When a Stranger Calls Back – USA, 1993

‘Guess who’s back? The nightmare continues…’

When a Stranger Calls Back is a 1993 American made-for-cable-television psychological horror feature film written and directed by Fred Walton, based on characters he created with Steve Feke for the 1979 cult film, When a Stranger Calls. Carol Kane and Charles Durning reprise their roles in this sequel which also stars Jill Schoelen and Gene Lythgow.

The soundtrack score was again provided by Dana Kaproff (The Amityville Murders; Chiller; Empire of the Ants).

The original movie was remade for a new generation in 2006.

Plot:

Julia Jenz (Jill Schoelen) is babysitting for Dr. Schifrin and his wife.  A mysterious man knocks on the door. He tells Julia that his car is broken down and asks to come inside to use the phone. Julia refuses but agrees to call his auto club. The phone is dead. The man returns continuously to ask for help. Meanwhile, around the house, Julia notices things turning up out of place. Soon, it becomes obvious that someone is moving in and out of the house, and Julia discovers the children have been abducted. The intruder comes for her but she narrowly escapes. The children are never found…

Five years later, Julia is a college student, still traumatised by the incident. Seemingly, objects are being moved in her apartment, and Julia believes that the intruder is once again stalking her. Jill Johnson (Carol Kane), now a counsellor at the college Julia attends, offers to help. Jill contacts John Clifford (Charles Durning) to come to Julia’s aid and help figure out who is stalking her…

Review:

Strangely, writer-director Fred Walton opted to repeat the imbalanced format of his original 1979 movie for this belated cable TV follow-up. Thus, there’s a fairly suspenseful opening sequence involving beleaguered babysitter Julia, competently played by Jill Schoelen, followed by a long stretch of investigative work by Charles Durning’s stolid character, then a suitably gripping climax involving a twitchy Jill (Carol Kane) fending off the oddly camouflaged killer.

The slower section is enlivened by revelations about the killer’s chosen (and failed) occupation which, for spoiler reasons, it would be unfair to dwell upon here. The nightclub scenes also involve some nudity on the part of the female performers which may come as a surprise until the movie’s Showtime background is considered.

Unfortunately, there are some head-scratching lapses in continuity (perhaps the movie was reduced from a longer format so exposition scenes are mssing?). Elsewhere, some supposedly creepy cat-and-mouse moments, such as the killer adding a bottle of cheap vodka to Jill’s shopping trolley when she’s not looking, merely come across as mildly amusing rather than unsettling.

Perhaps it’s Carol Kane’s attempts to be angsty that don’t come across as well as they might, or maybe the fact that her subsequent career, involving many comedy roles, reveal her true talents obviously lies with making audiences laugh? That said, the shadowy showdown in her apartment at the end is worth the wait and this is a suspenseful sequel that all fan’s of the original should seek out.

Adrian J Smith, HORRORPEDIA

Other reviews:

“Kane’s character seems to have been written as a tough-as-nails survivor. But the actress plays her with such absurd gravity that she lapses into grim self-parody. That’s a good thing, because the plot of When a Stranger Calls Back is full of holes. At times, it feels like important scenes were left unshot or on the cutting-room floor; explanations arrive half an hour late, or not at all.” Brian J. Dillard,  AllMovie

When a Stranger Calls Back suffers from the same problem that it’s predecessor does. It falls too short of the standard it created in the opening sequence. As stated previously, that level of intensity would have been impossible for any director to maintain, however, the audience is still left with a feeling that they were “teased” with the first 20 minutes.” Jenn Duglos, Classic Horror

“It’s a decent nail-biter that plays on the tension it builds up, despite its gaps in logic. The pic is great until it falls apart when it shows the killer at work on his night job, after the halfway point. Though it recovers for a scary climax, the pic has nevertheless lost its momentum and never fully recovers.” Dennis Schwartz” Ozus’ World Movie Reviews

“Walton’s script works up plenty of the requisite fright tactics, and David Geddes’ prowling camera probes into obscure areas or catches Julia standing in mid-fright after her tormenter leaves a memento. The telefilm is a good rattler, despite some logic dropouts.” Tony Scott, Variety

Cast and characters:

  • Carol Kane … Jill Johnson – Ghost LightVampirina TV series; Ava’s PossessionsOffice KillerAddams Family ValuesPandemoniumWhen a Stranger Calls; The Mafu Cage
  • Charles Durning … John Clifford – Dark Night of the Scarecrow; When a Stranger Calls; The Fury
  • Jill Schoelen … Julia Jenz – Popcorn; Curse II: The BiteThe Phantom of the Opera: The Motion Picture
  • Gene Lythgow … William Landis aka The Great Landis
  • Karen Elizabeth Austin … Skid Row Woman (as Karen Austin)
  • Babs Chula … Agent
  • John Destry … Detective 1 (as John Blackwell Destry)
  • Duncan Fraser … Club Owner
  • Jenn Griffin … Club Girl 1 (as Jennifer Griffin)
  • Gary Jones … X-Ray Technician
  • Terence Kelly … Medical Examiner
  • Michèle Lonsdale Smith … Center Woman 1 (as Michele Lonsdale-Smith)
  • Kevin McNulty … Dr. Schifrin
  • Sheelah Megill … Center Woman 2 (as Sheelagh Megill)
  • Rebeccah Mullen … Club Girl 2 (as Rebecca Mullen)
  • Bobby Stewart … Detective 2
  • Jerry Wasserman … Detective Brauer
  • Cheryl Wilson … Mrs. Schifrin
  • Meredith Bain Woodward … Realtor

Running time:

94 minutes

Release:

When a Stranger Calls Back was originally broadcast on Showtime on April 4, 1993. In the US, it was released on DVD by Good Times Video on May 15, 2001.

On December 17, 2018, Second Sight issued the film in the UK on Blu-ray as part of a Special Edition release with the original 1979 movie.

Buy Blu-ray: Amazon.com

  • Brand new scan and restoration
  • The sequel When a Stranger Calls Back in HD
  • New interview with director Fred Walton
  • New interview with actor Rutanya Alda
  • New interview with composer Dana Kaproff
  • Reversible sleeve with new artwork by Obviously Creative and original poster artwork
  • English subtitles for the hearing impaired for both films
  • Original Soundtrack CD
  • 40 page perfect bound booklet with new essay by Kevin Lyons
  • Reversible poster with new and original artwork
  • Rigid slipcase packaging

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