The Caller (1987) – A Review


A review of the 1987 psychological thriller The Caller starring Malcolm McDowell and Madolyn Smith, a strange low-budget film that is nothing like you will expect

The Caller 1987 thriller Malocolm McDowell Madolyn Smith movie

A woman (Madolyn Smith) in a remote cabin in the woods is preparing an evening dinner for a guest when a stranger (Malcolm McDowell) shows up at her door. He explains his car has broken down and asks to use her phone to call for a tow. She reluctantly agrees.

This seemingly chance encounter between these two characters ignites suspicion of who one another really are and what true motivations are lurking underneath the surface. An escalating series of ominous, strange accusations are hurled against each other as they poke holes in one anothers stories of what they’re doing there and why.

Their meetings extend past this stormy night in a series of surreal encounters. Their taunts, vague conversations and outright accusations continue. Tension mounts and unsettling threats continue. When a clear inconsistency in the Caller’s story is caught by the woman and an obvious lie has been revealed by him with no way for him to hide it, he shrugs it off and casually remarks, “a point for you”.

Madolyn Smith The Caller 1987The questions will soon begin seeping off the screen and your curiosity will surge. You will soon be perplexed trying to figure out what exactly is happening between these two characters!

What the heck is going on? Who are these people? Why is there not one other person we see in this town? What is all this lying about? Do they somehow know each other? Why are they behaving so oddly? Do these characters even have names? Why isn’t she calling for help? Why are they keeping track of how many points they win? What am I missing? Wait, what does that mean? Where the heck is this story going???

The answers do indeed come in the final ten minutes of this story – and it’s a very unpredictable twist that you won’t see coming.

It’s hard to talk about The Caller without divulging the ending, but I’m going to try as best I can. As longtime readers of mine know I’m not a fan of giving away spoilers, I really hate that. My feeling always is – I want to watch the movie, I don’t want to be told the movie by someone else.

Malcolm McDowell The Caller 1987 thriller filmBesides, nowadays it’s pretty difficult to ever go into watching a movie completely cold. There are plenty of places to find out the complete rundown of a film now. Sometimes the film’s trailer does it on its own. So, I’m not going touch the ending of The Caller. If you really want to get the scoop on it there are plenty of places you can find that will discuss it in great detail.

I really don’t recommend that though. I say, first watch The Caller then read all about it. While I wouldn’t call it a great movie, it was very interesting and held my attention throughout the whole thing. And it certainly stuck with me since watching it.

That mainly came from McDowell and Smith who are both really good! They’re mysteriously referred to as only ‘The Girl’ and ‘The Caller’. They are the only two characters in this. We don’t see one other person throughout.

Malcolm McDowell The Caller 1987 movieThings begin as a seemingly standard thriller-type of story. Lone vulnerable woman, strange creepy guy showing up. This looks like it’s going to be something along the lines of Sorry Wrong Number, The Collector, Lady In A Cage, P2, heck even Misery. One of those single locale set movies with a character being tormented by an attacker and having to survive this encounter.

Nope. The Caller isn’t quite like any of those.

After an opening setting up the scenario – a remote town, an abandoned car, a broken doll, Smith at her cabin, McDowell comes a knocking. She grants his request to use her phone and now he awaits the tow truck. It seems innocuous enough, but Smith seems to suspect that McDowell’s story isn’t kosher. They begin a back and forth role playing of being part of an elaborate plan to kill the other. Perhaps she somehow lured him there? Maybe he’s there to kill her? It’s quite an unexpected turn of events.

Malcolm McDowell Madolyn Smith The Caller 1987The night passes and the story begins to get even more of a dreamlike atmosphere. They unexpectedly continue to meet in a variety of places around this little mountain town with little transitions allowing us to get a handle on the passage of time. They continue to exchange more of this cross examination-type of dialogue. Many things we see and hear could perhaps be red herrings or could they very well be significant points that hint at the bigger story that is unfolding. We won’t know until the end.

The whole bizarre nature of the story and the conversations and interactions that erupt between the two were gripping from the very start and it tantalized me to stick around to see how this was all going to pay off. Until then I could just enjoy both of their performances.

It very much starts to feel like you’re watching an extended Twilight Zone episode. You get hooked into this story, you know something is up and there’s an explanation to all this, and you’re waiting to find out what exactly that is.

It’s a strange low-budget viewing experience. I do think it will distance some folks. If they’re not a fan of dialogue heavy films, and are gunning for a more traditional ‘woman alone in a cabin and a stranger comes a knocking’ kind of thrills they’ll be very disappointed. This isn’t any kind of standard horror movie. This Caller has other things on its mind.

Oh there’s any explanation and ending to this tale! Does it work and will it satisfy viewers who take a chance on it? Hmm hard to say. For me it certainly was a twist I didn’t expect, so it was a real surprise. But I can’t say it was completely satisfying. However you feel about the ending and where you stand with it, it’s enough to alone fuel even more thoughts and discussions. Whether you like it or not, this movie does make you think.

The ending did stick with me and I would like to watch the film again to see how much of what preceded actually did start to clue the viewer in on where it was all going. Sometimes the fun of these type of films are rewatching them and see how well the puzzle pieces all fit together.

The Caller 1987 Thriller Malcolm McDowell Madolyn SmithDespite a bit of a wonky final ten minutes I really did enjoy The Caller. It’s a very surreal, hypnotic film. I wasn’t familiar with the film at all. It seems like it was this little film that didn’t get much of a release, received no attention and fell deep into the cinematic cracks. I’d love to know more of the story behind it.

I saw it pop up on a cable station and thought I would take a chance since I like McDowell, I always thought Smith was stunning looking and the title sounded intriguing. It ended up being a movie that really caught me off guard and completely shook my expectations when I sat down to watch it.

If you’re looking for something different and intriguing to watch The Caller will certainly deliver. It might work better for some, but it’s worth it see two terrific performances by McDowell and Smith who put in their all for this strange, mind-game-type of tale.


I couldn’t find a trailer and maybe it’s better to just dive in and have it start to unravel for you, so here’s the entire film. 

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