While this is usually brushed off as a lesser remake of William Castle's 1965 film of the same name starring John Ireland and Joan Crawford, both are actually adaptations of the 1964 novel Out of the Dark by Ursula Curtiss. Curtiss, a New Mexico native and the daughter of mystery novelist Helen Reilly, was an award-winning author of 23 novels starting in the late 40s. To my knowledge the only other book of hers that was turned into a feature film was The Forbidden Garden, which was the basis for the highly enjoyable What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? (1969). Director Walton likely got this particular gig thanks to the success of the now-famous When a Stranger Calls (1979), another film involving the theme of telephone terror, that was based on a short he did in 1977 called The Sitter. He'd not only go on to make a sequel to his most famous film (the better-than-expected When a Stranger Calls Back in 1993) but also the gimmicky slasher pseudo-spoof April Fool's Day (1986), which some people like but I'm not a fan of. Most of the rest of his work, including the pretty good cable suspense movie Trapped (1989), was made for television.
The stars are three young actresses of varying degrees of talent. First off, there's Shawnee Smith, who may not be a great actress but at least could be counted on to be likable at this early stage of her career. The same year she was in this she also played the female lead in the good but financially unsuccessful remake of The Blob and gave one of the better 80s 'Scream Queen' performance in that. Smith would go on to appear in many other horror films over the next few decades, most notably playing Amanda in the Saw series. Then there's Tammy Lauren, a former child actress and daughter of a talent agent whose career has mostly been relegated to TV. Years after playing imperiled teens in The Stepford Children (1987), THE PEOPLE ACROSS THE LAKE (1988) and this she turned up out of nowhere as the female lead in Wishmaster (1997); a rare theatrical release for her.
Last, and certainly least, we have Candace Cameron, who everyone knows from the terrible sitcom Full House. In this she's slightly less annoying than she was playing D.J. Tanner but that's pretty much all I have to go on with her. Hell, she may still be annoying but I wouldn't really know seeing how she's the self-righteous type and only stars in Christian and Hallmark TV Christmas movies that I'd never watch. Whoever said “Small blessings accumulate to be the most powerful” knew what they were talking about.
Kim Fielding (Smith), the teen daughter of a government consultant, is the smart, polite new girl at a California high school who's never had a boyfriend before (she'd only attended an all girl's school prior). Lisa Harris (Lauren), rebellious daughter of an overly-strict mother (Rosanna Huffman), sleeps through class, is sexually active, smokes weed and has big 80s hair. While these two seem unlikely friends, the sheltered, motherless Kim finds herself drawn to the experienced Lisa and uses her father (Alan Fudge) going out of town for the night as an opportunity to invite Lisa over to their secluded country home for dinner, where she'll also be babysitting her nightmare-plagued kid sister Julia (Cameron). Lisa's not initially interested until she realizes that would be the perfect opportunity to sneak her boyfriend Louis (Patrick O'Bryan) over so they'll have a place to mess around. After Louis flakes out and the girls get bored, they decide to prank call some random people out of the phone book, telling them “I saw what you did and I know who you are!” They end up picking the wrong person to call...
Adrian Lancer (Robert Carradine) is a music composer who's losing his mind. After making a weird video featuring clips of old Karloff and Lugosi movies set to “Mr. Sandman” he's fired from his studio job. Adrian gets a second blow when his insensitive girlfriend Robyn (Jo Anderson) refuses his marriage proposal. In a fit of rage, he kills her. He then loads the body up in the car, takes it out into the woods and attempts to bury it but is interrupted by a couple and has to leave with the body still in his trunk. Back at his apartment, he hallucinates blood oozing from his walls and his dead girlfriend showing up at the door and starts to become even more paranoid and unhinged as the girls call repeatedly with their “I saw what you did...” line. Adrian's brother Steven (David Carradine) shows up to spend the night and keeps picking up clues his sibling has lost it... again. As a child, Adrian had a thing for fire and even started one that killed his own parents.
After a few more phone calls, the girls decide to "borrow" the dad's prized sports car and actually go over to Adrian's place in the city. Once there, Kim pretends that the car broke down and asks Adrian to use his phone but accident blurts out his name and then leaves in a rush. She also leaves her purse with her driver's permit (and home address) behind. After bludgeoning his brother during a confrontation over bloody towels, Adrian grabs a gas can, hops in his car and decides to pay the girls a little visit...
I haven't seen the original in ages and I remember next to nothing about it so I can't compare these two movies right now. Though there's nothing flagrantly wrong with this version, there's little that's exemplary about it either. The acting is fine. The direction is fine. They do about all they can with TV movie limitations. What really saves the day is some unexpected subtext and interesting character arcs, especially in regards to the lead females. I found myself more invested in the girls' relationship and coming-of-age aspects than with any of the routine psycho stuff that was going on. I guess we can thank writer Cynthia Cidre for at least that much. I'm not sure any of that is present in either Castle's film or the book. There's also a simple but effective synth score from Dana Kaproff to help things along and some moody noir-ish cinematography from Woody Omens, who actually won an Emmy Award for his work here. The cast also includes Bo Brundin (THE HEADLESS EYES) and Susan Kellermann (Elvira, Mistress of the Dark) as teachers.
This debuted on CBS TV May 1988 and continues to pop up on TV from time to time but was never released on home video here in the US. Other countries like Australia and the UK did get a VHS release. The one distributed by the Aussie label CIC Video was titled I Saw What You Did... and I Know Who You Are! As of right now, this hasn't officially been released on DVD either. The discs currently for sale (like the one from Twisted Danger) are unsanctioned bootlegs.