Blu-ray Review: When A Stranger Calls Back



During the Fall of 1979, you couldn’t watch late night TV or listen to the radio without hearing the ad for When A Stranger Calls. “We’ve traced the call… it’s coming from inside the house,” a man’s voice would declare. Remember that this was before cellphones so it was a pretty chilling statement. People flocked to the theaters to see this tale of a babysitter (Taxi‘s Carol Kane) being teased by a killer on the phone. Even though it was a hit, there would be no immediate sequel. Instead the studio re-issued the film to theater the next year in time for Halloween since this was the era before home video. The film’s impact stuck around and finally in 1993, a sequel arrived. They brought back the original stars in Kane and Charles Durning (Dog Day Afternoon) with writer-direct Fred Walton (April’s Fools Day). Although instead of playing theaters, it debuted on Showtime to scare people who had the pay channel. Now When A Stranger Calls Back gets upgraded to Blu-ray to continue the tale of the babysitter and the night things went bad.

Years after the original incident Julia Jenz (Popcorn‘s Jill Schoelen) shows up for a babysitting gig. Things look easy since the kids are already in bed so she’s able to focus on other things. But the night is interrupted with a knock on the door. A stranger’s car has broken down and he wants to come inside to call for a tow truck. But she doesn’t want to open the door so she calls for him. Except the phone line is cut and this is a time when teenagers didn’t own cellphones. She fakes like she’s called for the tow to not let him know that there’s a problem. The guy keeps waiting and wanting come inside to call. She tries to do the right thing, but then a horrifying thing happens. Five years later she’s in college and something sets her off to make her fear that the person responsible for the babysitting incident is back. She goes to visit the school’s counseling department and meets Jill Johnson (Carol Kane). She doesn’t doubt a thing that Julia is experiencing since she’s been there too. She enlists John Clifford (Charles Durning) to come back and help them track down the stranger like he did for her. Can the three of them really find a person who has eluded the police for years?

When A Stranger Calls Back really delivers the goods for a movie that originally played on TV. It’s not a repeat since the stranger isn’t calling her on the phone. There’s no phone during the opening scene when she’s stuck in the house with the stranger outside and the kids upstairs. The jeopardy is amped up without it being too wired up with rapid edits and strange camera angles. Carol Kane plays her character as someone who has been through this hell and isn’t going back or letting someone else get sucked into it. Jill immediately wants Julia to get a gun and know how to kill the stranger if he arrives. She plays Jill like Jamie Lee Curtis in the recent Halloween installment. She refuses to allow anyone to victimize her.

Ultimately the wait from the original movie pays off for When A Stranger Calls Back. Time allows us to believe that Jill would have taken a job helping other young girls in crisis. She has built up her self-defense skill. She’s not going to let this Stranger just attack and hide in the darkness. When A Stranger Calls Back answers the bell.

The video is 1.33:1 full frame and 1.78:1 anamorphic. This way you can either see it as it was broadcast on Showtime or fill up your HDTV. The transfers are clean so you can experience the big reveal scene when the Stranger is camouflaged. The audio is DTS-HD MA Mono. The levels are fine for the creepy opening when Julia doesn’t want to open the door. The movie is subtitled.

Directing A Stranger (13:24) is an interview with Director Fred Walton. He explains why there was no immediate sequel. He talks about what finally gave him the idea of how they could make a follow up when he was out on a drive. He talks about how Showtime determined the fate of one character.

Process Is Everything (8:20) sits down with actress Carol Kane about returning to the project. She talks of working with Charles Durning and how he approached his character so it wasn’t macho.

A Stranger’s Prey (13:46) catches up with actress Jill Schoelen. She talks of her horror career including The Stepfather. While she wasn’t into horror films, Jill was a fan of When A Stranger Calls. She almost didn’t get to read for the part.

Fred Walton’s Original Short Film The Sitter (21:22) is what got Walton hooked up to make the feature length version.

TV Spot (1:09) promises the scares of the original.

Scream Factory presents When A Stranger Calls Back. Directed by Fred Walton. Screenplay by: Fred Walton. Starring: Carol Kane, Charles Durning, Jill Schoelen, Gene Lythgow & Kevin McNulty. Rated: Unrated. Running Time: 94 minutes. Released: May 28, 2019.

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