Sorry, Right Number (1987)


“Man Lives in the Sunlit World of What He Believes to be Reality”

Main Cast: Deborah Harmon, Arthur Taxier

Director: John Harrison

Stephen King’s SORRY, RIGHT NUMBER has the distinction of being something not often seen in King’s bibliography, an original screenplay with no accompanying short story from which it was adapted.  This script, which was directed by John Harrison (BOOK OF BLOOD), was produced in 1987 for the final season of the horror anthology series Tales from the Darkside.

SORRY, RIGHT NUMBER opens with Katie Weiderman who is on the phone with her sister when she gets a mysterious call on the other line.  The voice is in tears, begging “please, please take”, but Katie can’t tell what they’re saying or what they want before the line is disconnected.  She feels confident the voice belonged to her oldest daughter who is away at college, so Katie calls the dorm and asks for her daughter, but Polly says she’s fine and didn’t call.

Katie tries her mother, but her mother, also, says no everything’s fine.  Still, Katie can’t shake the feeling the voice on the other end of the line was someone in her family.  “You know your own,” she tells her husband Bill.  Then she remembers her sister Dawn, who is home alone with a baby while Dawn’s husband is away on business.  She tries to call, but the line is busy, so Bill asks the operator to break in on the call so they can make sure she’s okay, but the operator says the phone is off the hook.

Dawn lives in the middle of nowhere and Katie is worried, so she and Bill go to check on her, only to find her alive and well but sleeping in her chair with the phone off the hook.

They return home and Katie admits defeat and goes to bed. A few hours later, she comes down to find Bill has had a heart attack.

Cut to years later and Polly is getting married, having her wedding at the house on the anniversary of her father’s death.  Katie says now they’ll have sometime to celebrate on this day instead of being in mourning over Bill’s death.  When Polly leaves, Katie breaks down crying and, for whatever reason, picks up the phone and dials a number.  The call is answered and Katie remembers the night she got the mysterious call years earlier and she pleads with her younger self to “please take him to the hospital, he’s going to have a heart attack,” but the call is disconnected.

When she tries to call back to the “old number”, the operator tells her the number has been disconnected or is no longer in service.

I’ve read SORRY, RIGHT NUMBER before, the script was published in King’s collection NIGHTMARES AND DREAMSCAPES, and I remember thinking the same thing both times, when I read it and just now when I watched the Tales from the Darkside episode: what in the world would make her just pick up the phone and dial her old number?  The action comes out of nowhere.  Yes, she’s breaking down because she misses her husband, but this obviously can’t be the only time that’s ever happened, so what’s different about this time that she just picks up the phone and dials a number she hasn’t used in who knows how long?

I’m just not convinced.

The story itself isn’t frightening or spooky or even tense, but that could be because it’s a made-for-TV short and it’s not like the Tales from the Darkside stories were known for providing frights of any kind, despite the intended purpose of the series.

It was TV in the 1980s, which is hardly known as a time of great quality genre shows.  Great cheesy shows, sure, but as for 1980s TV scares, it wasn’t happening.

Even the casting was pure 80s with Deborah Harmon (Just the Ten of Us) and her helmet head as Katie and Arthur Taxier (Hill Street Blues) as horror author Bill Weiderman.

SORRY, RIGHT NUMBER isn’t a bad short, it’s mostly just sort of bland.  I didn’t get a sense of urgency from the phone call, nor was I all that concerned about who could have been on the other end of the line.  Yes, I had already read the story years ago, but we’re talking over 25 years ago, I have only the vaguest recollection.  Even so, I didn’t get a feeling of suspense or dread or anything else from the episode.

King on Film

Carrie (1976)

‘Salem’s Lot (1979)

The Shining (1980)

Creepshow (1982)

The Boogeyman (1982)

Cujo (1983)

Disciples of the Crow (1983)

The Woman in the Room (1983)

The Dead Zone (1983)

Christine (1983)

Children of the Corn (1984)

Firestarter (1984)

Word Processor of the Gods (1984)

Cat’s Eye (1985)

Silver Bullet (1985)

Srazhenie (1986)

Gramma (1986)

Maximum Overdrive (1986)

Stand By Me(1986)

The Lawnmower Man (1987)

Creepshow 2 (1987)

A Return to Salem’s Lot (1987)

The Running Man (1987)

The Dark Half (1993)

The Tommyknockers (1993)

Needful Things (1993)

The Stand (1994)

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest (1995)

The Mangler (1995)

Dolores Claiborne (1995)

The Langoliers (1995)

Sometimes They Comes Back … Again (1996)

Children of the Corn IV: The Gathering (1996)

Thinner (1996)

The Shining (1997)

Ghosts (1997)

Chattery Teeth (1997)

The Revelations of ‘Becka Paulson (1997)

Trucks (1997)

The Night Flier (1997)

Chinga (1997)

Children of the Corn V: Fields of Terror (1998)

Gerald’s Game (2017)

1922 (2017)

The Stand (2021)

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