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The Call Is Coming From Inside The Grave
June 25, 2014 8:42 AM   Subscribe


 
Cool! I also look forward to their exploration of The Ring as video tape horror, complete with a discussion of how absurd that premise is just a few years later when someone would just digitize the damn tape and blast a billion copies to the world online.
posted by Naberius at 8:55 AM on June 25


Dear world: Stop making me feel old.
posted by ardgedee at 8:57 AM on June 25 [3 favorites]


Before we got caller ID in the early 90's one of my worst fears as a benighted and nervous child was picking up the phone. It could be anyone! *shivers*
posted by Our Ship Of The Imagination! at 8:57 AM on June 25 [5 favorites]


A good trick to play back then was to answer with, "Hi! How are ya?!"

That flummoxed the caller everytime. It's more or less ubiquitous now.

Here's one thing I've noticed about the switch: I can't remember anybody's phone number anymore except for mine (barely) and my wife's (but not her work cella, only her own). I'm screwed if I lose my phone and ever need to call someone (assuming I can find a payphone).
posted by notyou at 8:59 AM on June 25 [3 favorites]


There's a certain kind of mid-century paranormal book that I find infinitely charming -- not because I believe in the stories they're telling, but but because they're just so enthusiastic about them. It was such a period of scientific and technological change, and some people were willing to believe almost anything as a result.

Most of the writers make some point along the lines of "Your grandmother never would have believed in Einstein. Think what your grandchildren will know that would shock you!" or "Man has split the atom, and more impossible things are being proven every day!" (I mean, duh, we have nuclear power, of COURSE we can talk to the dead. Of COURSE our high school students will take classes in ESP by 2018.)

Elizabeth Peters did a wonderful take-down of this sort of thing in Summer of the Dragon, in which an intrepid young anthropology graduate student travels to a ranch full of whackadoos who believe in all this stuff.

I actually own a copy of Phone Calls from the Dead (referenced in one of the links in the OP), and it's about as hilariously terrible as you'd expect. I'm kind of appalled at how much it's going for on Amazon, though.
posted by pie ninja at 9:00 AM on June 25 [7 favorites]


I can't remember any of the new numbers in my life (except for mine and my SO) but I still remember my Grandma's, one of my uncles, my cousins number, my friends the Escobar boys, and Topeka Time and Temperature thanks to the commercial that used to play all the time.
posted by Our Ship Of The Imagination! at 9:02 AM on June 25 [2 favorites]


one of my worst fears as a benighted and nervous child was picking up the phone. It could be anyone! *shivers*

YES THIS, and also calling my friends as a kid was always terrifying because WHAT IF A PARENT PICKS UP INSTEAD, instant awkward small talk, which I still despise to this day. Eventually I hit on the cunning stratagem of having my nanny call up and ask to speak to their nanny (as they were all friends by this point) and then after a brief chat they would hand the phone over to my friend and me. It was the crowning achievement of my third grade career.
posted by elizardbits at 9:02 AM on June 25 [10 favorites]


Sorry, Wrong Number!
posted by Melismata at 9:04 AM on June 25 [1 favorite]


I managed to get over my oddly paralyzingly fear of having to talk on the phone ( all the worst aspects of face to face interaction with none of the upsides) by buying a working Bakerlite rotary and using it exclusively while pretending the phone call as an important part of my cover as an international super spy.

Granted I get through most things by pretending to be a super spy.
posted by The Whelk at 9:08 AM on June 25 [14 favorites]


I can't remember any of the new numbers in my life (except for mine and my SO) but I still remember my Grandma's, one of my uncles, my cousins number...

As part of the Medicaid spend-down for my mother's nursing home, I had to cancel the phone service to her home. I was really surprised how personal doing that was. That phone number had been "ours" since the early 60's. It was a party-line in the very beginning. It was as much a part of our self-identification as our last name. It kind of felt like I was putting-down the old family dog.

Honestly, though, people are just as controlled by their phones today as they were back then, if not more so. Only now, instead of actually answering/making a call, they're lost in the rabbit hole of self-indulgence.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:09 AM on June 25 [4 favorites]


WHO WAS PHONE?
posted by valkane at 9:11 AM on June 25 [7 favorites]


This may be the only opportunity I get to say that the little seen and poorly reviewed 2011 phone horror movie The Caller is really creepy and totally worth seeing.
posted by escabeche at 9:21 AM on June 25 [1 favorite]


...they're lost in the rabbit hole of self-indulgence.

