When a Stranger Calls Back Blu-ray Review (Scream Factory)
The scariest haircut you have ever seen!
It’s a rare thing when a Made for TV movie results in something worth watching. Usually restricted by TV content ratings, which means all the good stuff is cut out, the movie ends up being bland. That, however, isn’t the case with When a Stranger Calls Back, as it premiered on Showtime in 1993, which allowed the film to keep the good stuff we love in a thriller (mainly boobs, right?). Of course, the question has to be asked, did we need a sequel to When a Stranger Calls? Seeing how the returning director, Fred Walton, had been working on making a sequel for years, I think it’s safe to say it was okay to make one. Did the results, however, turn out good? Thankfully, that can be answered with a resounding yes!
When a Stranger Calls Back starts on the right foot, opening up with a spooky sequence that sees babysitter Julia Jenz (Jill Schoelen – The Stepfather) being hounded by a mysterious stranger who wants to use the phone. She wisely chooses to not let him in, but when she starts noticing doors being left open or items going missing, she suspects the stranger is inside the house. This opening act serves up plenty of chills and keeps the tension cranked.
After the opening, we jump ahead five years and Julia is sporting the worst Billy Ray Cyrus haircut I have ever seen. She is trying to live her life, but she starts to suspect that the mysterious stranger from five years ago is back to get her. She fears he has been breaking into her home to move items around, and generally create a state of unease for poor Julia. She seeks the help of returning character Jill Johnson (Carol Kane), who is all too familiar with what Julia is going through. Jill quickly brings in the help of John Clifford (Charles Durning, also returning) and the trio try to figure out if there really is someone terrorizing Julia, or if she is imagining it all.
When a Stranger Calls Back works because it doesn’t just try to redo the original film. Instead, it brings back characters into a situation that is similar, but not so similar that it feels like we are retreading the same story. The film doesn’t try to hide the identity of the mysterious stranger, rather revealing him earlier in the film and attempting to explain his mental state. Unfortunately, in that regard it fails to dive into what is driving said stranger to commit all these acts, and how he goes about doing them. The film stresses several times that Julia’s home is bolted shut and three stories up, yet the stranger can easily get in and out without her noticing. The film tries to explain it with a vague offhand comment that anyone can pick a lock if they practice enough times.
Nevertheless, even though When a Stranger Calls Back skips over some much-needed explanation, it does offer up plenty of scary spooks. We have a creepy hospital scene and an ending that will definitely stick with you for life. In the provided interview with director Fred Walton, he fought to keep a certain eerie shot during the end, telling his crew to work harder to achieve the effect, and I applaud him and the crew for achieving something extremely creepy and memorable.
When a Stranger Calls Back has been released on Blu-ray from Scream Factory, sporting a new 2K Scan of the original film elements – in two aspect ratios – 1.33:1 (Original TV Broadcast) and an alternate 1.78:1 version. First things first, the alternate 1.78:1 widescreen version is basically the original 1.33:1 broadcast, but zoomed in to achieve a widescreen look. You are losing some important information on the top and bottom of the screen, and I highly recommend skipping that version and sticking with the original TV broadcast ratio of 1.33:1. As for the new 2K scan, the film looks great with the grain left intact and the colours, when compared to the original Second Sight release, look more natural and accurate. A definite improvement. Audio is presented in DTS-HD MA 2.0, and although I didn’t hear anything overly terrible save for some tinny sound, Ryne mentioned in his review on Cultsploitation that he experienced some unwanted noise during quiet scenes. Something to take note of.
Extra Features include a 13-minute interview with director Fred Walton, who mentions that his original ending was much darker and not as cheesy as what we ended up getting. Carol Kane is interviewed next in an 11-minute feature. She talks about working with returning actor Charles Durning, and her time on set. The last new feature is a 13-minute interview with Jill Schoelen, who thankfully is sporting a much better haircut. She reminisces about working on the film and her start in the genre. Rounding it all out is Fred Walton’s original short film The Sitter, and a TV Spot.
When a Stranger Calls Back is an impressive sequel that doesn’t try to recreate the success of the first film, but instead does its own thing. If you end up wanting to see the movie, be sure to give it a watch on Scream Factory’s newest Blu-ray, which features solid video and a variety of new interviews.