UK distributor Second Sight Films have released a beautiful limited edition Blu Ray box set of WHEN A STRANGER CALLS which includes the TV movie sequel WHEN A STRANGER CALLS BACK (1993) and CD soundtrack. But that’s not all as this package also includes a double sided poster and a 40-page booklet with an excellent essay by Kevin Lyons.
I spent yesterday watching everything on the disc and as far as I'm concerned this is something every horror fan should own. The restoration of both films is fantastic and the original artwork by Obviously Creative on the double sided poster is gorgeous. (The other side is the original promotional poster which brings a dilemma.)
I would have liked the interviews with the cast to have been a little longer, especially with director Fred Walton, but the interviews are really interesting. The only real criticism I have is that there's a discrepancy in the sound mix so the interviews are quiet and the intercut film scenes are much louder which makes for an uneasy viewing experience. The films themselves, sound-wise, are fantastic and like I said this restoration is well worth the money.
“Have you checked the children?”
WHEN A STRANGER CALLS has one of the most influential openings in horror history. The first 20 mins are like a play and is actually almost shot for shot identical to the short film it’s is based on.
The true story of the unsolved murder of 13-year-old Janett Christman, a young babysitter in 1950, inspired writer and director Fred Walton to make the short The Sitter, which is included in the boxset and it’s an interesting watch. (It has a truly excellent 70’s score which I loved.)
So influential was this opening that Wes Craven used it as inspiration for the opening scenes of Scream (1996). WHEN A STRANGER CALLS, and one of my other favourite films Black Christmas, are both directly responsible for the urban legend of ‘the calls are coming from inside the house” being so enduring and popular. It really does get under our skin. Our homes are where we are meant to feel safe, so a maniac on the end of the phone with instant access to us is really creepy.
With a chilling and somewhat unusual for the time sympathetic performance by Tony Beckley, who sadly died six months after the premiere, WHEN A STRANGER CALLS manages to keep you on the edge of your seat with the tension. Carol Kane performance as Jill Johnson is perfection, she has such a magnetic quality and Charles Durning as detective Clifford is always brilliant.
Call it a thriller, suspense or horror WHEN A STRANGER CALLS delivers in spades. It manages to be genuinely frightening and does something unexpected, in that we don’t follow our final girl throughout the film, we follow Curt Duncan, the killer until the two are reunited in a chilling face off that still makes my toes curl.
The sequel WHEN A STRANGER CALLS BACK was a made-for-TV sequel and while there are some issues in terms of the story it’s much better than a TV movie sequel has any right to be. Fred Walton is back as director and the opening 20 mins are the same set up as before. A young woman is babysitting alone but this time instead of someone menacing her over the phone, it’s someone knocking on the door who won’t leave her alone. It’s not Curt Duncan from the original but a new killer with a special talent. We meet up with this woman, Julia, five years after her ordeal where she is convinced someone is breaking into her apartment and moving her things.
The best thing about WHEN A STRANGER CALLS BACK is that both Carol Kane and Charles Durning are back. Kane, as Jill, has become a counselor at the college Julia goes to and is the only person who believes her that someone is stalking her. Jill teaches self defense and takes no risks when it comes to women’s safety which is such a great choice for her character. She’s not the basket case you might have expected, she’s been made stronger by her experiences and is determined that no one should ever have to go through what she went through.
Charles Durning is brought in by Jill to investigate and he’s not convinced by Julia’s story but is drawn in nonetheless as are we drawn in by this unusual villain. WHEN A STRANGER CALLS BACK is well worth watching and has some really inventive choices in terms of characters and plot.
Full list of special edition features:
Brand new scan and restoration
The sequel When a Stranger Calls Back in HD
New scan and restoration of the original short film The Sitter
Reversible sleeve with new artwork by Obviously Creative and original poster artwork
English subtitles for the hearing impaired for both films
Directing A Stranger : An Interview with director Fred Walton
Carol Kane on When a Stranger Calls
Rutanya Alda on When a Stranger Calls
Scoring A Stranger : An interview with composer Dana Kaproff
Limited edition contents:
Original soundtrack CD
40-page perfect bound booklet with new essay by Kevin Lyons
Reversible poster with new and original artwork
Rigid slip case packaging