I can think of three ways to enjoy the experience of watching a film:
1. It is a good film
2. It is an exemplar of it's genre (the "I just go to be entertained" reason)
3. It is so garishly incompetent as to be campy and amusing, allowing the viewer to reflect on her/his superiority to the filmmakers.

When a Stranger Calls has precisely one reason to exist, and it could fall equally well under any of those categories. But more on that in a moment.

I make a point of seeing three or four bad horror movies a year (and Hostel doesn't count; I expected tits and torture porn, and I got them). And I have seen, if not a whole lot of crappy B-movies, at least enough to say with some comfort that I know from bad film. You see, in the world of bad movie fandom, the people whose idea of the worst movies is clearly informed by Mystery Science Theater 3000 tend to come under fire for not really knowing baaaad movies. But I've paid my dues; I've seen Hieronymus Merkin. So when I say that this film is really, really terribly bad, I'm not saying it's Michael Bay-bad; I know what I'm fucking talking about.

Wow, I really don't want to start writing about this film.

The film remakes basically the first act of the 1979 original, which is a good choice: that film (which I didn't finish watching) opens with a really good short film-esque horror tale about a tormented babysitter before becoming a tedious police procedural.

The problem is that this leaves about 20 minutes to be inflated into a feature, and not a single correct choice is made in the process of expanding it. And having expanded the script, almost nothing is done right in the execution.

The story involves Jill (Camilla Belle), a teenage girl who receives phone calls from a mysterious stalker on a routine babysitting night. Eventually it turns out he's in the house, blah blah blah scream and run. No frills, as it should be. But the thing gets tarted up in the worst way to drag it, kicking and screaming, to 83 minutes. To begin with, the story rests on a confusing and arbitrary curfew that the heroine suffers because she ran up her cell phone minutes (!) trying to work things out with her boyfriend. A health chunk of screentime is wasted showing us Jill's boyfriend, her supportive best friend, her unsupportive cheating ex-best friend, and the Wicker Man party Jill can't go to because she's grounded. None of this comes to anything, or gets referenced (although the cheating friend comes to the house to patch things up and becomes one of the films' miserly two deaths). I have seen films with padding, but this one is entirely inorganic; I imagine I could reconstruct the 50 page first draft of the screenplay based on what I saw.

I will say this: the script makes good use of Chekhov's dictum that "if you see a cat in the first act, it must supply a false scare in the third."

While the script is merely bad, the execution is atrocious. First and above all is the most intrusive score ever written, by James Michael Dooley (whose career includes a lot of "additional music" credits). Any bad horror film should be proud to ramp up unscary scare scenes with creepy violins. But here, everything is scored with wall-to-wall gothic stings. Even the opening act, which is supposed to lull the audience into false security. "She's setting down her PURSE!!!" the score screams. "She's unwrapping a frozen fruit BAR!!!"

Simon West, who has never made a good film, clearly has no idea what to do with camera movement. Or blocking. What he can do is real-estate porn. See, Jill is babysitting in a really nice house. And the camera spends a lot - around 10% of the film, I-shit-you-not - ogling the fixtures and art and that swank-ass atrium in the middle. Oh, and while I'm attacking the tech people, I have a least-favorite editor for the first time ever: Jeff Betancourt. Nice work establishing space, Jeff. Most of the time I wasn't sure what room she was in.

It's Camilla Belle who really kills the film to death. She has one expression: slack-jawed, stoned annoyance. Her response to the statement, "I want your blood. All over me," she tosses the phone to the ground with an "ew!" like it's a dead frog. I swear to Christ and His angels that I'm not kidding. And she can't scream. The lead in a teen horror film can't scream. I really think it's the worst performance I've ever seen on film.

I said there was one good thing, and here it is: the voice of the stranger (though conspicuously not his body) is played by Lance Henriksen, an actor who is always delightful even though about 95% of his vehicles are utter crap. That's it. That's the one good choice. And I can't even take comfort in that, because it's wrapped around a really bad choice: Henriksen agreed to be in this film.