows her another captive of his, the sexually aggressive co-worker that made a pass at her. Thomas wants her to exact revenge on this guy, Jim, who is duct taped to a chair and gagged, and tries to hand her a flashlight to do so. Angela refuses. Thomas gets pissed as all get out, fuming about how she should have more respect for herself and shouldn’t be okay with guys treating her like that and Thomas decides he’s going to be her knight in shining armor. (I guess he’s forgotten that he’s emotionally and psychologically torturing her and that she’s probably considering him anything BUT charming at the moment but, hey, maybe he thinks that’s the way to a woman’s heart. It’s NOT. Just so you all know. It’s DEFINITELY NOT.)
So, Thomas hops out of the car and starts wailing on this poor guy who actually apologized to Angela in her office before she left work that very night. (He knew he got out of hand and he admitted it, asked for her forgiveness.) Now, she’s trying to tell Thomas that this guy said he was sorry and he’s a good man and he has a family and that’s when Thomas REALLY loses it. He gets back in the car and within seconds puts the pedal to the metal and plows the front end of the car into Jim. He starts pushing Jim around on the chair at faster and faster rates, screaming at both his victims in and out of the car. Next thing you know, chair guy is flattened between the wall and the front end of the car. And as if that wasn’t enough, either for Angela or this guy who just got rammed, Thomas backs up and rams him again! (Oh the horror!!!! This is actually a great scene.)
Luckily, during his psycho killing fit, Angela is able to escape the car, shed her high heels and find a spot to hide. Thomas decides to hide Jim’s body so, Angela takes the opportunity to make her way back to the office for her cell phone. And that’s when things get really interesting and crazy. All she has to do is get past Tom’s chained up guard dog, get her phone, find some keys, find a way out, avoid Thomas and escape to the outside. Easy. Right?
I really liked this film. I watch a lot of true crime and people and situations like this actually do exist. The Thomas character is well portrayed. He is so obsessed with Angela that he doesn’t even realize that he is the very thing that is destroying her, not this Jim guy that he has fixated on as the person who has so horribly disrespected her. And his lack of ability to see that he is scaring her or that he is emotionally and psychologically torturing her is completely in line with how people like this really act in real life. This would be a great example of an obsessed fan/stalker type thing gone awry.
See, Thomas has fixated a romantic interest on Angela. He made his move, albeit under the initial action of kidnapping and holding her hostage but, see to him, that’s the only way he could get her attention. Once he finally got her to sit with him and listen to him, she rebuffed him. Big mistake. He did NOT take this well and because he felt majorly insulted, he lost his cool completely. THIS is what most likely put Angela’s life in REAL DANGER. If she had played along with his delusion, she may very well have been able to build a rapport and trust and get him to take her out of the parking garage at some point where she would have a better chance to make a break for it. There’s little to no point in running away in a locked cage of sorts.
So, the creep factor was definitely there. And it was an easy movie to follow and it flowed very fast. The action kept things moving too. The acting was good. This was finally a role that the plastic bag guy (Bentley) could play and play well. He actually does “psychotic killer stalker” perfectly…should we be worried about that???
I’m not sure why this film has gotten such low review ratings. I mean, for crying out loud, even Roger Ebert liked it! Yet it only barely doubled its budget at the box office. I don’t get it. It’s not the typical psycho-thriller and it’s not the typical slasher film. It’s truly a good flick. That’s why I left off the ending again. This is another one I think you guys really ought to see yourselves. I didn’t want to ruin it for you.
Directed and Written by
Dylan Baker, Rochelle Aytes, Anna Paquin, Brian Cox
Budget $12M Video $9.8M
IMDb 6.8/10 Rotten Tomatoes 83% Metacritic TBD
This was an interesting little treat that I wish I would have gotten around to watching at Halloween this past year. But, I watched it this past week and I think this is one film that RT and I actually agree on. I also think that if it had gotten some sort of big theater release like Halloween 2018 it would have been a lot more of a money maker. I’m not sure I understand why it went straight to video. They did a bunch of random screenings when it came out, some months apart and they all went well. Then they go straight to video and don’t even make enough money on sales to get back what they spent on the film budget. It just seems insane to me.
One of the reasons this was such a successful movie is that it had a Creepshow/Tales From the Darkside kind of feel to it. The film is comprised of four tales woven together with a common theme between them, Sam, a small trick-or-treater in orange footy pajamas and a mask made from a burlap sack. He’s a cute yet creepy little guy that always appears to be harmless and yet, is anything but. Still, he’s the constant character that ties all the stories together.
Throughout the whole film there’s a fantastic horror value with a dash of levity but, the seriousness of the dastardly deeds committed in these tales are still very clear to the viewer. The film seems to be preaching the “rules” of Halloween and the things that might happen if they are not properly followed.
For instance, a couple gets home after a night out of Halloween fun, although she seems to be quite the buzzkill and honestly, just a pain in the ass with a bad attitude all around. Anyways, as they are walking to their front door, she leans down to blow out the candle in the carved pumpkin and her boyfriend/husband tells her that she’s not supposed to blow it out before midnight. She starts making fun of him and he says it’s tradition but, she maintains it’s stupid and blows it outs, thus sealing her fate. Yes, she dies. I won’t tell you how and I’m not going to tell you any more about the stories because, like I said, they are all woven together.
This film WAS very fun and entertaining to watch. The horror was a pleasure to watch with each installment adding more to the tasty tidbits that the Halloween theme provides. It was like getting full size candy bars on Halloween four houses in a row! I can completely understand how this movie developed a cult following. As I stated before, it would have had an even bigger following if they had actually promoted it like they do the BIG movies and released it in theaters with a bang as they seem to do with everything else. This is truly a hidden gem in the world of the horror genre. You won’t want to miss out on it.