To celebrate horror on television, I’m looking back at 31 tales from various anthology series. They’re the ones I vividly remember or respond to the most. No matter what, though, they are proof that horror and suspense aren’t limited to the big screen.
Despite its namesake being dead for a few years, NBC revived Alfred Hitchcock Presents for one season. They even inserted colorized stock footage of the man himself from the previous series. Promptly after cancelling the show, USA Network picked it up for two more seasons. Many episodes were original, but others were remakes of older stories.
The new version of “The Night Caller” stars Linda Fiorentino as a recently divorced woman named Betsy. She’s living on her own again in a small apartment, and she can’t quite get a hang of the dating scene. When she’s not at work, Betsy receives unsettling and obscene phone calls from an unknown man. She believes the caller is in the apartment building next to hers and that he can see directly into her apartment. A detective (Stephen Davies) investigates, but without any hard evidence, he can’t do anything other than talk to the suspect, Art (Michael O’Keefe).
In general, the 1980s saw more and more gummy and sweaty stories making their way onto both the small and big screens. This was a reflection of the world outside. The earlier Alfred Hitchcock shows offered a contrast between what viewers saw — spic and span attire and environments juxtaposed with dark acts of human nature — but the new edition was openly frank and downright sordid. One has to wonder what Hitchcock would have thought about his name being attached to these episodes.
That being said, “The Night Caller” is not anywhere as seedy as the series ever got. Fiorentino effectually plays a paranoia stricken woman who has come undone for several reasons. Her best friend (Sandra Bernhard) represents the audience, who is just as confounded by Betsy’s behavior. The phone calls have understandably gotten to her, but they seem more like a last straw than the cause of all her ensuing problems.
Betsy’s predicament becomes more evident when the detective rears his sexist head. He’s aggressive and insulting, not to mention patronizing. Their encounter pushes the episode into pure psychological territory. So while the calls never turn into anything life-threatening, they aren’t innocent either. It speaks to the layers of stalking and how the law is unwilling to help because the victim isn’t physically harmed (yet).
The new Alfred Hitchcock Presents feels far removed in terms of appearance and tone, but it still strikes a nerve with how it exposes the most unsettling suspects of the human mind.
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