Since I was a kid, I’ve had this recurring dream involving a rotary phone. There is a masked prowler in my house and I need to call Interpol, but I keep miss-dialing the country code. I always wake up in a cold sweat just as he jimmies the lock on my bedroom door. I’m fairly certain my rotarphobia started with that crazy scary movie When a Stranger Calls. This, incidentally, is also the reason I always “checked the children” whenever I babysat. Why over the years my REM-self hasn’t figured out how to use a touchtone device or that it would be shorter to dial 911 is beyond me, but it does make me realize how many movies use the phone-as-conduit-to-scary-dude premise.
The last time I had a landline phone was in 2002. On the one hand this is the year I started working for Verizon Wireless and I felt my cell could do the job on its own. On the other hand Scream 1, 2 and 3 had all been out by now and if those movies weren’t a blaring advertisement for cutting the cord, there was always Phone Booth. The thought of spending time in a New York City phone booth is scary enough without laser sights between your eyes and a sadistic Keifer Sutherland on the other end of the line.
But just when I thought I was one step ahead and my landline-less world couldn’t be infiltrated by hypothetical predators, Hollywood caught up with technology. If you answer your cell in The Ring you were down to seven days left to live and all you could hope for is a final bill proration. If you happen to check your messages after One Missed Call, you get to learn the date and time of your death. Cellular preyed on our fear of drained batteries and spotty coverage as Kim Basinger whined a little more than necessary. Then to my (yes, pun intended) horror, they remade When a Stranger Calls.
In today’s world of Caller ID and LBS and Foursquare, it seems to me you should be able to see the bad guy coming a mile away. And in some movies they do: Neeson nailed it in Taken and Gibson changed the game in Ransom. But more often than not, there’s a creepy villain with an evil genius plan on the other end of the line hoping you’ll give in to your curiosity and pick up the phone.
“Don’t answer the phone!!” is the new “Don’t go upstairs!!!” Bottom line: Don’t recognize the number on your Caller ID? Hit the ignore button.