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"Jess, the caller is in the house. The calls are coming from the house!"
Sargeant Nash, Black Christmas

Classic urban legend horror scenario: Someone, usually a young woman who is home alone, often a baby sitter, gets a creepy phone call. The police trace it but learn that the calls are coming from inside the house.

This is a partly Discredited Trope, because the whole urban legend relies on a myth about old analog land lines: the idea that you could, by tapping the receiver button carefully, manage to dial the telephone number of the building/home you were occupying at the time. Before cell phones, it was generally not possible to call someone from the same house you were in (at least without additional land lines, which are uncommon in a single dwelling). [1][2][3]

The sense of dread that a phone call is coming from the very building you are occupying may be lost on people who are used to being able to call anyone from anywhere at any time. However, learning that instead of being safe in your home, you're actually locked in the building with the psycho who's been making threatening calls, can still be pretty scary, cell phone or not.

This trope is probably old enough to predate the adoption of 911 services, especially as the original version of the legend usually highlights that the victim has to "call the operator".

For the more modern variant, see I Can See You. See also Short Distance Phone Call.

Examples of The Calls Are Coming From Inside the House include:


Advertising

  • The page image comes from the Budweiser ads which spoofed this trope with penguins calling some guy from upstairs and asking him how his Bud Ice is. Beware of the penguins.

Film

  • Played for laughs in the second Beatles movie, Help John uses this to prank the other Beatles with an alarm clock.
  • The plot of the movie When a Stranger Calls.
  • Subverted in Lost Highway: "I'm there right now. Call me."
  • Black Christmas was the first known film to use this line.
  • Used in the first Urban Legend movie. A character gets a call in his house during a party, checks the ID and proclaims it's this trope. He starts up the stairs when the killer on the phone corrects him with: "Wrong legend. This is the one about the old lady who dries her wet dog in the microwave." Sure enough, Hootie, the dog in question, has been nuked to death in a horrific Kick the Dog moment when the character arrives.
  • Spoofed in the first Scary Movie.
  • Spoofed in Wet Hot American Summer.
  • In the 2011 remake of The Mechanic, the hitman uses this to get the mark out of the building, by making him think the call is coming from a room above -- in actuality the hitman has rigged the switchboard to give a false signal.
  • Spoofed in Shriek If You Know What I Did Last Friday the Thirteenth when the killer stumbles into the backyard pool while menacing a girl over the phone.
  • Used loosely in the first Scream. In the age of cell phones and caller ID, however, the trope was lost in the sequels.
  • Near the end of Open House, the killer's call is traced to the very radio station whose show he is phonning into.

Live-Action TV

  • Used in the Only Fools and Horses episode 'Modern Man' where Rodney, annoyed with Del Boy, calls an ad in the local paper to apply for another job, not realising that the ad has been placed by Del who is taking the call in the other room. Although Rodney is ignorant to this Del is fully aware of who he is talking to and milks the situation to optimal comic effect.
  • Spoofed on Thirty Rock.
  • CSI did this once. Justified, because the caller had tapped into the victim's second line.
  • Criminal Minds: in the episode "Somebody's Watching." Justified because the caller was using a cell phone.
  • Frequently spoofed on Mystery Science Theater 3000, usually when a character in the movie being skewered is holding a phone and looking worried about what they are hearing. For example, in the movie The Giant Spider Invasion, when a NASA scientist is answering a phone call about giant alien spiders invading northern Wisconsin:

  Tom Servo: The calls are coming from inside NASA!

    • Kevin Murphy continues this joke on Riff Trax, as in this quote from one of Alien's many cat-seeking scenes.

  Kevin: The cat noises are coming from INSIDE THE CAT!!!

  • Spoofed on The State, with the call "coming from inside your pants. YOU'VE GOT TO GET OUT OF YOUR PANTS!!!".
  • Parodied on How I Met Your Mother. Ted, working out of his home, gets a call from his personal assistant saying he's sick and won't be coming in. Ted accepts it, but then notices on his cell phone's caller ID that the call came from INSIDE HIS HOME. The assistant is in the next room sleeping with his roommate Robin.
  • Played straight in the Twilight Zone episode "The Living Doll", when a man receives a phone call from his daughter's evil doll, who threatens to kill him.
  • Spoofed during The Daily Show, when Jon announces his Rally to Restore Sanity only to have it be interrupted by Colbert over the phone. It takes Jon a minute or two to realize that Colbert is, in fact, calling from inside the studio. The punchline? They were talking on an aluminum can walky-talky the entire time.
  • One of Al Franken's "Daily Affirmation With Stuart Smalley" segments on Saturday Night Live tell a scary story in a Halloween Episode based on this. The mysterious caller was completely incomprehensible and mumbling and the big, scary reveal comes from the phone operator responding to one of the mysterious calls to warn the girl, "The caller is inside the house! It's your father, and he's been drinking!"

Music

  • Aqua's song "Halloween"

Radio

  • An episode of Suspense, "Sorry, Wrong Number", starring Agnes Moorehead. Probably the oldest use of this trope in the media, it was so popular when it aired, the next week a new episode was preempted so that the radio play could be rebroadcasted. Eventually, it was made into a feature length movie.

Video Games

  • In Mass Effect 2, the Normandy gets upgraded with the IFF of a Reaper to be able to pass through a Mass Relay that destroys every ship that attempts to pass through it. EDI notices a hidden transponder signal in the Normandys em-signature, which transmits the ships locations. Joker has just enough time to ask "Transmit to whom?" before the Collector ship appears right next to them and starts to board the Normandy.

Web Comics

Web Original

  • Spoofed in a mock Creepypasta where a babysitter calls the parents to ask if she can browse /b/ on their computer. They say yes, and she asks if she can look at the original content. The parents respond witH "GET OUT OF THE HOUSE.../B/ HAS NO ORIGINAL CONTENT!"

Western Animation

  • The Simpsons: At the beginning of the first "Treehouse of Horror" episode, Lisa is seen wrapping up the original story with Bart in the treehouse, but Bart is less than impressed.
  • Spoofed by Brak on Cartoon Planet. The operator had made a mistake.
  • "THE MANIAC IS IN THE MAILBOX!"
  • The episode "Octi-gone" of The Powerpuff Girls included this trope, but any horror was pretty much passed over for a gasping gag; plus, occurrences like villains breaking into your house and pretending to hold a stuffed octopus hostage are pretty normal in Townsville.

Notes

  1. In fact, tapping the switch-hook is electrically no different than what the dial does: It momentarily opens the circuit. Five momentary openings in quick succession registers at the exchange as the digit "5", and so on. The dial just does it more conveniently. And if you dial the number of the line you're on, whether with the dial or the switchhook, whether or not there are other extensions on the line, you get a busy signal; that line is off-hook, after all. Nor is it electrically possible for the exchange to ring the other extensions on a line when one of them is off-hook; the low impedance of an off-hook phone will essentially short out the ring voltage.
  2. I can't speak for all carriers, but Verizon in Western Washington as of a few years ago, when you dialed your own number you got a quick recording telling you to hang up the receiver... when the receiver was hung up, they would ring your number with nobody on the other line. So on at least one phone network, at at least one point in time, this urban legend was plausible.
  3. When you do same party calling (phone company term) on a land line like this, the carrier will play a similar message when the caller picks up the phone, identifying the call as being from the same number. This is still used commonly in places with multiple buildings on the same phone line.
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