Click here to return to the main site.

Blu-ray Review

DVD cover

When A Stranger Calls (1979) / When A Stranger Calls Back (1992)
(2018 Limited Edition Reissue)


Starring: Charles Durning, Carol Kane, Colleen Dewhurst, Tony Beckley and Jill Schoelen
Distributor: Second Sight
RRP: £29.99


Certificate: 15
Release Date: 17 December 2018

Jill Johnson is a babysitter for Dr and Mrs Mandrakis. Early in the evening she receives a distressing call. A voice on the telephone asks, “Have you checked the children?” This is the first of a series of calls which prompt her to call the police. The children are brutally murdered, and the police find the killer still in their room, but Jill survives because she hadn’t gone upstairs and checked on the kids (not likely, is it?). Seven years later the killer escapes from a psychiatric hospital. Charles Clifford is a police detective turned private investigator, hired by the father of the children to find their killer, Curt Duncan. Clifford suspects Duncan has returned to the city he knows. But also living there is Jill Johnson, now with two children of her own...

Fred Walton’s When a Stranger Calls was released in cinemas in 1979, just a year after John Carpenter’s Halloween. Whether they were aware of each other’s existence is in question, but either way you can’t avoid the similarities. The working title for Halloween was The Babysitter Murders, and there had been a real life event wherein a babysitter and the children had been killed by an unknown assailant. Walton and his fellow scriptwriter Steve Feke loosely did that story as a short film called Sitter (included on this disc), in order get backing to turn it into a feature. Carpenter – who had already gone through this process with his first feature, Dark Star – famously went down the route of the faceless psychopath in the darkness, and the rest is history.

I don’t think Stranger possesses the impact it once had; however, it has got certain strengths. Carol Kane goes for an impactful performance as Jill, which is infinitely better than Lucia Stralser’s somewhat subdued variation in the aforementioned short, Sitter. It’s not so much a vulnerability, as much more intensive and expression-filled shock/horror. Her reaction to receiving a call from the police, telling her they’ve traced the menacing calls to the house she is in, puts a brief shiver down your spine.

Charles Durning as Clifford the P.I. is solid as you would expect an established actor to be, but the surprise here is Tony Beckley. He plays the killer with a lot of uncertainty. It is said that Beckley lacked confidence in the presence of more well-known performers, and so doubted his ability greatly. This comes through strongly as a vulnerability which conflicts with his ‘needs’ – something which is seldom, if ever, seen in the portrayal of a twisted villain. The final scene, wherein he is revealed to be in the bed with Jill, when she believes it to be her husband, is very well handled for a low budget film.



When a Stranger Calls Back (1993) has a young woman babysitting for a couple, when there is a knock at the door. Someone wants to come in and use the phone to ring the vehicle breakdown service. She takes verbal details and assures him she will ring them. When she discovers the phone is dead, she feels it is safer to pretend she has rung. But that is just the beginning of her nightmare. Both of the children are missing, and five years later it starts again when she realises someone is getting into her apartment and making subtle changes to unnerve her. When she reports it to the police, they are far from convinced, simply calling the campus psychologist. This turns out to be Jill Johnson, the babysitter from the original film. She in turn calls in the help of her friend Charles Clifford, who had saved her life. He is convinced the girl is genuine and does not have psychological problems – even after she supposedly attempts suicide. Furthermore, he believes the perpetrator to be a ventriloquist; able to throw his voice to sound like he is outside when he is actually inside with the victim. Jill’s life turns full circle after taking an interest, when the unbalanced new killer turns his attention to her...

This is a made for TV sequel to the first film. Again, there is a prolonged babysitting sequence to start the film, but this time around there is significantly more meat on the bones. It begins as a mystery, and we are actually in the last third of the film before the killer is even seen. Less shocks, you might say, but more inventiveness. It may help that we are already familiar with two of the characters, but for me – as scandalous as it might sound – I think this second film is infinitely the better of the two.



Second Sight Films should be commended here for proving that two films will comfortably fit on one Blu-ray disc, with room to spare for special features. Here we get the short film Sitter – newly restored; and separate interviews with Fred Walton, Carol Kane, Rutanya Alda, and composer Dana Kaproff. There was a 2006 remake of the first film (Walton wasn’t involved) but, although it did okay at the box office, it’s a bit of a non-entity.

Ty Power

Buy this item online

Each of the store links below opens in a new window, allowing you to compare the price of this product from various online stores.