When a Stranger Calls Back (1993)

Genres - Crime, Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Melodrama  |   Release Date - Apr 4, 1993 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 100 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - R
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When a theatrical release earns a belated made-for-TV sequel, it's rarely a good sign. But this suspense retread actually does its predecessor one better. Like the first film, When a Stranger Calls Back is only frightening in its opening sequence. But instead of devolving into second-rate cloak-and-dagger like the original, the sequel morphs into an unintentional camp classic. In a plot development that prefigures Neve Campbell's crisis-line work in Scream 3, Carol Kane's haunted ex-baby sitter becomes a dour women's center advisor -- you know, that character in every horror movie who believes and protects the protagonist when "the authorities" blow her off. Teaching self-defense courses, holding hands through late-night panic attacks, and even engaging in a bit of proto-Matrix kung-fu, Kane's character seems to have been written as a tough-as-nails survivor. But the actress plays her with such absurd gravity that she lapses into grim self-parody. That's a good thing, because the plot of When a Stranger Calls Back is full of holes. At times, it feels like important scenes were left unshot or on the cutting-room floor; explanations arrive half an hour late, or not at all. Charles Durning looks suitably embarrassed to be back on board, while ingenue Jill Choelen acts with the subtlety and precision of a Star Search contestant. Still, the flick's first 30 minutes are actually more suspenseful than the opening sequence that earned the lackluster first film its place our collective nightmares. And despite his complete lack of character development, Gene Lythgow's deranged ventriloquist makes an absurdly compelling villain. The Mafu Cage and Office Killer are still the weirdest pictures on Kane's resume, but this curiosity certainly comes close.