• When A Stranger Calls Back (Shout Factory) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: May 28th, 2019.
    Director: Fred Walton
    Cast: Carol Kane, Charles Durning, Jill Schoelen, Gene Lythgow
    Year: 1993
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    When A Stranger Calls Back – Movie Review:

    1979’s When A Stranger Calls didn’t need a sequel, but four years later it got one anyway, courtesy of Fred Walton, the man behind the original film – and that’s something that horror fans should be thankful for. Even if this one wound up being made for TV, that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a better film than its predecessor.

    The story is set around Julia Jenz (Jill Schoelen who is babysitting one night when a strange man comes to the door. He wants in, says he’s having car trouble and wants to call for help. She tries to help him without letting him inside but soon enough finds that the phone lines have been cut as the man sets out to terrorize her.

    Cut ahead five years and Julia, still traumatized by those events, is trying to move on with her life. She’s in college now and is finding things increasingly difficult. She never feels safe and is paranoid that someone is going to break into her apartment. When Julia becomes completely convinced that the man from five years prior is after her once again, she goes to the police who swiftly write her off as paranoid. However, coming to Julia’s rescue is student advisor Jill Johnson (Carol Kane, reprising her role from the original film), who knows all to well the realities of this situation. She takes Julia’s situation seriously enough that she’s able to enlist the aid of retired police detective John Clifford (Charles Durning), the cop who Julia the first time around to catch the culprit before he can strike again.

    The opening scene where the younger Julia deals with the stranger takes up almost a third of the movie and Walton gets full credit for crafting a smart, believable and remarkably tense sequence that keeps us on the edge of our seat. Things slow down a bit in the middle stretch, at which point the film does a good job of building characters that interest us, before then once again ramping up the tension in the film’s third and final act.

    It’s interesting, in the middle stretch, how Jill is brought back into the storyline. Having gone through the same sort of traumatic experience that plagues Julia’s nightmares, Jill proves to be a model of strength and resolve. She’s turned her trauma into positivity, teaching women about self-defense and helping damaged women get the help that they need. It’s interesting that her character would evolve this way from what she went through, and Kane plays the part very well. In fact, all of the acting is pretty solid here, with Jill Schoelen really coming across as genuine in her fears and Charles Durning playing the surly old cop well indeed.

    Walton treats all of this very seriously, making sure that the audience is invested in Julia’s plight and aware of just how broken she is because of what she’s been through. This makes the film a good bit more emotionally involving for viewers than its predecessor, taking a similar concept and giving it a very believable and frightening spin.

    When A Stranger Calls Back – Blu-ray Review:

    Shout! Factory brings When A Stranger Calls Back to Blu-ray using an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer on a 50GB disc in your choice of 1.33.1 fullframe or 1.78.1 widescreen aspect ratios, both taken from a ‘new 2k scan of original film elements.’ Both are taken from the same source and look great – as to which aspect ratio works better? It’s really personal choice. There’s some more headroom in the full frame version and the widescreen version can occasionally look a bit tight but either way, expect strong picture quality with great color reproduction, impressive detail and nice, filmic texture from start to finish.

    The English language DTS-HD 2.0 mix on the disc is also quite strong. Dialogue is crisp and natural sounding, always clear and easy to understand. The score sounds good, the levels are nicely balanced and there aren’t any problems with hiss, distortion or sibilance. Optional subtitles are provided in English only.

    Shout! Factory provides three interesting interviews in the extra features department, starting with the thirteen-minute Directing A Stranger piece with director Fred Walton. He speaks here about following up the success of the first film, coming up with the ideas for the story, working with the cast, how it wound up being a TV movie and more. In Process Is Everything actress Carol Kane speaks for eight-minutes about reprising her role, working with her co-stars and her thoughts on the film. After that, we get the thirteen-minute A Stranger’s Prey, which interviews leading lady Jill Schoelen about her work on the picture and her thoughts on the film, some of the effects in the picture, her character and more. All of these are worthwhile and together they paint a pretty decent picture of the making of the film.

    Also included on the disc is Fred Walton’s original short film The Sitter, a twenty-one-minute piece that served as the inspiration for the feature. It’s effective and creepy, definitely take the time to check this out if you haven’t seen it before.

    Aside from that we get menus and chapter selection.

    When A Stranger Calls Back – The Final Word:

    When A Stranger Calls Back is one of those rare sequels that is better than the original. Schoelen , Kane and Durning are great in the leads and the movie is tightly paced and very suspenseful. Shout! Factory has done a great job bringing it to Blu-ray in a very impressive presentation and with some interesting interviews as the main supplements. Recommended!

    Click on the images below for full sized When A Stranger Calls Back Blu-ray screen caps!