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Don't Pick Up That Phone!

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There’s something undeniably creepy about the landline telephone when you think about it. With no readout to tell you who’s calling, it could be just about anyone on the other end of the line: a man in a sinister ghost mask, for example, or an angry Glenn Close with a ludicrous perm. This is something the Scream series has capitalised upon with bloody aplomb, and to celebrate that fact, here’re 10 examples of why picking up that receiver is sometimes the worst thing to do in a Hollywood movie film. Trust us. Or these guys, at any rate…

Babysitting is harder than it first seems. Sure, for most of the gig you’re sipping Diet Coke on their sofa, flicking through their cable channels and tearing pages out your employers’ magazines – but sometimes, just sometimes, there’s a homicidal maniac upstairs, and he’s got your number. Bummer.

Essentially the “The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs” urban legend writ large on your cinema screen, When a Stranger Calls poses that ever-so-freaky question: what if the weird dude that keeps calling you while you baby-sit… is actually upstairs, murdering the very children you’re meant to be looking after?

It’s a very scary little set-up, and one excellently executed by director Fred Walton in the first 25 minutes of (the original) When a Stranger Calls. Unfortunately, after that it just unravels and gets a bit pants. And what’s worse is that our advice of “just not picking up the phone” here still isn’t going to stop him murdering them kids anyway. Double bummer. Still, Come Dine With Me is on. Sweet.

Perhaps the more important piece of advice to take when it comes to The Ring is not to play cursed videotapes and expect nothing bad to happen. It’s cursed. Leave it be. Oh, and for God’s sake, if two little girls have died after watching it, don’t watch it again yourself. What’s the obsession with VHS, anyway? If it were a Blu-ray, we’d understand.

Anyway, shortly after watching the cursed tape again, the phone rings. (D’ya geddit? Rings. Fine, be that way.) The voice on the line is that of a young girl, who says: "Seven days". That’s some creepy shit, yo.

Whether that seven day death-promise is kept by the girl on the end of line is something you’ll have to find out for yourself when you watch the film – if you haven’t already, of course – but know this: she should not have picked up that phone. And, more than that, she should never have watched that tape. Don’t trust other people’s outdated technological equipment, we say. Landline phones or VHS tapes: avoid. A rule for life, really.

By the end of the movie, Clarice Starling has been having a pretty tough time of it. She’s been psychologically assaulted, manipulated and generally fucked around with by an Oscar-winning actor with a very particular set of dietary requirements, played hide-and-seek in the dark with a serial killer and somehow fitted in solving a pretty basic anagram while she’s at it.

She’s a trooper. A legend. An excellent little FBI agent, and no mistake. She’s also seemingly incapable of noticing that that phone call waiting for her is far too ominous to be worth picking up. Come on, there’s a party in her honour, people are acting all shady, and there’s a chance that the man-eating mastermind behind everything may well have escaped from incarceration.

In other words: Don’t. Pick. Up. That. Phone. Seriously, you’ll sleep better. And, with any luck, not transform into Julianne Moore and get drugged into spending your life with a cannibal in the follow-up.

Everyone’s had a bad boss in their lives. Some make you perform demeaning tasks, others swear at you for no particular reason, and a very small number can inflict serious pain on you just by speaking down the phone. And when it comes to that latter group, Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg is an extreme example.

Known merely as “Mr. Shadow” they/he/she/it is a being so terrifyingly evil and horrible and nasty and wicked that when Zorg sees his cellphone a-ringling, he almost immediately gets cold sweats – and once he gets chatting with his grand master, he starts bleeding out of his forehead.

If that isn’t a good enough reason to not pick up, we don’t know what is to be honest. Oh wait, yes we do: Zorg, later in the film, calls one of his own minions and, at the touch of a phone button, causes his employee’s phone booth to explode. Because turnaround’s fair play, apparently.

Well, where do we begin? It’s Ghostface, the scariest voice ever. The very epitome of the nuisance caller, he’s the manipulative, gravely-voiced uber-bastard from hell who starts off by flirting with Drew Barrymore and ends… well, by killing a lot of people, including her boyfriend Steve, and, um, Drew herself.

From there on in, the man with the voice like a thousand black and stormy nights inspires others, reveals his / her / their true identity, and generally becomes the by-word for seriously fucked-up shit.

