‘When a Stranger Calls Back’: Classy Horror with Genuine Scares

As with When a Stranger Calls, this one concerns a babysitter (Jill Schoelen) menaced by a scary guy (only this one comes to the door, making a liar of the title) (Gene Lythgow) who won’t leave her alone, even returning five years later to hassle her in college. Julia is assisted by Jill (Carol Kane), the girl from the original, who—conveniently enough—is a counselor at her college. The two of them, with the help of John (Charles Durning), the detective from the first movie, try to catch the stalker. But he has lots of nifty tricks that they haven’t seen before.

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“Now, get your hands up higher, and yell ‘Pew! Pew!'” “When do I get an actual gun?” “When you have mastered the ‘Pew! Pew!'”

This movie more than meets my sequel criteria—it exceeds them. The writer and director of the original, Fred Walton, returns to again write and direct, and not just one but two actors from the first film reprise their roles. It directly follows the storyline from the original, and keeps the same logic. In many ways I like it better than the previous film, which after the terrifying first fifteen minutes or so, gets rather dry and boring. The stalker may kill people, but his social life, which makes up the bulk of the plot, is dull. This one keeps the action going, but not in a cheap way, like with jump scares. I’d say this villain, William, is creepier, too, with his ability to throw his voice and paint himself into a wall.

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That’s talent! If he put that much energy into developing his skills as an artist as he does stalking and murdering, he’d probably be a lot more well-adjusted

I also enjoy Jill’s transformation into a woman who refuses to be a victim. She and Julia are curious characters for a horror movie; they don’t get naked or even wear skimpy clothes; they don’t cower, and they don’t have men. Julia could actually be construed as gay, if you want to go with ’90s stereotypes—she has a mullet and dresses like a lumberjack. Even her sleepwear is an oversized sweatshirt. When she mentions the possibility of being a relationship, she doesn’t use a masculine pronoun; she says, “A person who maybe has someone.” She spends a lot of time at Jill’s place, and Jill’s husband from the first movie is out of the picture. Of course they’re both traumatized women who have trust issues—I’m just sayin.

I do have a couple of issues with the movie, mostly the notion that William can be outside and sound like he’s inside, and vice versa. I like how enigmatic and interesting his character is (for example performing in a nightclub with a dummy that has no face), but I don’t see how these glimpses into his life relate to his other hobby of killing children and stalking people. But overall, it’s good watchin.’

I first saw this at my friend Hope’s 12th birthday slumber party. She had already seen it, and made much of the scene when Julia is making tea, but turns the burner off. A few minutes later, Julia runs to the kitchen to turn off the shrieking teapot, the inference being that she’s not alone in the house—the man at the front door is actually inside with her. It’s a scary scene, and it has stuck with me for the couple decades, and not just because of the nostalgia factor. Check it out if you feel like watching a creepy home invasion movie—it’s great for slumber parties.

Published by GhoulieJoe

I wuvs the horror movies and like to write snarky reviews about them. I also included some pretentious as hell microfiction (don't worry, it's at the bottom).

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