Jill Johnson (Carol Kane, The Last Detail), the babysitter terrorized fourteen years earlier by a psychopath, is now a college counselor. Jill joins forces with old pal, retired detective John Clifford (Charles Durning, Sisters), to help a student, Julia Jenz (Jill Schoelen, Popcorn), who is being stalked by a mystery man.
Reaction & Thoughts:
A rare case of a sequel that’s nearly as good as its predecessor. When a Stranger Calls Back doesn’t feel like something made to cash in on a previous success. This taut thriller stays close to the style and themes of the original 1979 movie while creating new twists of its own. When a Stranger Calls Back also does a good job providing a natural progression of the characters from the first movie.
When a Stranger Calls Back was made for cable TV so I was really expecting a sub-par production, but I was pleasantly surprised. I guess the key was to keep director-writer Fred Walton (April Fool’s Day and The Rosary Murders), who had made his feature film debut with the original, holding the reins. Walton is able to catch lightning in a bottle twice — this guy knows how to create a creepy atmosphere.
Like When a Stranger Calls, this sequel is divided into three sections. First, we have the babysitter being terrorized by an unknown psychopath. Later, we have the investigation of the crime. Finally, Walton brings the story full circle and delivers a hair-rising finale. All I have to say is, “well done!”
Carol/Jill suffers a fascinating transformation. She is now a fearless victims’ rights advocate, a far cry from the skittish woman of the first movie. The change makes perfect sense. She’s big on the second amendment too. She quickly asks Julia, “do you own a gun?” (second amendment fans, don’t claim victory yet, there is a huge irony regarding that gun which I’m not going to spoil).
In addition to the main character’s metamorphosis, I liked the fact that Kane and Durning have many more scenes together this time around — they really make a fabulous screen team. Durning was really one of the finest character actors of his generation. Schoelen is pretty good too. The only thing that I didn’t like about the movie is that there is no mention of Jill’s kids and husband — how hard was to write a few lines about her family situation?
The cast also includes Gene Lythgow (The Usual Suspects), Kevin McNulty (The Accused) and Duncan Fraser (Needful Things) as the club owner. The moody musical score is by Dana Kaproff. He also wrote the music for the first movie. On both occasions I was impressed by Kaproff’s excellent work.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
When a Stranger Calls Back is an enjoyable book end to one of the spookiest thrillers of the ’70s. I’m so glad that they stopped while they were ahead. Highly recommended to fans of thrillers! Color, 94 minutes, Rated R.