When a Stranger Calls Back (1993, TV-Movie)


Jill Johnson (Carol Kane, The Last Detail), a babysitter terrorized fourteen years earlier by a psychopath, is now a college counselor. Jill joins forces with an old pal, retired detective John Clifford (Charles Durning, Dog Day Afternoon), to help a student (Jill Schoelen, Popcorn) who is being stalked by a mystery man.

Reaction & Thoughts:

“Situations do arise where there is no-one around to help you, and you have to defend yourself by whatever means necessary.”

Here is a strange sight: a sequel that is nearly as good as its predecessor. When a Stranger Calls Back doesn’t feel like a run-of-the mill cash-grab. It’s a genuinely taut thriller that stays close to the style and themes of the original 1979 movie. The movie also does a pretty awesome job developing the returning characters from the first film.

When a Stranger Calls Back is a made-for-television production, so I wasn’t expecting much. To say that it exceeded my expectations is an understatement. Director-writer Fred Walton (he also directed the 1979 movie) is somehow able to catch lightning in a bottle twicethis guy really 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, the last third of the movie focuses on the long-anticipated confrontation between the heroine and the killer. Walton brings the story full circle and delivers a hair-rising finale. All I have to say is, “Well done, Mr. Walton!”

As I said before, I loved the fact the characters from the original movie are properly fleshed out. Carol Kane’s character is now a fearless victims’ rights advocate. The change makes perfect sense. She’s big on the second amendment too (second amendment fans, don’t claim victory yet, there is a huge irony regarding that gun).

I was also elated to see that Kane and Charles Durning, who reprises his role of the detective who saved Kane’s life in the 1979 movie, have many more scenes together this time around — they make a truly fabulous screen team. Jill Schoelen is appropriately vulnerable as the new “Scream Queen.” The only thing that I didn’t like about the movie is that there is no mention of Kane’s family situation.

The cast also includes Gene Lythgow (The Usual Suspects), Kevin McNulty (The Accused) and Duncan Fraser (Needful Things) as a club owner. The gorgeously moody music score was written by Dana Kaproff, who also wrote the music for the first movie. On both occasions I was impressed with Kaproff’s excellent work.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Defying the odds, When a Stranger Calls Back is a satisfying sequel to one of the spookiest thrillers of the ’70s. It doesn’t feel like a TV movie at all. There are a few plot holes, but, overall, a well-made, well-done chiller. I’m so glad that they stopped while they were ahead. Give it a chance, you won’t be sorry. Color, 94 minutes, Rated R.

2 responses to “When a Stranger Calls Back (1993, TV-Movie)

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