When a Stranger Calls Back (1993)
When a Stranger Calls has been hailed as having the most intense opening sequence of any horror movie. How many of us still shutter when we think of the words “The call is coming from inside the house!”? While the rest of the movie didn’t hold up to this level of suspense (which, to be fair, would have been impossible), the movie surely caused many a babysitter’s hair to stand on edge when she was alone in a strange house. Surprisingly, When a Stranger Calls Back delivers the same amount of “opening sequence thrills”.
When a Stranger Calls Back was made for TV, which actually makes it more impressive (seeing as how made for TV horror movies have a history of sucking donkey balls). While the movie itself is slightly better than mediocre, the opening sequence is what makes the film. Julia is a young babysitter who spends a night in a middle class neighborhood. A knock arrives at the front door by a person having car distress. Without ruining the sequence for those that haven’t seen the movie, the suspense is built up very slowly (the scene is about 15 minutes in length) until the “coupe de gras” which will delight even the most well-seasoned horror fan. I have heard that the opening sequences for both of the “Stranger” movies are perhaps the most well-directed scenes in the history of horror. I can’t completely deny that statement.
The film keeps up some momentum through the majority of the movie, teasing the audience with just enough suspense. Carol Kane, who played the babysitter in the first movie, returns older and wiser as a grief counselor for college students. I thought this was an ingenious use for her, and it really worked in the film. Charles Durning also returns as the investigator (older, not wiser). Jill Schoelen, the newcomer to the series, did an adequate job of playing the frightened babysitter.
Around the 2/3rds mark, the film starts to fall apart when the killer is seen at his night job. Without saying what the night job is (as it would certainly spoil the movie for those who haven’t seen it), I deemed the whole sequence to be absolutely unnecessary and it really took away from the movie. The film came back full strength with the closing sequence, however, it never really did recover from its lapse prior to the end scene. When I got finished watching it, despite the good parts the movie had, that scene where the killer is seen at his job really left a sour taste in my mouth and greatly altered my view of the movie.
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. Both of the films are better than average and are required viewing for any serious fan of the genre, however, expect a little bit of a disappointment. The film is probably most effective when viewed alone in a dark house (preferably when babysitting). Just a word or warning; before you put in the tape, make sure you check the living room….