So influential is this unknown caller that a whole series – and genre, even – of pastiche pseudo-Screams, the Scary Movies, sprang up to poke fun at the mysterious man, hoovering up oodles of cash in the process. That said, if we got just one phone call from a man this creepy? Straight to voicemail the next time around. Seriously, you know it makes sense.

Some people are gluttons for punishment, aren’t they? Like John Cusack’s character Mike Enslin in 1408. A tried-and-true skeptic – read: man-about-to-have-all-his-assumptions-tested-through-scary-stuff-happening-to-him – he spends most of his days visiting supernatural hotspots and writing about them, despite knowing they’re not really all that supernatural.

Then, of course, room number 1408 comes along, and thanks to some wrangling here and there, he manages to book himself a night in the scariest hotel room known to man. Walls bleed, songs start playing, and all sorts of scary hoo-hah occurs.

One such hoo-hah is a telephone call, ostensibly from a member of the hotel staff, asking him if he wants to change his side order for his meal. She’s slick, professional, and very creepy. After that, things begin to get very, very weird. Everything going up in flames weird, in fact. Out tip: don’t pick up that bloody phone. And don’t book that bloody hotel room. Literally.

What’s worse than a badly-burned man in a red and black stripy top with blades on his fingers calling you up at night? A badly-burned man in a red and black stripy top with blades on his fingers calling you up… and somehow kissing you through the end of the receiver. Yeesh.

OK, OK, we say “kissing”: in reality (and we use the word “reality” loosely here) it’s an obviously prosthetic tongue waggling out the end of the phone, but it’s scary enough when you’re 12 and you have no idea that there’ll be any of the other, appalling sequels coming along.

Anyway, at the risk overemphasising our point here: if you’re being stalked in your dreams by a badly dressed psychopath, check into a mental institution and be quick about it. Just don’t pick up that phone. Or go to sleep, for that matter.

Here’s a quote from Kiefer Sutherland as ‘The Caller’: "Isn't it funny? You hear a phone ring, and it could be anybody... but a ringing phone has to be answered, doesn't it?" No! No it doesn’t! If a public telephone rings, you carry on with your day and walk on by. No-one cares. It’s just a phone. Ringing. It’s obviously not for you. For the love of God, Colin Farrell, it’s NOT FOR YOU.

This is why we are sensible – and not Colin Farrell – and arrogant publicist Stu Shepard is not sensible – and is Colin Farrell.

After he picks up the receiver in the phone booth, a dangerous sniper-filled game of cat-and-mouse begins, with pimps, prostitutes and Forest Whitaker desperate to get him out of his glass case of emotion. And no-one likes dangerous sniper-filled games of cat-and-mouse on their way to work of a morning. So leave the goddamn phone alone and go and kiss Katie Holmes, Colin. Go on, you know you want to.

It’s a simple enough plan: you want to kill your absurdly attractive wife – who just so happens to look the spitting image of renowned Hollywood beauty Grace Kelly – so you leave her at home, alone, while you swan off to a party.

While you’re partying away, a co-conspirator will hide behind the French curtains, waiting for your belle to step out from the bedroom and pick up the phone before he gets his murdering on. She, and he, await your call.

Things all go a bit tits up at this point, after it turns out scarves are rubbish garrotting devices, and Grace Kelly kicks like a ruddy mule. Out comes one pair of scissors, in goes one pair of scissors – right into your would-be assassin’s soft, despicable flesh. Sure, Kelly survives, but if she hadn’t picked up the phone call from her evil husband? Well then there wouldn’t be such an abominable mess on the carpet, now would there? Point well made, we think

OK, this is a bit of a tricky one. Other examples on this list have offered definitive proof that not picking up the phone can be a very good thing: it can prevent murder, stop buildings catching on fire and nip terrorist’s plans in the bud. But for this one, well… the jury’s still out.

You see, if you had a mentally unstable lover (Glenn Close) baying for your loving arms / blood, would you pick up the phone? Would you though? If only to make sure your wife doesn’t? We reckon we’d do just what Dan (Michael Douglas) does: change your number, change your locks, and hide all the bunnies in the nearby vicinity.

Oh, wait, he forgets that last one. Drat. Also, his avoidance tactic doesn’t work so well here, what with the terror campaign and attempted murder. We’d go for the tell-the-wife, call-the-cops, not-pick-up-the-phone option. Every. Single. Time.