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DVD Review: The Caller

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Note to self: a rundown remote cabin in the woods may not be ideal location for a woman living alone, especially in a movie. But everything may not be what it seems in The Caller, a recently released film from 1987 starring Malcolm McDowell and Madolyn Smith.

The DVD is from MGM’s Limited Edition Collection and includes only the film, no extras. It is in full screen format and runs 97 minutes. The two actors are the only players and The Caller at times feels more like a two-person play than a movie. The director Arthur Allan Seidelman works primarily on television, directing many made for television movies and series like  L.A. Law, Amazing Grace and Murder, She Wrote.

The film begins with Smith calling her daughter on the phone, “You’re going to be proud of Mommy, what Mommy’s going to do,” while McDowell lurks outside the cabin. He knocks on the door and she lets him in to use the phone to call a tow truck as he tells her the old saw — that his car has broken down. From that moment on it is a game of wills as each person dances around the other, trying to determine what is the truth and what isn’t.

McDowell is suitably creepy in his “is he or isn’t he a bad guy?” role, but Smith meets him quirk for quirk, as she is no typical damsel in distress or crazy lady in the woods. The two perform a pas de deux that includes inferences of three possible murders and employs eerie props such as a bloody hat box, an axe, and a crossbow.

The dialogue volleys back and forth, with each player trying to psych out the other. The conversation quickly and eventually turns to murder, “If you were going to murder someone what was the first thing you would do? …I’d tell him you were never here.” They circle a chess board on the table between them, “What about the motive?You don’t even know me.”

Sometimes the film feels like a fractured fairy tale, “There’s only one path through the forest.” The movie takes a real turn, maybe even goes off the rails, when the two characters extend their dance beyond the first night, into several days, as the caller, McDowell, keeps coming back for more. But what?

The Caller is a strange little movie, unusual in so many ways — for its Twilight Zone-ish script that doesn’t make a lot of sense, its cast of two, its remote locations. It’s an interesting, odd little late-80s low-budget thriller.

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