Total Stranger (1999)


aka Stranger In My House

USA. 1999.


Director – Joe Cacaci, Screenplay – Christine Berardo & Victor Bumbalo, Story – Christine Berardo, Producer – Ann Kindberg, Photography – Stephen Lighthill, Music – Mark Snow, Production Design – John Jay Moore. Production Company – World International Network, LLC


Lindsay Crouse (Patti Young), Zoe McLellan (Lara Lewis), Jay Paulson (Alan), Jay Thomas (Ray Young), Paige Moss (Jill Young), Brian Smiar (Barry Simpson), Dan Lauria (Dennis), Lionel Mark Smith (Sergeant Davis), Eddie Jones (Judge Prestwitch), Jose Angel Santana (Steve)


Recently divorced, Patti Young decides to take research student Lara Lewis in as a boarder to keep her costs down. However, not long after she moves into the house, Lara becomes unstable. When Patti asks about excessive power costs, Lara keeps to the letter of their tenancy contract and refuses to pay more, which places financial burden on Patti. Lara soon engages in various malicious activities, including fooling Patti’s lawyer ex-husband into writing letters threatening legal action, poisoning Patti’s cat and calling the police with fictitious complaints of violence, eventually getting a restraining order barring Patti from returning to her own house.

Total Stranger/Stranger in My House could almost be a psycho-thriller produced by Pierre David. (Indeed, the film is produced by Pierre David’s frequent producing partner World International Network). David specializes in these video and cable released psycho-thrillers wherein someone usually invades the life of a happy family and tears it apart, seeking revenge. You could easily see Total Stranger/Stranger in My House as one of Pierre David’s Perfect– films – indeed, David produced the similar The Perfect Tenant (1999) the same year as this – The Perfect Roommate perhaps?

Total Stranger bears more than a few than a few passing resemblances to Pacific Heights (1990), which had husband and wife Matthew Modine and Melanie Griffith’s lives turned upside down by nightmare tenant Michael Keaton. Total Stranger even copies a number of parts directly from Pacific Heights – the tenant from Hell turning up the power and wrapping the landlord in a legal minefield, including serving a restraining order against them entering their own house. That said, Total Stranger adds some effective twists of its own – the landlord is doubted because she has a history of mental instability and, in one fine twist that Pacific Heights never thought it, of, the lawyer that the tenant goes to to tie the landlord up in a legal nightmare happens to be her own ex-husband. The script and director Joe Cacaci generate a fair degree of tension. Lindsay Crouse and Zoe McLellan are well cast against one another – the battle of personalities between conservative control freak Crouse and the mentally unstable Zoe McLellan is well crafted. The first scene a few minutes in where Zoe McLellan suddenly explodes into anger comes as a jolt. The film reaches an intensely weird point where the two are barricaded into their own rooms and Zoe McLellan breaks into Lindsay Crouse’s room to inject her fruit with lethal bacteria. Total Stranger emerges with a modestly enjoyable effectiveness.

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