Night Caller by veteran writer/director/producer Chad Ferrin is a tense thriller that follows the journey of telephone psychic Clementine Carter (Susan Priver) who receives a call from a client that triggers clairvoyant visions of brutal psychosexual violence at the hands of the killer (Steve Railsback) on the other end of the phone, the murder and scalping of a woman Clementine doesn’t recognize. With her only confidants in the experience being her boss and officemate Jade (Bai Ling) and her bedbound father (Robert Miano), Clementine finds herself in the terrifying position of knowing a killer lurks to kill again, with no way to find him or stop him until he calls again and more visions ensue. With each new call, the killer seems to become more comfortable with unloading his neurosis on Clementine, and he and his confidant begin to discover links between their individual pasts, which to his mind draw them closer in the present, leading to an inevitable collision course Clementine must scramble to prepare for,
Between calls, we learn more about the history of Clementine and her powers, passed down from her mother. Priver’s performance is nuanced and gripping, playing beautifully against her costars, who are also strong enough to carry such a sparsely populated and deliberately paced story. Bai Ling is delightfully eccentric and spirited without feeling ungrounded, and Robert Miano projects gravitas as a caring and thoughtful father, whose cinephile habits and investigator’s history play into the story while his interactions with Clementine heighten the tension as danger encircles the likeable family. The third act brings us into contact with the killer outside the confines of his car where he’s been placing his calls, aptly shot to hide his identity, black glove clad and mysterious in the Italian Giallo tradition. Railback’s killer is extreme, to be sure, but well portrayed, and not without his depth. A line might be drawn through the Ed Gein influenced, true crime adjacent “Psycho” and “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” to Night Caller’s villain, but it doesn’t feel at all like a cheap knock off, this is a villain who carries his own weight.
Intimate, beautiful, and starkly brutal, Night Caller is certainly an evocative film that grabbed me with its lurid colors, engrossing performances, and brutal kills. Comparisons can certainly be made to the Grind House and Giallo films of the 70s and early 80s. There is undoubtedly an influence there, but to relegate Night Caller as a simple homage would be doing it an injustice. While it did remind me of films like Maniac and Alice Sweet Alice, two of my favorite grindhouse films of the era, I think it’s fair to also recognize a level of suspense and film craft more reminiscent of Hitchcock underpinning the film. The cinematography of Kyle McConaghy is top shelf. Somehow being gritty and stark, yet beautiful with his calculated use of light and color. The soundtrack by Richard Band is impeccable, fortifying every well considered frame in this lean and shocking film.
While the material won’t be for everyone – it is indeed very graphic in it’s depiction of the raw violence of a rage killing psychopath of the most horrific true crime variety, Night Caller is an outstanding film in the tradition of both mainstream suspense as well as Grindhouse exploitation cult classics. If you’re a fan of a well assembled murder flick of the analog era, I’d go as far as to say this film is a must see, and general gorehounds or more casual slasher fans are unlikely to be disappointed.
- Shawn Parks, NIGHT CALLER