Thursday, October 20, 2016

Episode 26: When a Stranger Calls Back (1993)

“You should get out of there. NOW.”

Teenaged babysitter Julia (‘80s Scream Queen Jill Schoelen) is startled by the sound of gentle rapping on the front door. Thinking better of twisting the knob, she nervously calls, “Who is it?”

From the front stoop, a stranger claims he wants only to use the phone. That his car has broken down and is in need of a tow. “You can trust me,” he calls from beyond the door and for a moment, Julia believes him. She reaches for the knob, but stops, offering to make the call for him, only when she reaches for the telephone receiver, she finds no dial tone. What ensues is a terrifying game of cat-and-mouse—a game Julia barely escapes with her own life.

Four years later, Julia is a college sophomore, still menaced by a man she’s never seen. While she’s in class, he enters her cramped apartment and makes subtle changes—moving a book’s place on her shelf, setting her alarm clock to wake her in the middle of the night—for no other reason than to let her know he’s still very much a presence in her life and that he’s always watching.

Terrified, Julia goes to the police for help, but she’s seen as a flake with an overly active imagination. It is only Jill (Carol Kane, reprising her role from the original 1979 horror classic When a Stranger Calls) who takes her seriously. With the help of Detective John Clifford (Charles Durning, also reprising his role from the original film), the three set out to discover the identity of this faceless stranger and why he’s fixated on Julia all these years.

When a Stranger Calls Back is a taunt, unrelenting thriller with an opening sequence that truly rivals the original in both suspense and originality. Incredibly strong performances all-around, especially Jill Schoelen, who I’ve always found to be more than authentic in her many woman-in-peril roles and wished she’d leant her talents to more genre films.

You can expect the usual from this episode: stories of viewing the film for the first time, some anecdotes on Jill and where she’s been all these years, and an an exploration of an inconsistency between the way Jill Johnson (Carol Kane) is written/developed in the original When a Stranger Calls, and how the character is seen here. As much as I enjoy both films, this odd little plothole has always bothered me and I never understood why more fans haven’t examined it.

For this episode, I used the original GoodTimes DVD, which runs 1:33:50. During the commentary, I mistakenly refer to the disc as rare and long out-of-print, but after a tiny bit of research, I came to find that it’s pretty easy to nab on Amazon brand new, and at a reasonable price.


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