WHEN A STRANGER CALLS
Amidst the host of slasher dross that would emerge over the next few years, When a Stranger Calls gained a certain amount of respectability. It is not the same type of slash-and-stalk film that Halloween patented and was endlessly, crudely copied by Friday the 13th (1980) and its ilk. There is a lack of gratuitous butchery of even blood itself; there are a minimal number of victims; and no sex scenes. The most challenging of the films variations is its surprisingly sympathetic portrait of the psycho who is not evil incarnate or a superhuman boogie man but just a sad derelict.
While it is occasionally effective, When a Stranger Calls is also a somewhat listless film. Fred Walton strains for atmosphere and tension but the story hangs in a vacuum the characters are virtual enigmas about which we are told almost nothing, and the exchanges of dialogue are banal. It is only Dana Kaproffs excellent score that gives the film any atmosphere, creating a great deal of menace and tension in all the right places. In fact, When a Stranger Calls could almost be a radio play, it relies so much on sound particularly the ringing of the telephone to convey effect.
The cast all do well Charles Durning gives a capable performance, although the character and his obsessive motivation is severely underdeveloped. Faring better is the frail, sensitive Carol Kane (who has always seemed like a female lookalike of Marty Feldman), while Colleen Dewhurst does wonders with her character of the gruff middle-aged woman whose veneer is gradually picked open. Tony Beckley engenders considerable sympathy for the pathetic killer in a performance that balances both menace and pathos.
Fred Walton returned to make a tv movie sequel When a Stranger Calls Back (1993), along with Carol Kane and Charles Durning who were now investigators helping stalked babysitter Jill Schoelen. The film was later remade, along with a host of other 1970s/80s horror films, as When a Stranger Calls (2006) by director Simon West starring Camilla Belle.
Fred Walton has remained a minor director who has frequently dabbled within the psycho-thriller genre. Fred Waltons other films of genre interest are: the slasher film April Fools Day (1986), the excellent Catholic psycho-thriller The Rosary Murders (1987) and the radio talkback host psycho-thriller Dead Air (1994). Walton then went onto make a whole host of genre tv movies, including a remake of I Saw What You Did (1988), another psycho-thriller Trapped (1989), Homewrecker (1992) about a rogue AI, and The Stepford Husbands (1996).
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