When a Stranger Calls 1 & 2
When a Stranger Calls (May 8/15)
It's ultimately not surprising to learn that When a Stranger Calls started out as a short film, as the movie's absolutely enthralling opening 20 minutes is, unfortunately, followed by a narrative that couldn't possibly be more anticlimactic. The film initially follows a young babysitter (Carol Kane's Jill Johnson) as she receives a series of increasingly menacing phone calls while caring for two small children, with the remainder of the proceedings detailing Jill's efforts at recovering from the attack and also the dogged attempts of a cop (Charles Durning's John Clifford) to catch the aforementioned maniac. Filmmaker Fred Walton does an absolutely superb job ratcheting up the tension during When a Stranger Calls' almost flawlessly executed first act, and it's clear, too, that Kane's utterly affable performance plays a key role in the movie's early success. It's equally obvious, however, that the film's hold on the viewer dwindles considerably once that opening stretch concludes, as scripters Walton and Steve Feke place an absolutely interminable emphasis on Durning's character's ongoing investigation - with the running time padded out by an astonishingly pointless subplot in which the killer stalks a grizzled barfly (Colleen Dewhurst's Tracy). By the time the endless finale rolls around, When a Stranger Calls has completely and thoroughly squandered the promise of its riveting beginning.
When a Stranger Calls Back (May 8/15)
As ineffective as its erratic predecessor, When a Stranger Calls Back opens with yet another babysitter (Jill Schoelen's Julia) being terrorized by an unseen (and progressively malevolent) force - with the film, beyond that point, following When a Stranger Calls veterans Jill (Carol Kane) and John (Charles Durning) as they attempt to solve the mystery behind Julia's attack. It's a striking (if slightly overlong) first act that benefits substantially from filmmaker Fred Walton's stylish visuals and star Schoelen's sympathetic turn as the beleaguered protagonist, with the suspenseful atmosphere culminating in a genuinely shocking finish that rivals the first film's opening in terms of pure thrills. Alas, like the original movie, When a Stranger Calls Back falls apart almost immediately following the conclusion of its initial stretch - with the remainder of the narrative, which progresses at an almost unreasonably deliberate pace, detailing the tedious investigation that ensues five years later. There's virtually nothing of interest contained within the film's final hour, and it's clear, too, that the lackluster atmosphere is amplified by a thoroughly tedious third act - with the end result a sequel that's ultimately right in line with its forebear.