Quantcast

When A Stranger Calls Back (Blu-ray Review)

Mill Creek has held onto the rights for the classic horror film When A Stranger Calls for many years, in a bare bones 2-pack with Happy Birthday To Me. While Second Sight released a UK set last year (Region Free) that included the sequel, its never had a proper US release until now! Scream Factory is putting out the 1993 Showtime film When A Stranger Calls back that features new interviews with Fred Dalton, Carole Kane and Jill Schoelen as well as the original short film The Sitter that started it all. This is a nice compliment to that bare bones Mill Creek release and one fans should be pretty happy with. They’ve even gone a step above and added the option to watch it in a more theatrical 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Let’s take a look, shall we?

Film 

Five years after her own terrifying baby-sitting ordeal, Julia Jenz (Jill Schoelen, The Stepfather) is trying to put her life together when the past comes back to haunt her. Someone is breaking into her apartment, moving objects around and toying with her. The police think she’s just a hysterical coed, but student advisor Jill Johnson (Carol Kane), similarly victimized thirteen years earlier, is determined to nail Julia’s stalker. Retired detective John Clifford (Charles Durning), who saved Jill’s life before, must find and outwit the culprit before it’s too late in this riveting sequel that reunites writer/director Fred Walton and the stars of the original When A Stranger Calls.

When A Stranger Calls Back is a surprise as it has no business being as good as it is. Its actually better the original in a few aspects and some of the silliness in the film actually adds to its entertainment in a positive way. Its pretty surprising that they could make an opening sequence that lives up to and works just as well as what we saw in the original film. Which honestly, is THE most notable part about that classic. In addition, it takes the right path with the characters and the traumatic fallouts of events like these while also having fun spinning it into a pulpy, and sometimes goofy, horror thriller.

In terms of narrative and direction the series take, it takes a correct course of action and a pretty strong one. We get what we’d like from the original in the vice of Jill Schoelen’s character. Able to repeat the opening act of the original in a different way, but also showing a bit more harshly, the fallout from that traumatic experience. In addition, we are treated to another bit of growth in the opposite director of Carole Kane’s return of Jill, who has worked through some demons and wound up on the side of trying to help those similar to her. Her counseling of Schoelen and working with the continued compassion of Charles Durning makes for a pretty strong dichotomy of characters in this sequel.

Where the film falters a bit is the same place as the predecessor did. Everyone remembers the first act of the original film, but seemingly doesn’t remember the rest which focuses on the killer for the entire second act (The climax of the original is pretty top notch though). This one doesn’t give as much face time to the killer as the original, but when it does its a bit strange and doesn’t hold together as well as it does in the opening sequence. Its less sleaziness this time around a bit more wacky. But that goofiness plays in some silly and impressive ways. There is a scene well remembered from this film that has a HELL of an impressive make-up job done no matter how outrageous and absurd it actually is. In a odd conundrum its both chilling and laughable at the same time.

The sequel to one of the more inspirational slashers in the wake of Halloween (That inspired the opening sequences of Scream) isn’t too bad at all. In fact, its opening sequence alone is very strong and makes the whole film worth recommending overall. Which is surprising they were able to live up to the original in that regard. Its not perfect but its merits outweigh its shortcomings and it features a cast of protagonists whose performances all elevate the material that they are being served.

Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1, 1.33:1

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail: Scream Factory’s release of When A Stranger Calls Back features a 2019 2K scan of the original film elements in two aspect rations; 1.33:1 (original TV broadcast) and an alternate 1.78:1 version. Either way you take it, the presentation here is pretty terrific, featuring good amounts of detail and natural color saturation. Its a little bit of a darker image than the Second Sight one. The differences between seeing it and 1.78:1 and 1.33:1 are pretty notable. Its surprising how its jumps to a very cinematic look in 1.78:1 without having any framing issues become very apparent. Either way you select, it looks good an plays well.

Depth:  Interior sequences feature some really good pushback and spacing, especially with the smooth, confident camera movements in this transfer. Motion is cinematic and features no issues with rapid movement distortions.

Black Levels: Blacks are deep and provide a more haunting look, with minimal details being lost to the shadows. No crushing witnessed.

Color Reproduction: Colors are pretty natural and the template on display is that of a more basic one. It features many grays, whites, browns and the like. Clothing, art and fabric on furniture that is a little more colorful is a bit more muted as part of the intended visual palette.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are natural and consistent from start to finish. Facial details and textures prove pretty impressive in close up and medium shots.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean. The film features a very natural grain structure.

Audio 

Format(s): English 2.0 DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English

Dynamics: When A Stranger Calls Back features rock solid 2.0 experience that often times feels it goes a little bit more of the extra mile. The film’s vocals are real nice and offer a more than passable upfront presentation in the mix. Some of the morn ominous and quieter haunting room sequences can impress with hospital ambiance or a thunderstorm going on outside. Overall, this isn’t a “Wow”, but it definitely gets a little over the hump “gets the job done”.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension: N/A

Surround Sound Presentation: N/A

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are clear and crisp with a little bit of peaking happening during more intense shouting, but it feels more a piece of the original source mix than it does an issue with this particular mix.

Extras 

When A Stranger Calls Back allows you to choose to watch the film in either a more modern, cinematic 1.78:1 aspect ratio or the television broadcast 1.33:1 ratio.

Interview With Director Fred Walton (HD, 13:24) – One of the funnier parts of the interview is early on as Walton makes it clear that he hates the ending of this movie, but is rather happy with the rest of it. This sequel was intended shortly after the original film but wound up sitting dormant til Showtime picked it up (And mandated that ending). He talks work with the actors and the direction of the sequel. Walton brings light that a 3rd one was intended but wound up never making it past early developing.

Interview With Actress Carol Kane (HD, 8:20) – Kane admires the direction and growth her character received in this sequel. She gushes over her friendship and work with Charles Durning over many films. This one touches on the many similar points as the other interviews, but also takes a look at her love for the many costumes she work in the film.

Interview With Actress Jill Schoelen (HD, 13:46) – Schoelen is pretty emotional at a few points in recalling real life victims of similar crimes coming to her with praise on her portrayal and the movie. She notes that she was supposed to have her appointment to audition removed because Fred Walton didn’t think she’d be right for the role, but someone forgot and he though there was no one better for the part. Jill recalls Charles Durning telling her she’s the best young actor he’d ever worked with and not knowing how to respond. Overall a wonderful interview.

“The Sitter” Original Short Film (HD, 21:22) – This is the original short film that served as the catalyst for the original film.

TV Spot (SD, 1:09)

Summary 

When A Stranger Calls Back is a surprisingly stronger sequel than you’d think to the original horror classic. Both in being somewhat compelling in its characters/narrative and with a bit of the silliness in how its told to pass the time effectively. Scream Factory’s new release has a very nice looking presentation, with the 1.78:1 aspect ratio really giving a more cinematic appearance to it. The audio is middling, but the extras on here featuring some very good interviews that move very well. If you don’t own the Second Sight set from last year, this is an EASY pick up for fans of this series.

Share

Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

  1. No Comments