Yep. One of the many reasons I still don't have a cellphone.

I'm not a technophobe (far from it - my 'landline' is actually VOIP and in fact I am a bit of a gadget hound), and yes, with a cellphone there's a certain expectation of ubiquitous avalilability that I find distasteful, and no, I'm not really thrilled with the concept of being tracked through my device, and on and on. These are all complimentary reasons, but they are not The Main Reason, because I could avoid all of them by getting a cellphone and a bluetooth-POTS gateway and keeping the damn thing in a drawer under my dear old bakelite phone.

No, The Main Reason that I don't own a cellphone is that I would get a smartphone, and I would thereafter be sucked into the cellphone world. It's the same reason I don't try heroin - I know myself at least that well.

That, and that damn bakelite just sounds delicious when it rings.
posted by eclectist at 9:23 AM on June 25 [5 favorites]


Poor horror writers these days...How do you isolate your protagonists away from help when everyone's got a cellphone? Well: Montage of people in cellphone-era horror movies not getting a signal.
posted by doctornecessiter at 9:35 AM on June 25 [1 favorite]


in that immediate sense, and in a way that now seems comical, your phone controlled you.

Ha! Can you imagine if today people were so controlled by their phones? Not these days.

*walks into traffic while checking texts*
posted by Hoopo at 9:39 AM on June 25 [4 favorites]


HELLO THIS IS DOG
posted by pxe2000 at 9:43 AM on June 25 [10 favorites]


Of COURSE our high school students will take classes in ESP by 2018.

My grad school offers a class in talking to plants.

I also had a paralysing fear of talking to people on the phone. Voicemail makes such a huge difference, man.

As for cellphones and horror movies: just have the battery be dead.
posted by divabat at 9:45 AM on June 25


I had a huge crush on Karen Black 40 years ago, she could overcome any horror, including the ghost on the phone!
posted by Abinadab at 9:55 AM on June 25


Montage of people in cellphone-era horror movies not getting a signal

Inspired, of course, by classic Star Trek's trope of Kirk, Spock, and entire landing parties being snuck up on from behind and conked over the head by primitives who take away their communicators.

Star Trek predicted so much...



Bonus Content! From McSweeney's, Stories That Would Have Turned Out Differently If The Protagonists Had Had Cell Phones.
posted by Naberius at 10:05 AM on June 25 [5 favorites]


calling my friends as a kid was always terrifying because WHAT IF A PARENT PICKS UP INSTEAD

I used to lose my nerve some times and hang up before anyone answered. Goodness...i was lame.
posted by Our Ship Of The Imagination! at 10:06 AM on June 25 [2 favorites]


 it's about as hilariously terrible as you'd expect. I'm kind of appalled at how much it's going for on Amazon, though.

Heh. A lot of those crazy prices on old books on Amazon are because of the book listing software that the independent bookstores use. They have an option where you can try to make more profit by checking the prices of other sellers and raising it by a penny. Then their software does the same thing, and it goes around, ad nauseum, until you end up with crazy million-dollar copies of Valley of the Dolls or whatever. So, while we don't have phone using espers here in the future, it does appear that there are a few zombies running around 8(]
posted by sexyrobot at 10:08 AM on June 25 [1 favorite]


This is a radio play, not a movie, so it doesn't quite fit the article, but the most disturbing use of phones I've ever encountered is "Night Call Collect" by Ray Bradbury.
posted by Hactar at 10:16 AM on June 25 [4 favorites]


Ah, ye olde phone dayes! In my manic phases, I would answer the phone as if I had been the party to initiate the call. riiiiingggg! Me: "Hi, is John there?" Caller: (flummoxed) "What?" Me (impatiently): "Is John there?" and continue as long as I could or until I got bored. Or I'd pretend to be ordering a pizza or something. Then there were the depressive phases where the phone would be sitting there like a fucking rattlesnake and OH FUCK IT'S RATTLING I MEAN RINGING.
posted by disconnect at 10:17 AM on June 25


My brother liked to prank call me, but now that I have caller ID, he can't. His pranks were really stupid, though, so no real loss.
posted by emjaybee at 10:30 AM on June 25


elizardbits: " Eventually I hit on the cunning stratagem of having my nanny call up and ask to speak to their nanny"

Holy shit. That's amazing. You actually had your people call their people. In third grade!
posted by mhum at 10:30 AM on June 25 [8 favorites]


Poor horror writers these days...How do you isolate your protagonists away from help when everyone's got a cellphone?

