WHEN A STRANGER CALLS (1979) & WHEN A STRANGER CALLS BACK (1993)
Label: Second Sight Films
Region Code: Region-Free
Audio: English PCM 1.0 Mono with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1)
Director: Fred Walton
Cast: Carol Kane, Charles Durning, Rutanya Alda, Charles Durning, Tony Beckley
The original When A Stranger Calls (1970) is one of those urban legend-based films that I think every horror fan of a certain age grew up with, I certainly did, having watched in in my early teens, right around the time I started babysitting a pair of annoying kids for a friend of the family, everytime the phone would ring my heart would stop, it was always n my mind. I didn't end up babysitting the kids for very long, which turned out to be a good thing, a few weeks after I stopped watching them they burned their house down while their granny was watching them, apparently they were playing with matches while grandma was asleep.
The film opnes with highschool teen Jill Johnson (Carol Kane, Scrooged) babysitting the young children of Dr. Mandrakis (Carmen Argenziano, Graduation Day) and his wife (Rutanya Alda, Girls Nite Out). She finds herself alone in the house while the children are asleep upstairs, and while doing her homework begins receiving phone calls from a creepy voiced man who inquiring "have you checked on the children?". These calls goes on for a good while throughout the night, finally unnerved she rings the police who say they will trace the calls, calling back a short while later and telling her that the calls are coming from inside the same house as her! She runs for the door just as the police arrive, and it turns out that the kids have been dead for hours, murdered by a disturbed man named Curt Duncan (Tony Beckley, The Fiend) who made his way into the home earlier in the night at some point.
While I find that it's slowed down I do enjoy the cast here, Beckley is very good as the disturbed man, in fact he portrays the character in such a pathetic sort way that you kind of feel bad for him, he gives the character some humanity. Though you never doubt that he's a madman, just barely able to contain his homicidal madness, at one point following a woman named Tracy (Colleen Dewhurst, The Dead Zone) home from a bar where he's just received a beat down from the bar patrons after harassing her. He manages to creep his way into her home, and she just barely manages to get him out, not realizing what a threat he posed until Durning turns up on her doorstep the next day and lays it out for her, Dewhurst turns in a fine performance as a woman past her prime, lonely, but not that lonely.
Things do pick up in the final third with Duncan inexecplaiably tracking down Jill to a restaurant where she is dining with her husband while her kids are home with a babysitter. He calls her at the restaurant and sending chills down her spine with the familiar phrase "have you checked on the kids", leading to a wonderfully suspenseful finale that nearly lives up to the first 20-min of the film. The film drags a bit in the middle but the beginning and end are fantastic, making this slice of suspense a classic thriller with some real nail-biting moments.
The cast is great, the lensing is solid, the score is creepy, and it's well directed by Fred Walton, who also directed the maligned but awesome 80's slasher April Fools Day (1986), which is also sorely in need of a proper Blu-ray release.
Second Sight have also included the direct-to-cable TV sequel to the film, When A Stranger Calls Back (1993), which reunited director Walton with stars Durning and Cane who reprise their roles, adding a new babysitter to the mix by way of teen Julie (Jill Schoelen, Popcorn) who while babysitting a pair of kids receives a knock at the door from a man who says his car broke down nearby, it plays out much the same way as the first film, with the same results for the poor kids, and moving forward five years when Julie is a student at a local college, still traumatized by her experience years earlier, and now with someone stalking her. Enter Jill Johnson (Carol Kane) who is now a counselor at the same college as Julie, who calls in Durning's character to assist with the case. This was my first time watch of the sequel, for a direct-to-cable TV sequel is was well-done, mirroring the original but adding some new twists and turn, very glad second Sight saw fit to include it on this set.
Audio/Video: When A Stranger Calls (1979) arrives on region-free Blu-ray from Second Sight Films presented in 1080p HD, framed in 1.85:1, looking very filmic. The new scan of the film elements showcases plenty of natural looking grain that hasn't been DNR scrubbed or tinkered with unduly. The colors are solid and saturated, blacks are deep and shadowy, and we get some modest fine detail in facial close-ups and with clothing textures throughout. When A Stranger Calls Back (1992) is presented in the original full frame aspect ratio in 1080p HD, audio is 2.0 PCM with optional English subtitles.
Audio comes by way of an PCM Mono track that is clean and well-balanced, the creepy score from Dana Kaproff (Empire of the Ants) springs to life nicely in the mix with nice depth and fidelity. Optional English subtitles are provided.
Extras on the disc include new interviews with director Fred Walton, actors Carol Kane and Rutanya Alda, and composer Dana Kaproff, plus the original 22-min film that inspired the film.
We were only sent a "check disc" for the purpose of this review so I have no comment on packaging, booklet or the soundtrack CD that accompanies retail version of the release.
- The Sitter - Short Film (22 min) HD
- The sequel ‘When a Stranger Calls Back' HD
- New int. with director Fred Walton (17 min)
- New Int. with actor Carol Kane (17 min)
- New int. with actor Rutanya Alda (5 min)
- New int. with composer Dana Kaproff (8 min)
Limited Edition Contents:
- CD Soundtrack
- 40-page perfect bound booklet with new essay by Kevin Lyons
- Reversible poster with new and original artwork
- Rigid slipcase packaging
When A Stranger Calls (1979) gets a first-rate presentation from Second Sight Films, who were also kind enough to include the cable TV produced sequel, plus a handful of quality extras. Fans of suspenseful thrillers and creepy home invader films should absolutely dig into this nail-biting double-feature.