The opening twenty minutes of Fred Walton’s When A Stranger Calls is as tense and edge-of-seat thrilling as cinema can get. The now iconic scene sees a young babysitter (Carol Kane) harassed by a series of mysterious telephone calls. It’s urban legend stuff, expertly filmed and edited and you’d be dead inside if you didn’t find it thrilling. The film was remade by director Simon West in 2006 and the opening sequence was used as the basis for the first scene of Wes Craven’s Scream, but that 1996 slasher doesn’t have the raw power delivered by Walton in this 1979 horror-thriller. Walton’s opening was a shot-for-shot remake of his short film, The Sitter and it’s clear the director knew exactly what to do when delivering this spine-tingling piece of cinema.
The crux of the movie jumps seven years and sees the phone caller (Tony Beckley) break out from a mental institute to cause further havoc. He’s hunted by Charles Durning’s retired cop, a man intent on catching the killer and enforcing his own justice.
When A Stranger Calls is a perfectly crafted piece of genre work. Walton’s opening is as good as horror gets and the film takes an impressive left-turn by letting you have insight into Beckley’s killer. The performances are all excellent, offering a variation of many shades of stock genre characters.
1993’s When A Stranger Calls Back isn’t quite as successful. Once again director Fred Walton calls the shots, but while this made-for-television sequel is an enjoyable film, it doesn’t quite hit the heights of the original. The opening is a near copy of the 1979 film and while it’s expertly staged it doesn’t quite have the visceral impact of its predecessor. Carol Kane and Charles Durning both return to capture a new babysitter terroriser but the motivations aren’t quite as fully formed as the original and the finale is a little silly.
When A Stranger Calls is an expertly crafted thriller that’s high on tension, When A Stranger Calls Back isn’t as good but it’s not a bad follow-up when all is said and done.
This Blu-ray release from Second Sight comes jammed with glorious extras. You get the original short film, The Sitter and interviews with director Fred Walton, star Carol Kane, co-star Rutanya Alda and composer Dana Kaproff. Brilliant stuff!