Wicked Wednesday: When Michael Calls (1972)

Cell phones are both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, we never have to answer a call from an unknown number. On the other, we’ve lost a whole subgenre of horror: the creepy caller.

Sorry, Wrong Number, Black Christmas, and When a Stranger Calls are all in the same pot of creepy-caller movies. And When Michael Calls is a wonderful example of the subgenre within the TV movie world. It’s a slasher mystery filled with a wonderful autumnal ambience.

One day, Helen and her daughter, Peggy, receive a surprise visit from Helen’s ex-husband, Doremus. The separated couple, unsurprisingly, has a very strained relationship. But poor Helen’s day only gets worse when she gets a strange phone call.

On the other end of the line in a person with a child-like voice. The caller claims to be Michael, Helen’s nephew who died in a blizzard years before. She knows it’s him as he calls her “Auntie My Helen”, which apparently only he called her.

Shaken by the call, Helen speaks to Michael’s older psychiatrist brother, Craig. They agree that while strange, there’s nothing they can do about it.

Then one night, Peggy answers the phone. She tells her mother that ‘Michael’ called Doc, a family friend, bad names and insinuated something bad would happen to the doctor. Helen tries frantically to contact Doc, but by the time she gets through on the phone lines, Doc is already dead.

Doremus, who might be a lawyer, is seemingly also a good investigator. After the police sweep the scene of the crime, Doremus discovers that someone has tampered with Doc’s things.

And thus begins a series of murders. All of them link to one person: Michael and Craig’s mother. Helen admits to Doremus that when the boys were younger, she had her sister committed. Her sister tried to hurt herself and the boys, so she had to be put away for everyone’s safety. Apparently, Michael had a problem with that and didn’t want to be raised by his aunt. He had run away during the blizzard, upset at ‘losing’ his mother.

So who is the real Michael? Or is it that after all these years, Michael could still be alive? Helen and those around her begin to question their reality as the situation around them becomes more deadly.

When Michael Calls is a prime example of excellent made-for-TV magic. The cast is fantastic, boasting the talents of Michael Douglas, Elizabeth Ashley and Ben Gazzara.

Maybe I’ve seen too many gialli, but I found the twist easy to guess. That being said, it was still enjoyable watching the reveal. It might be a bit hokey for some, but I love a bit of (spoiler) hypnotism. Whacky and unbelievable as all hell – and it’s perfect television.

It’s likely that I might forget this one, as many other TV movies are a bit flashier. When Michael Calls is very atmospheric and is wonderful at building the mystery. But it is subtle at times. Still, this is a wonderful place to start. If only to watch a young Michael Douglas look very attractive in some wonderous 70s glasses.

One comment

  1. It’s true: cell phone have ruined the plotting and pacing of films.

    I just watched — ugh, forget the title (not a good sign) — but it was one of those daughter-is-missing-track-her-social-media flicks. And not a U.S. Lifetime cable flick, but a theatrical flick. For almost the entire film, it was watching device screens, streams, videos, text-typing on screen. Ugh. I gave up.

    Anyway, excellent review choice!!

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