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When a Stranger Calls Back Blu-ray Review

Written by Robert Gold

Blu-ray released by Scream Factory

When A Stranger Calls Back Blu Ray Large

Written and directed by Fred Walton
1993, 94 minutes, Rated R
Released on May 28th, 2019

Carol Kane as Jill Johnson
Charles Durning as John Clifford
Jill Schoelen as Julia Jenz
Gene Lythgow as William Landis

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In 1979, writer/ director Fred Walton made horror history asking the terrifying question, “Have you checked the children?” With these five simple words, audiences and babysitters across America were terrified. The movie was the now classic When a Stranger Calls and it starred Carol Kane (Pandemonium) as Jill Johnson, the targeted teenage sitter receiving scary phone calls and Charles Durning (Dark Night of the Scarecrow) as the seasoned cop trying to catch a killer. The first twenty minutes are the most famous in the picture and feel more like a dramatic conclusion than an introduction. By now we all know where the calls are coming from, but the sequence holds up to repeat viewings. The film was quite a success and inspired countless imitators for years to come.

Fourteen years later, Walton returned to the well for the unexpected sequel When a Stranger Calls Back (1993). The plot is familiar yet surprising and the picture scores another gut-wrenching opening act that contains the most suspenseful sequence in a horror film that I have seen in quite a while. This time around we follow the misadventures of Julia Jenz, the babysitter receiving unwanted attention. Further mixing things up, there are no menacing phone calls; instead it is a stranger’s recurring knock at the door. From there we jump ahead five years and we catch up to an emotionally damaged Julia, now a university student living alone in a heavily secured apartment. Trouble returns as an intruder repeatedly breaks in while she is away and toys with her. She runs to the police for help and finds support in a kindred spirit.

Jill Johnson survived her own babysitting nightmare years ago and is now a strong woman reaching out to help others in need. She sympathizes with Julia’s plight and calls back her old detective friend John Clifford to try to catch the guy harassing her. Where the original film dropped the babysitter character in exchange for the police work trying to stop the murderer, the sequel keeps Julia firmly implanted at the heart of the story. Carol Kane receives the strongest character arc as a resourceful woman capable of defending herself in more ways than one. The always welcome Jill Schoelen (Popcorn) is Julia and plays the hapless victim role perfectly. Audiences are rooting for Julia – even though when we meet her she is a terrible person who lies – and want to see her survive this ordeal.

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Walton immediately plunges audiences into the deep end with his harrowing tale and continues to ratchet up the suspense as we watch a woman victimized by an unseen villain. As Jill becomes more involved in teaching Julia self-defense techniques, she finds herself the new focus of the killer’s attention. The detective gets lucky with a hunch and things escalate quickly. The sequel moves much faster than the original and makes better use of its cast. By putting the spotlight on the women who have survived trauma, audiences are more invested in the action. These are well-rounded characters worth spending time with.

When a Stranger Calls Back was made for the Showtime network and opened to strong reviews. With the return of Walton, Kane and Durning and a strong script, audiences are treated to the rare sequel that stands up to the reputation of the original. Walton proves impressive with building and maintaining suspense and delivers a knockout finale that really grabs you. You don’t necessarily need to see the original to keep up with this film, but it helps. Pick this one up and watch it in the comfort of your home – alone!

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Video and Audio:

Presented in both the original TV broadcast 1.33:1 aspect ratio as well as a newly created 1.78:1 widescreen version, the camera negative has undergone a 2K scan and restoration with gorgeous results.

A DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo mix delivers with clean dialogue and well-balanced music cues.

Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.

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Special Features:

Writer/director Fred Walton sits for the interview segment Directing a Stranger (13 minutes) and shares his memories of how the picture got started and working with the cast. He reveals his failed plans for a third film in the series and his thoughts on the differences of watching a film with an audience in a theater compared to seeing it alone at home.

In Process is Everything (8 minutes), actress Carol Kane reflects on picking up the story years later without repeating what came before. She talks about the pleasure of reuniting with Walton and actor Charles Durning and is proud of the finished film.

We catch up with Jill Schoelen in A Stranger’s Prey (14 minutes) who looks back on her career in the horror genre. She shares her thoughts on relating to the character and her approach to the role of someone traumatized. Schoelen has kind words for Walton and his directing style and praise for her co-stars.

Fred Walton’s original short film The Sitter (21 minutes) appears here in a cleaned-up presentation that offers a look at the promotional film that got the original picture made. The short plays as an almost shot-for-shot companion to the opening sequence of When a Stranger Calls in the feature as a babysitter receives threatening phone calls.

A TV spot has been included.

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Movie: Threeandahalfstars Cover
Buy Amazon Us
Video: Fourandahalfstars
Audio: Threeandahalfstars
Features: Threestars
Overall: 3.5 Star Rating

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About The Author
Robert Gold
Author: Robert Gold
Staff Reviewer - USA
Robert's favorite genres include horror (foreign and domestic), Asian cinema and pornography (foreign and domestic). His ability to seek out and enjoy shot on video (SOV) horror movies is unmatched. His love of films with a budget under $100,000 is unapologetic.
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