Back in the days of rotary phones, the phone ringing — with no idea who was on the other end — was incredibly frightening. Therefore, as we move through the best month of the year, it’s time for some ringing from the dark side. I was going to say to save a quarter if you need to call, but I was born a long time ago and not every reader would get the reference.
1. I Saw What You Did (William Castle, 1965): Is this one of the first slashers? Is there anyone better than Joan Crawford? How great was life before Caller ID, when you could call people at will and abuse them over the phone? Well, maybe it wasn’t that awesome for the teens in this movie, because they pretty much invite a maniac over to kill them.
2. Black Christmas (Bob Clark, 1974): Speaking of early slashers, no movie of this genre makes better use of the telephone. That’s right, not even When a Stranger Calls. And don’t even say Scream. Nope, Billy’s increasingly unhinged calls go on until past the end of the movie, making everyone uncomfortable every time a phone goes one ringy dingy (yes, I really am that old).
3. 976-EVIL (Robert Englund, 1988): Age being the theme — and phones, yes, always phones — we once lived in a world where every piece of media had a 976 number (or 900) to go with it. Don’t believe me?
That leads us to this movie, where an astrology line promises great power to teenagers that need it. Along the way, that phone line brings the gate to Hell to one of their bedrooms and sends hundreds of cats to devour a church lady.
4. Bells (Michael Anderson, 1982): Also known as Murder by Phone, this pits John Houseman and Richard Chamberlain — truly a dream team for 1982’s teenagers — attempt to stop a slasher who is using high pitched noises through the phone to blow peoples’ heads clean off.
If you’re looking for more phone-rich horror, I can also recommend one of the segments of Black Sabbath, the J-horror series One Missed Call and a movie I already had in one of these drive-in evenings, the astounding Dial:Help, a film in which a payphone perforates a pervert with quarters.
By the way, this is where I confess that a good chunk of my teenage years were spent calling movie theaters and drive-ins to see what was playing that weekend, then being sad that my parents wouldn’t take me. I mean, would you drive a barely post-puberty Sam to see The Manitou and have him flipping out for a week? Trust me. I was a handful.