I remember when Harrison Ford's "Air Force One" first came out, and his cell phone didn't work and I was like "aha, the first instance where they realize the audience might question why he just doesn't use his cell phone." I remember that movie for that paradigm-changing moment, and no other reason.
posted by Melismata at 10:36 AM on June 25 [1 favorite]


My brother liked to prank call me, but now that I have caller ID, he can't. His pranks were really stupid, though, so no real loss.

I remember "prank call random numbers" and "prank call your friends" as regular activities in childhood....and then caller ID (and Star 69! remember that?) started coming into widespread use and suddenly the prank calling was not nearly so effective or fun.
posted by aka burlap at 10:50 AM on June 25 [2 favorites]


As for cellphones and horror movies: just have the battery be dead.

Ooh ooh! Let it be a CURSED APP that keeps accessing the network and burning up battery power until the phone is dead and then the SPOOKY THING comes and eats the protagonist!
posted by winna at 10:51 AM on June 25 [1 favorite]


As for cellphones and horror movies: just have the battery be dead.

Or wet, as in "Cast Away".
posted by Melismata at 10:52 AM on June 25


One way to get around that pesky cell phone problem is the "retro" horror trend, setting your film before 1990 like such films as House of the Dead, The Conjuring, and The Quiet Ones.
posted by cazoo at 11:00 AM on June 25


I think entertainment these days doesn't get enough mileage out of the new true horror, where your cell phone works just fine but there's nothing anyone at the other end of the phone can possibly do to help you. Whispered calls that the hijacker can't hear and so on.
posted by Andrhia at 11:00 AM on June 25 [2 favorites]


Blatantly fielding a hobby horse, but to me no, this isn't some horrible era of terror that is mercifully ended.

I'll happily take not knowing who is calling, or having to talk to not the person i was trying to call but their parent/spouse/coworker/whatever over a certain complete destruction of the social contract cell phones have created.

And yea, i'm talking about the ability to flake out.

Back when this was the standard for communication(which lasted in to high school for me, although admittedly most people had caller ID) if you went through this rigmarole and called someone/they called you, and made plans, you went or you were an asshole.

I will forever resent the fact that now someone can text you 5 minutes before you were supposed to meet up and go "lol sorry" and that is regarded as completely acceptable/normal, and that doesn't count as standing them up or whatever.

And this seems to be pretty much universal with anyone under 30.

I wish i was like, 10 years younger than i am and had never known it any other way. It would probably bother me a lot less then. But having gotten a taste of their actually being standards of keeping your word if you said you'd do something, it just melts my soul into slag. Even like, apartment managers and clients/business contacts think it's ok to send a text when they're 5 minutes late and go "lol actually can we meet at 5?" because the rot is everywhere. No other bothers to be punctual or actually plan realistic schedules because flaking comes standard.

And to be clear, what i'm describing isn't the same as calling into work in advance and saying you're gonna be late. It's never planning to be there in time in the first place, and using a text as a fig leaf. The overton window of social interaction has moved, and that has become completely normal. That person used to be a dick, now they're somewhere in the middle of the "meh, slightly tiresome normal" spectrum.

Ooh ooh! Let it be a CURSED APP that keeps accessing the network and burning up battery power until the phone is dead and then the SPOOKY THING comes and eats the protagonist!

I'm betting strong that there's going to be a horror movie in the next couple years where everyone gets some app like snapchat, and then everyone starts getting creepy ring like messages but they autodelete so no one can prove it, and the screenshots you try to take are just blank. The countdown on them isn't 30 seconds, but like 150000. Then everyone discovers...

WHEN IT EXPIRES, YOU EXPIRE dundundunnnnn....
posted by emptythought at 11:02 AM on June 25 [3 favorites]


A horror movie where your friends disappear one by one, but each time they vanish a new app appears on your phone. When launched, it's just a live stream of your friend screaming in terror.

This must've been an episode of a scary kids' TV show at some point, right?
posted by a dangerous ruin at 11:09 AM on June 25 [5 favorites]


Let it be a CURSED APP that keeps accessing the network and burning up battery power until the phone is dead and then the SPOOKY THING comes and eats the protagonist!

