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Monday, July 25, 2011

When A Stranger Calls Back

      Fred Walton (who also helmed the original) returned to direct this sequel to the terror classic that scared millions of babysitters around the world with WHEN A STRANGER CALLS.  Titled WHEN A STRANGER CALLS BACK, this made-for-tv sequel that originally aired on Showtime back in 1993 is in my opinion, extremely underrated and scary, as many die-hard fans proclaiming it's far more frightening than the original. This film has one goal- to scare the hell out of the audience, and with relentlessly mounting tension and harrowing suspense, for the most part it succeeds. It opens with another babysitter, Julie, played by 80's icon Jill Schoelen. (What the hell ever happened to her, anyway?) This time, a man knocks on the door claiming car trouble and asks to use the phone to call the auto club. Things get scary pretty quickly as Julie soons realizes that he's got more on his mind than just the auto club.

     Just like the original, the sequel boasts an extremely terrifying opening.  Every bit as nerve-wrenching as the original, the film starts off strong and unlike the first, actually stays a bit more interesting in the rest of the movie.  And there are quite a few chilling moments sprinkled throughout the film. Carol Kane returns (in a bit of a stretch) as a counselor who just happens to work at the same college where Julie attends.  Charles Durning also returns as the retired detective who reluctantly goes back to work at the insistence of Kane to find the killer.  It's fun to see the two gang up to help Julie and track down the elusive killer.  Plus, it's got Jill Schoelen, kids.

     WHEN A STRANGER CALLS BACK has many things going for it.  First, the aforementioned return of Kane and Durning, who actually work well as a cinematic pairing. They click, they have a vibe, and one can almost see the two characters in their own series, tracking down mysterious psychopaths. The movie also uses a great building of suspense- many close-ups of doorknobs and doorlocks for one, and slow, deliberate camera work that achieve an almost excruciating exercise in suspense.  I saw this on Showtime when it first aired, and the three of us watching it late one night were paralyzed with fear.  Fred Walton manages to squeeze every drop of tension out of the material, and it's almost hard to believe that this is just a made-for-tv production. The great thing about the STRANGER CALLS movies are that unlike other splatter and special effects productions, these movies use the opposite approach. The terror here builds inside your head,  where it lingers... Your imagination kicks into overdrive... and suddenly every little noise, every little movement,  become much more scary.  That's the beauty of tension and suspense.  So much more rewarding than intestines.  These are sadly underrated films, and both are very much worth watching.  "Have you checked the children?"

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