Close Calls – USA, 2017

‘Poor Morgan. Grounded and alone. With no one to talk to except herself… And the phone.’

Close Calls is a 2017 American horror thriller feature film written, produced and directed by Richard Stringham (executive producer of 10/31). The movie stars Jordan Phipps, Greg Fallon, and Carmen Patterson.

The film is set to be released across multiple digital platforms on January 11, 2019.

Review One:

When Close Calls begins, the first image that appears on the screen is of a VHS tape. Even though it’s just a part of the logo for S & Drive Cinema, that is exactly the right image to start this film off with because Close Calls is a throwback to the horror films of the late ’70s and the early ’80s. It’s a film that pays homage to the old slasher and haunted house productions that, though they may not have had a huge budget, did have an abundance of atmosphere, shocks, and out-of-control plot twists.

Teenager Morgan MacKenzie (Jordan Phipps) has her own very good reasons for being upset with the world in general. She is still struggling to deal with the death of her mother, something that is not made any easier by the fact that her father, David (Kristof Waltermire), is now dating the bitchy Brynn (Carmen Patterson). Indeed, Morgan describes Brynn as being a “steaming pile of bitch.”

Morgan lives in a really nice house but due to her rebellious attitude and her casual drug use, her father has grounded her and refuses to trust her. Whenever David leaves the house, he takes Morgan’s phone with him so she is literally a prisoner in the house, with her only company being her rather strange grandmother (Janis Duley). Grandma spends her time upstairs, occasionally ringing a bell to let Morgan know that she needs something.

Close Calls takes place over one very eventful night in Morgan’s life. As soon as her father abandons her so that he can go on a date with Brynn, odd things start to happen. Grandma starts to act strangely and, despite writing a reminder on her inner thigh, Morgan keeps forgetting to take her pills upstairs.

As a storm brews outside, Morgan hears a voice from the past, whispering to her. Pictures in the house start to change, as once happy photographs are changed into images of grief and pain. The landline phone rings and, every time that Morgan answers, she hears a voice making threats. A friend drops by, insisting that Morgan try a new drug.

Even worse, a man named Barry (Greg Fallon) shows up at her front door. He says that he works for Morgan’s father and he just wants to come in out of the rain. Barry seems okay, until he smiles what may be the most evil smile ever. Morgan may have a shoebox of cocaine hidden in her closet but that’s not going to be as much help as you might think.

It’s going to be a long, dangerous, and twist-filled night. In the tradition of a ’70s giallo, Close Calls is full of unexpected plot developments. At first, Morgan may seem paranoid but, as the film progresses, it becomes obvious that she has good reason for that paranoia.

Close Calls definitely has an Italian horror feel to it. When the camera is stalking through the house, I was reminded of two Lamberto Bava films, A Blade in the Dark and Delirium (the house’s swimming pool even reminded me of where so much of the action in the latter movie took place.) A few of the more surreal scenes were tinted and lit in a way that reminded me of the scenes of Jessica Harper exploring the dance school in Suspiria.

For that matter, the film’s final scenes reminded me of something from Lucio Fulci’s Beyond trilogy. Much like those films, Close Call frequently feels as if it’s a filmed nightmare. The atmosphere is dream-like and frequently surreal. In the tradition of the best of Italian horror, the story is sometimes less important than the way it’s told. Director Richard Stringham deserves a lot of credit for including a drug trip sequence that actually feels authentic.

Rocky Gray’s score is also of note. It’s a throwback to the wonderfully creepy and ominous horror music of the 70s and 80s. Goblin would be proud.

For a film like this to work, you have to a sympathetic lead and Jordan Phipps gives a wonderfully empathetic performance as Morgan, making her a sympathetic character even when she’s snorting cocaine and talking about how much she hates having to take care of her grandmother. Phipps commits the role, giving an intense and believable performance.

Janis Duley also does well as grandma, constantly making you wonder whether she’s just a senile old lady or if there’s something more sinister about her quirks. Finally, Greg Fallon is appropriately sinister as Barry, keeping us off-balance as to what his true intentions are. Close Calls is definitely for horror fans who like a film that keeps you guessing. If you get a chance to see it, take that chance.

Lisa Marie Bowman, HORRORPEDIA guest reviewer via Through the Shattered Lens]

Review Two:

Morgan (Jordan Phipps) is a pretty blonde teen girl with deep-seeded troubles. Aside from her immediate foul-mouthed language directed toward her father, we quickly discover that her mother died approximately one year previously. Daddy already has a new British girlfriend (hated by Morgan, of course), and then you know… there’s that pesky little drug problem that rears its ugly head throughout the film.

