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Feature: When A Stranger Calls

Deadly call

We visit the set of the remake of the classic Seventies stalker to meet star Camilla Belle and director Simon West

In charge of this remake of the seminal 1979 shocker is director Simon West, who proved his mettle with the first Tomb Raider film, although he admits he wasn’t a fan of the original. “When I started work on this film, I’d not seen the original movie,” admits West. “Most Americans you mention it to say ‘Oh wow, that’s a scary movie!’ although it’s more like a race memory. I don’t know how many have actually seen it, and how many just know two lines from it.”

“When I did sit down to watch it, I only watched the first 20 minutes, because our film only deals with the first 20 minutes of the original film. We’ve expanded on it, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s the most interesting bit. It’s very simple in the original, Jill never leaves the living room, the cops turn up. We’ve expanded it in every way. The house is ten times bigger in this film. It’s a very unusual house. I wanted to get away from the classic genre movie Gothic Victorian classic American house, the big old scary house on the top of the hill. It’s still very dark, it’s very like a labyrinth, especially for Jill, she doesn’t know the house. How many scares can you put in one house? I’ve been trying to go through it and say ‘How can I get the most scares?’”

This ethic was carried into the look of the film by production designer John Gary Steele, as he explains. “I wanted to make a film completely different from more traditional films like The Amityville Horror, not that this is anything like that at all, but I wanted to make it the opposite of that, basically. There are millions of people who live in modern nice homes, a scary movie doesn’t all have to be traditional and it’s more fun that way. You know in the circus there’s a glass maze, a house of mirrors or whatever. She Jill comes to this house and she’s never been here before, the parents don’t want to introduce her to the kids because the kids are asleep and she works her way through the glass house having never been here before. It’s dark, and so we tried to make it so there were many things to shoot through.”

“You have to remember,” West continues, “that this is a thriller, not a Horror movie. There isn’t a Supernatural element, everything that happens has to happen in the real world. Everything has to be totally realistic, although the house makes it different. Most houses don’t have atriums, ponds and trees and misters, it’s like having an exterior inside the house. For me the most scary films are when the audience’s imagination does the work. As soon as you see anything, it’s not scary anymore. There’s a 16-year-old girl having the worst night of her life because her phone’s been cut off. She finds herself in a situation where she has to fight her way out of it – she’s not a victim, she’s much more the hero, she has to rise to the challenge.”

When it came to the phone itself, was there a temptation to use an old-fashioned artefact as the object of Jill’s terror? “We thought about using an antique phone as a kitsch thing – a big old rotary phone - but that would look like we were trying too hard – and the younger audience might not even know what it was! ‘Why’s this thing got a dial on it?’”

by Judy Sloane

Read the full interview when you buy
Shivers #126

Photo © Screen Gems Inc
Feature © Visual Imagination 2006. Not for reproduction

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Shivers #126
March 2006
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