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 Review archive:  # a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

When A Stranger Calls/ When A Stranger C - When A Stranger Calls( Blu Ray/ CD) [Second Sight Films - 2018]

Here on Second Sight, we get a much-deserved reissue of A Strange Calls- the late 1970 ’s blend of slasher & police drama, and it’s not often seen follow-up 1993’s When A Stranger Calls Back. Both films nicely mix together some very un-nerving chills, believable characters, and effectively twisting & turning plots. This new reissue offers up a two-disc & forty-page book set- which takes in the two films & extras on the Blu Ray, and on the CD the soundtrack for the first film.

When A Stranger Calls appeared in 1979-it was the first full-length feature from director Fred Walton. And it’s a most impressive debut film- aptly & cleverly bringing together moments of real fear & dread, with well-constructed police drama/ procedure- all complemented by believable acting, & a nicely dramatic to creepy soundtrack.

The film begins with meek teenager Jill Johnson (Carol Kane) going to babysit for two children, fairly soon she starts getting phone calls from a strange man- these quickly move from creepy to very unsettling & threatening- I won’t give away too much of the films opening twenty minutes, as it’s best to see unspoiled- but it definitely stands as one of the most tensely building & creepy openings in film history. After this, the film drops into a blend of police procedure, creepy stalking, and a great tension building last twenty minutes or so. The film is often criticised as been front-loaded, but this is somewhat unfair- as the middle police procedure & stalking really adds depth to the whole thing, making it a lot more believable & balanced than a lot of slasher films. With the balanced & believable acting really adding to this, with English actor Tony Beckley- giving a wonderful yet subtle unbalancing-to- very unnerving turn as the stalker. And great supporting performances from Charles Durning- as the balky yet cunning investigator John Clifford. And Colleen Dewhurst, as a troubled barfly who gets tangled up with the starker. The whole film is topped off with a most effective & classy soundtrack by Dana Kaproff- that blends together creepy & darkly clunking prepared piano elements with brooding-to-malevolent string work. The film is near bloodless, with the suspense & terror been built through the great acting, script, sonic moody & general great film-making skill.


From 1993 When A Stranger Calls Back brings back the original cast members of Carol Kane, and Charles Dunning- it also brings back director Fred Walton- all to make a surprisingly effective TV movie follow-up. The film once again starts with a babysitter been harassed in a house- this time it’s timid Julia Jenz (Jill Schoelen)- cleverly this opening scene nods back to the original yet also does things different. After this 20 or so minute slice of building tension, we move to five years in the future- where we find that Julia is now a nervous wreck in college- she believes someone is breaking in to her apartment. Into the picture steps Kane, who now works as a women’s counsellor, and fairly soon Dunning is called in to help make sense of it, and see if Julia is really been stalked & watched, or is it part of her imagination- the film keeps you guessing throughout, and once again we get a good & balanced cast.
After you’ve seen the first film, you really do wonder how they could manage to do an effective & original sequel which nods back to the original, without cheapening its original blend of stalk & slash and police procedural drama…but that’s exactly what they did with When A Stranger Calls Back does.

Extras wise we get four featurettes- these each last between twenty & five minutes apiece, taking in interview with the director, actress Carol Kane, soundtrack composer Dana Kaproff, and actress Rutanya Alda- who played the mother of the babysat children in the first film. Of all these interviews, I’d say there all are worthy- but personally, I found the ones with Kane & the director the most interesting. The other extra on the disc is The Sitter- this is a 1977 short, which is basically the first twenty minutes of When A Stranger Calls- this is worth a look, to see how Ward grew in his talent between the short & his first feature-length- though the music, which is a decidedly random blend of 70’s synch texturing & grating nursery rhyme- is no way close to Kaproff  score for When A Stranger Calls.

The finished release comes with a second disc, this takes in the first films original soundtrack. There’s also a forty-page booklet too, this apparently takes in a new essay by Kevin Lyons. With the whole thing coming in a rigid slipcase. We were only sent the basic screener disc of the release, so I can’t comment on any of these.

All in all, it’s great to see these two highly effective thrillers get a nice & classy release. If you enjoy generally creepy & unnerving films, that are for the most part bloodless, and more about atmosphere & well-drawn characters- you’ve really got to get your hands on this double disc set.

Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5

Roger Batty
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