Close Calls opens through an homage to 80’s horror with the credit fonts and eerie music guiding us into Morgan’s upper income mansion. Daddy is about to go out to dinner with snooty girlfriend, Brynn (Carmen Patterson), leaving angry daughter Morgan to look after the home. And the rotting “gramma” who resides in the decrepit attic.

Of course, Morgan begins her adventurous night by digging into a hidden stash of drugs, booze and pot smoking munchies. All the while traipsing about in a fuchsia bra and turquoise panties, the incredibly well-endowed teen begins to receive cryptic calls through her father’s home office.

On top of that, we are introduced to gramma (Janis Duley) who was once a probable fun-loving spirit, now resorted to vomiting blood, eating food off the floor and looking like a grimy dishrag. The first disturbing moment encountered isn’t gramma… it’s watching Morgan going up to check on her gramma in nothing but bra and undies. Guess she keeps forgetting to put on a shirt?

Moving along, Close Calls is over two hours long. Not the typical time span of an average horror film. But then again, this has all kinds of weirdness from start to finish. It’s great if you’re a fan of oddities.

When “friend of the father” Barry Cone (Greg Fallon, whom I loved in 10/31) appears in the second hour, Close Calls gets gritty and nasty. Barry appears to be a charming, handsome albeit somewhat sleazy man that rapidly becomes an ultimate nightmare for the scantily clad Morgan. And as slimy as he gets, the more absorbed you will be. Fallon portrays the sinister would-be-rapist with such evil intent that I finally put away my loathing for millennial Morgan and rooted for her escape.

Close Calls has all the twisted elements of self-paranoia. What’s real? Who is scheming to kill Morgan? And what do the perverted crank calls mean? This is a wild, heavily bizarre world that goes from drug-fuelled naughtiness, to pure home-invasion terror. But I have a sense you will thank me for recommending that you sit through the entire jaunt!

Meredith Brown, HORRORPEDIA

Other reviews:

“In Close Calls, Richard Stringham has crafted a clever, unique motion picture that goes well beyond merely being a valentine to its influences. The film offers some humour to occasionally lighten up the suspenseful proceedings, and Stringham proves himself as a talent to watch with this striking celluloid calling card.”Joseph W. Perry, Scream magazine

Close Calls is an all-out awesome Gothic/suburban horror ghost story filled with quirky and outrageous characters, unforeseen plot twists, and a deadly mystery at its center. The story moves like a shark, and I had no idea where it was headed or what would happen next, but I had a blast watching Morgan’s nightmarish journey.” Jason McFiggis, Morbidly Beautiful

“The biggest problem with Close Calls is that it’s simply too long, clocking in at over 2 hours the story becomes quite bloated and grinds to a halt midway before being ramped up with a slightly tasteless rape scenario. There is an identity crisis here as were not quite sure what the film is trying to be.” Paul Downey, Bloody Flicks

“Fans of the giallo subgenre or psychological thrillers would be keen to give this one a chance. With its impactful colors and visual style, excellent score, and superb performance from Jordan Phipps, Close Calls is one wild psychological trip.” The Movie Sleuth

“The retro feel is awesome, but it’s mixed in with new – the perfect balance of both. It made the journey throughout the film interesting as sometimes I felt like I watching an Italian 80’s horror film with an extra campy feel while other times it reminded me of Scream.” Tori Danielle, Pop Horror

Main cast and characters:

  • Jordan Phipps … Morgan MacKenzie – Bigfoot’s Bride; Lakeside Massacre; Safe Place; Bury the Hatchet10/31
  • Greg Fallon … Barry Cone – The Boo; Bury the Hatchet10/31
  • Carmen Patterson … Brynn Collins – The Boo; It Knows; Bury the Hatchet; Unwoken (short)
  • Kristof Waltermire … David MacKenzie – Lakeside Massacre
  • Janis Duley … Gramma – The Perfect Host: A Southern Gothic TaleThe Phone in the Attic
  • Star McCann … Diana MacKenzie – 10/31; Ladies Night (short)
  • Landen Matt … Robbie Layne
  • Alix Lindbergh … Alixandra – Massacre at Bluff’s Ridge; Bury the HatchetMark of DeathEvil Deeds: Full CircleUrban Legend; The Legend of Dark Wolf Manor: Web Series
  • Joseph Melero … The Caller (voice)

Filming locations:

North Little Rock, Arkansas, USA

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