Fred Walton’s “When a Stranger Calls” is what happens when you take a quick but creepy, classic urban legend and pad it out in to a dull, tedious “Halloween” knock off that’s more drama than anything else. Where as John Carpenter’s slasher chiller was about babysitters being stalked by a masked maniac, “When a Stranger Calls” attempts a horror thriller centered on an actual depraved maniac and the babysitter that he is inexplicably obsessed with.
After teenaged babysitter Jill Johnson (Carol Kane) begins getting stalked on her on the phone with the question “Have you checked the children lately?” she realizes the calls are not pranks and a man has broken in to the house. Traumatized by the murder of the two children she was tasked with watching, she goes in to hiding. But years later, the maniac Curt breaks free from his institution and begins prowling the streets of New York. With the original officer who busted him John Clifford on his tracks, Curt seeks out Jill once again, who is now living a happy life with her husband and two children.
“When a Stranger Calls” is filled with so much padding and empty filler that any pretense of it being horror and or a thriller are wasted almost immediately. The first twenty minutes amount to a great short horror tale (even featured in the cult documentary “Terror in the Aisles”), but the rest of the film is so much dull cat and mouse fodder between Curt and John, as Curt begins forming a new obsession with a local woman, while John seeks him out. John, like Loomis, is seeking Curt before he continues murdering women, and he forms an obsession.
“When a Stranger Calls” dabbles back and forth between character study and “Halloween” wannabe, with Charles Durning taking on the role as the Loomis foil, who makes it his life’s purpose to stop Curt. The narrative moves at such a snail’s pace with side characters that never amount to much, nor has much of a back story. The whole movie is really just build up to Curt inevitably tracking down Jill who becomes a pseudo-Laurie Strode by the climax, so it just feels like we’re wasting time throughout the film until we finally cut to Carol Kane once again. At the very least the original urban legend is spooky as all hell and still a great campfire yarn.
The re-packaging from Mill Creek Entertainment features a new slip cover that resembles VHS box art from a video store. There are zero extras included, but if you’re a fan of the whole VHS gimmick and love the movie (for some reason), it’s up your alley.