When a Stranger Calls (Blu-ray)

April 1, 2020 5 Min Read

Review by: Matt Malouf

Plot: What’s it about?

Probably best remembered for its opening 20 minutes before anything, When a Stranger Calls still does well enough as a whole to at least warrant a viewing. The opening 20 minutes I mentioned involve a babysitter who keeps receiving mysterious callers in which the callers asks “Have you checked the children?” This was enough to even inspire the opening moments of Scream. I first saw Stranger way back in the 90’s when my sister and her friend mentioned it and the guy at the video store (remember those?) found it for us. He went on to even mention the direct to video sequel, but the less said about that, the better. There was even a 2006 remake, but that failed to click. The thing that benefits this film is also the very thing that predates it and that’s Caller ID. Well that and modern technology in general.

Carol Kane plays Jill Johnson. She is the babysitter at the beginning of the film. The phone rings, to which Jill initially dismisses it, but the rings continue and the voice on the other line sounds more and more threatening. I won’t reveal what happens after the opening sequence, but the film then flash forwards to seven years later and shifts the focus to the killer. The killer is an Englishman named Curt (Tony Beckley). He was sent to an asylum for insanity, but Detective John Clifford (Charles Durning) thinks otherwise and plans to kill Curt. Curt is homeless, because he has escaped from the asylum and we spend a lot of time with Clifford on his case. We see Curt harass a woman in a car, which results in a patron ultimately beating him to the ground. Curt eventually follows this woman home and Clifford then uses that to try and capture Curt. We have some chases and close encounters, much of which are frustrating, but the film speeds along rather nicely to its satisfying climax.

Obviously with such a powerful opening, it’s hard for the film to maintain as much interest consistently, but I was surprised by how much I still enjoyed this film as a whole. My memories of it weren’t quite as positive. As I mentioned, some moments can be frustrating, but it kept me with it. A large part of this is thanks to Tony Beckley and his powerful performance. He would sadly die months after the film was released, but this was a strong role to finish on. While dated now, the film does need to be seen if one hasn’t discovered it by now. It’s never as good as its opening, but it’s still strong stuff.

Video: How’s it look?

We get a solid 1.85:1 AVC encoded transfer that proves more satisfying than I anticipated. Grain was minimal and details were strong. The print seemed clean enough and overall, the image was sharp and got the job done. I didn’t notice any obvious flaws that need be mentioned. For a disc of this sort and an older film, this one looks just fine.

Audio: How’s it sound?

We find a DTS 2.0 track that suits the film well enough. It lacks a lot of range, but I didn’t have any major issues with it, either. Vocals are clear enough and the film does have a powerful score to it.

Supplements: What are the extras?

This disc contains no supplemental material.

The Bottom Line

More powerful than I remember it being, Stranger is best remembered for its powerful opening than anything else. And for good reason, but the remainder of the film keeps us with it so long as we know what to expect. It very much shifts its focus to the killer and not the victims. This disc looks and sounds fine and features a retro VHS style slipcover. If you think it’s something you want to own then rest assured that it’s very affordable.

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