Directed by Fred Walton [Other horror films: April Fool’s Day (1986), I Saw What You Did (1988), Trapped (1989), Homewrecker (1992), When a Stranger Calls Back (1993)]
This film is one of those classics that I think, especially in recent times, has been re-evaluated a bit. Not that When a Stranger Calls is a poor film, but that tonal shift it takes twenty minutes in can come across as complete 180, and I’m not sure if the film ever 100% recovers from that.
I do think the finale, let’s say the final 15 minutes, are pretty solid, and while not quite as suspenseful as the opening, still enjoyable in it’s own right (and not to mention, the ending possesses an extraordinarily effective scare, so kudos there). Of course, everyone pretty much knows how fantastic the beginning is, and it really sets the film up nicely with strong suspense and quality atmosphere.
When the film switches gears, though, and falls into an almost procedural crime-drama, following a private investigator’s (Charles Durning) attempts to find the escaped killer of the opening (Tony Beckley, in his final role before his death the following year). These sections aren’t without merit, but it doesn’t give much in the way of horror that you might expect following the stellar opening.
Durning is definitely solid in his role, though, and is an actor I’ve enjoyed in the past, having been in films such as Dark Night of the Scarecrow and Sisters (Sisters isn’t a movie I really care that much for, but I did find his performance in that film certainly a positive aspect). Here, you can really get the sense that his character wants revenge, and has some mildly amusing conversations with Ron O’Neil’s character about the nature of this justice.
Though only focused on in the opening and finale, Carol Kane gave a great performance, and I sort of wonder how she’d do if given more screen-time than she had. The aforementioned Beckley was pretty solid, though I do wish we learned a little bit more about why he is the way he is, but who’s to say the unknown causes aren’t more terrifying?
I think the film drags a bit once it takes a more detective/crime route, which I think is the moderately common consensus. It doesn’t devastatingly harm the film, but it is very noticeable, so while I’d definitely recommend checking out When a Stranger Calls, if you leave thinking the opening and finale far outshine the middle of the film, I wouldn’t be deeply shocked.
This is one of the films covered on Fight Evil’s podcast. If you’re curious as to what Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I think about When a Stranger Calls, listen below.