I just know I've seen a movie recently where someone in peril looks at their cellphone, but before they can use it the evil invisible force that's attacking them makes the battery drain completely in about 2 seconds. Anyone else remember that? Or was it something I dreamed?
posted by doctornecessiter at 11:18 AM on June 25


I will forever resent the fact that now someone can text you 5 minutes before you were supposed to meet up and go "lol sorry" and that is regarded as completely acceptable/normal, and that doesn't count as standing them up or whatever.

The way I've solved this problem is by excising from my social circle anyone who would ever text "lol sorry" for any reason.

In fact, it has solved a number of problems.
posted by IAmUnaware at 11:22 AM on June 25 [1 favorite]


My brother liked to prank call me, but now that I have caller ID, he can't. His pranks were really stupid, though, so no real loss.

I remember "prank call random numbers" and "prank call your friends" as regular activities in childhood....and then caller ID (and Star 69! remember that?) started coming into widespread use and suddenly the prank calling was not nearly so effective or fun.


I was prank calling with some friends and we were having a great time passing the phone around while one guy did the random dialing. Then he 'random dialed' my house and handed me the phone and I launched into my prank spiel. I got cut off by younger brother who recognized my voice and said "Fuck Off Steve" in a flat, tired and exasperated monotone.

Old school caller ID (and old school butt dialing because that random dialing guy turned out to be a complete asshole).
posted by srboisvert at 11:24 AM on June 25


The phone has plenty of signal, it's just that the protagonist is really dedicated to only using Yo.
posted by ckape at 11:43 AM on June 25 [4 favorites]


CALLER ID NOT AVAILABLE

and the horror continues...

posted by BlueHorse at 11:44 AM on June 25 [1 favorite]


Is this something you'd need to have a telephone to understand?
posted by Legomancer at 12:19 PM on June 25 [2 favorites]


The call goes through just fine, but....

"Oh, come on Leslie, someone is trying to kill you again? This is just like the time you thought the counter guy at the smoothie shop was trying to poison you."

"Dude, I don't have time for this--and anyway, the smoothie smelled like cyanide!"

"You asked for almond milk! Listen, I've got to run, can you just IM me whatever it was you wanted to say?"

"I can't, really, because this evil force is literally scratching the door open as we speak. I mean, with actual claws."

"You really shouldn't use the word literally like that."

"But I meant it literally!"

"Figuratively. I mean, I would totally like to see that become a thing. You'd be all, guys, I figuratively drank fifteen gallons of water today, look how clear my skin is."

"Yeah, but then they wouldn't know if you meant the amount of water to be a figure of speech, or if the whole--AAAAAAGH!"

"Leslie? Hello?"
posted by mittens at 12:21 PM on June 25 [2 favorites]


I remember when Harrison Ford's "Air Force One" first came out, and his cell phone didn't work and I was like "aha, the first instance where they realize the audience might question why he just doesn't use his cell phone."

This was so ridiculous in the x files. They always had perfect reception in the Kentucky backwoods of 1996 unless the plot demanded they be seperated, whereupon it died. That was about 10 years before I got a cell of my own so I just assumed they didn't work in basements and crypts for years.
posted by fshgrl at 12:34 PM on June 25 [1 favorite]


It occurs to me that the Lovecraft story 'The Statement of Randolph Carter' would have been just as scary if the protagonists had been using cell phones.
posted by winna at 12:47 PM on June 25 [3 favorites]


Dear kids,

The biggest horror of the old analog (dial) phones was being given a phone number with a bunch of 8s, 9s or 0s in it. A "zero" could take two seconds to finish. (It was quicker to 'bip' the 'hook' with ur finger. See film Hackers.)

The second biggest horror (pre modular jack) was having to "hook up" yourself. You hooked up with a screwdriver and a wirestripper. Took 15 minutes. (Longer if the wire wore cotton.)

Another horror was being on a "party line" (not a fun party) (etiquette video). Talk about surveillance!!

Before all of those, there was a wonderful thing: when you "picked up" (the handpiece), a lady *not named Siri* said "number plee-uz". In some places you could talk to her about stuff - even gossip. (Ernestine)
posted by Twang at 2:10 PM on June 25 [1 favorite]


On the other hand, as the telephone numbers of my childhood are the only numbers I can remember (hey, I even recall the time our home number went from five to six digits!) they make excellent PINs.
posted by Devonian at 3:35 PM on June 25 [1 favorite]


Yeah my main PIN is the beeper number of a dude I bought acid from on the reg about 20 years ago who is now dead and has been so for at least 15 iirc.

I feel pretty good about this level of security.
posted by elizardbits at 3:44 PM on June 25 [3 favorites]


Phones are scary.

A while ago there was a winter power outage that lasted into the overnight, and sometime around 1am I woke up in a cold sweat to the muffled ringing of the old wall-mounted phone in the basement. I've been woken up by late-night phone calls before, but those are perfectly modern calls that arrive on the cordless phone by my bedside with caller-id in handset. This was an unknown caller paging a forgotten phone two floors down in the middle of the night. Even worse, without electricity the answering machine refused to pick up, so this phone just kept ringing, and ringing, and ringing, and ringing...

I literally just wanted to run and hide, and to this day I don't know who was calling because I only got as far as the top of the cellar stairs with flashlight in hand not daring to proceed any further. After an interminable period of time, it finally stopped leaving just standing there trying to rationally comprehend what happened and why I was so utterly terrified.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 5:54 PM on June 25 [7 favorites]


The second biggest horror (pre modular jack) was having to "hook up" yourself. You hooked up with a screwdriver and a wirestripper. Took 15 minutes. (Longer if the wire wore cotton.)

Just trying to figure out which of the seemingly bajillion multi-colored and striped wires in the phone lead were the ones you were supposed to use was headache enough.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:27 PM on June 25 [1 favorite]


so this phone just kept ringing, and ringing, and ringing, and ringing...

Yes! That's what I mean by delicious! That actual, acoustic ringing of brass bells within a bakelite box - nothing will touch that. If you're expecting bad news, the ring is ominous - if you're anticipating a call by a lover, it's enough to start a heart racing. You can pull the loudness of the ringing back to an ethereal ping or jam it forward with enough volume to wake the dead from their well-deserved sleep. I had a cordless for awhile, then I got ahold of an old cream-colored bakelite phone, and it was true love from that point on. I was even inspired to song:

Bakelite phone,
Bakelite phone,
Hear the children cry
and the women moan.
Take me back
with your pulses and tones.
Cradle me,
O Great Reciever,
talk to me
on a bakelite phone.
posted by eclectist at 6:44 PM on June 25


Well, now I'm watching When Michael Calls on YT. A welcome distraction from an evening of Web design. Thanks!
posted by mykescipark at 7:05 PM on June 25


When the phone rings at her home, my 77 year old mother drops whatever she's doing (including going to the bathroom or watering the plants outside) to run and pick it up before the fourth ring. She won't pay extra for caller id, so she never knows who's calling. She has always done this.

When the phone rings at my home, I look at the caller id. I almost never actually answer the phone unless it's my wife or someone I need to talk to. The caller leaves a voicemail and Vonage transcribes it into a (sometimes hillariously wrong) email. I respond to it when I feel like it. I hate talking on the phone.

My Mom was over one day when the phone rang. Voicemail picked up after the fifth ring. Her visible distress when I didn't interrupt what I was doing to even look at the phone was kind of comical.
posted by double block and bleed at 7:23 PM on June 25 [1 favorite]


double block and bleed: I don't know if your mom's like this, but I find some of the same people who complain that "people these days are glued to their phones texting all day long" get twitchy when I won't interrupt the in-person conversation I'm having with them to answer my (landline or cell) phone before it goes to voicemail. Some people still consider a ringing phone to be an imperative rather than an alert, and I find it fascinating.

I'm old enough that I have some of the same impulses myself (I remember when no one I knew had an answering machine, never mind caller ID), but I try to work against them.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 9:47 PM on June 25 [1 favorite]


What's really "phone horror" is that we seem to laugh at how much we think phones "controlled" us back then, as though we are standing around in the golden age of now chuckling at how much we control THEM now that they are little boxes in our hands and pockets.
posted by blucevalo at 11:25 PM on June 25


Poor horror writers these days...How do you isolate your protagonists away from help when everyone's got a cellphone?

It's not the calling for help that's the problem, it's the protagonist ignoring the chainsaw-wielding maniac in order to walk in random directions saying "Can you hear me? Can you hear me now?"

We lose more protagonists that way...
posted by happyroach at 1:40 PM on June 26


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