In 1979, Jill Johnson (Carol Kane, The Princess Bride – 1987) was babysitting when she received an ominous phone call from an unknown voice. “Have you checked the children?” a raspy voice lets out. Tormented by these calls, Jill calls the police in hopes to get help in tracking down this mysterious man. “We’ve traced the call; it’s coming from inside the house.” These words echoed throughout the minds of everyone watching and made answering the phone for the next week a little more stressful.
When a Stranger Calls is a staple horror flick with an opening so horrifying and iconic, it would later influence one Wes Craven in his making of the 1996 film, Scream. Drew Barrymore’s scene was entirely a homage to Fred Walton’s 1979 horror classic. While When a Stranger Calls is one of the most notable horror films of the 1970s, it’s infamous for losing a lot of traction after the opening climax. We follow Jill Johnson and a detective, John Clifford (Charles Durning, O Brother, Where Art Thou – 2000) on the hunt for the stranger, who escaped the psychiatric facility he’s been at since the dreadful night. We get a happy ending for everyone (except the stranger) and all seems well. Little did Jill Johnson know that what doesn’t kill you… Always comes back.
The 1993 movie When a Stranger Calls Back is what I cite as the most under-rated sequel of all time. The story at hand as well as the amount of effort put into it seems to be way ahead of its time. In the early 1990s, the horror genre wasn’t taken too seriously. When a Stranger Calls Back was a legacy sequel long before legacy sequels were popular. Not only does Fred Walton return to direct, but Carol Kane and Charles Durning return to play their respective characters.
Unlike its predecessor, the movie opens up with a knock at the door. Julia Jenz (Jill Schoelen, The Stepfather – 1987) is babysitting two kids when she begins to get harassed by a stranger just outside the front door. Sticking with the trend of the franchise, the opening scene is very intense. It’s hard not to be at the edge of your seat (as well as swear off ever answering the door again). The stranger makes his way into the house, with Julia only narrowly escaping.
The rest of the movie keeps pace with the opening scene and doesn’t drag as much as the first one. Five years later, Julia hasn’t gotten over the trauma of what happened since the knock at the door. Convinced she is getting tormented once again, she turns to get some help from the police. Convinced she’s crazy, the police call Jill Johnson, now working for the Dean of Women’s office at Julia’s college. Jill and Julia bond with each other over their similar traumatic past. The rest of the movie tells a story of overcoming trauma with sequences that will surely get your heart pumping.
When the movie was first released, it was severely overlooked. Barely anyone saw it being that it was a straight-to-TV release. It got a second life when SHOUT! FACTORY released the Blu-ray in 2019. Hundreds of fans voiced how they thought it was so much better than the original. During an interview with PopHorror, Jill Schoelen stated “I truly believe that one of the reasons [When a Stranger Calls Back] was hidden was because it was not released as a feature film; it was released as a television film.” Since the Blu-ray release, more and more fans have been giving it the love it deserves.
For the full interview with Jill Schoelen on the movie, click the link below: