Even people who have never seen When a Stranger Calls could probably tell you about it. The 1979 film has one of the most famous moments in horror history, when a police officer tells a young babysitter that he's traced the menacing calls she's been receiving, and they're coming from inside the house! In 1993, Showtime aired a sequel, When a Stranger Calls Back. Scream Factory's Blu-ray release presents the movie in two formats – the original 1.33 TV aspect ratio and a more cinematic 1.85 ratio – and supplements it with some fun bonus features.
Jill Schoelen, who was a staple of low-budget genre flicks in the late '80s and early '90s, plays Julia. While babysitting the children of a doctor and his wife, she becomes unnerved by a guy knocking on the door. He claims that his car broke down and that he just wants to use the phone. Julia is suspicious, refusing to let him in. The man becomes more aggressive, eventually getting inside the home and kidnapping the kids.
The story then jumps ahead several years. Julia is in college. She believes that the psycho, who was never apprehended, has been breaking into her apartment. Not so coincidentally considering this is a sequel, the campus counselor is Jill Johnson (Carol Kane), the babysitter from the original. She brings in old friend John Clifford (Charles Durning), the detective who caught her own tormentor, to help figure out who the guy is.
When a Stranger Calls Back is very much a made-for-cable movie. It's not particularly good, but it's not terrible, either. If you're in the mood for a lightweight thriller that doesn't require a lot of thought (or your full attention), it'll do just fine.
The first twenty minutes, with Julia trying to fend off the door-knocker, are fairly suspenseful. One or two good jolts can be found here. The middle section is a little duller, as the characters look for clues about the psycho. The last twenty minutes, meanwhile, go in an incredibly bonkers direction that's dumb, yet also undeniably amusing. They involve ventriloquism, theatrical makeup, and the bad guy employing a method of hiding in plain sight so implausible that you may find yourself unable to stifle a laugh. (Although it may be a gleeful laugh.)
When a Stranger Calls Back is a good reminder of what a fine actress Carol Kane is. Most of us associate her with comedy. Here she is in a dramatic role, delivering a performance that's impressively nuanced. Her work is easily the highlight. Otherwise, the film contains a few off-kilter delights and a few stretches of monotony. It's watchable, yet unremarkable.
Aside from the two aspect ratio choices, Scream Factory's Blu-ray boasts a good-looking new 2K scan of the original film elements. There are some cool supplementary materials, starting with a 14-minute interview with director Fred Walton. He discusses how the sequel was developed and expresses unhappiness with his film's final scene – a happy ending imposed by the executives at Showtime.
Kane is the focus of an 8-minute interview. She talks about playing Jill Johnson again years after the original. The actress also shares fond memories of co-star Charles Durning. Jill Schoelen is interviewed for a segment, too. Like Kane, she expresses admiration for Durning. She additionally offers some overall thoughts on When a Stranger Calls Back and the manner in which it has grown a cult audience since its initial release.
Rounding out the package is “The Sitter,” Walton's 21-minute short film that served as the basis for When a Stranger Calls, as well as the trailer for this sequel.
For more information on this and other great titles, please visit the Scream Factory website.
When a Stranger Calls Back is rated R for terror/violence, and for some nudity and language. The running time is 1 hour and 34 minutes.