High schooler Jill takes a babysitting job, overseeing two sleeping children while the parents have date night. The phone rings and an assumed prankster tries to scare Jill, either asking why she hasn’t checked the children or doesn’t say a word, but as Jill fields calls throughout the night with the same terrorizing voice, the terrified sitter phones the police whom trace the call from inside the house. Jill barely escapes the deadly encounter that left two children victims to a psychopath; yet the now happily married, mother of two small children is faced with the same killer seven years later after he escapes from a mental institution. Hot on his trail is detective turned private eye John Clifford who will stop at nothing from stopping a maniac who will kill again. Years later, Jill and Clifford team up once more to investigate a similar case of a co-ed being specifically terrorized by an obsessive stalker through the span of five years to the point where his next move could be her last.
Perhaps one of the best, if not the best, openings to a horror movie ever, Fred Walton’s “When A Stranger Calls” puts a freeze on the heart, forces to choke down the breath, and tightens the already painfully clenched fists with sheer, thick tension bred from an urban legend of the babysitter and the man upstairs. Walton, and co-writer Steve Feke (“Mac and Me”), develop two successful thriller from script to screen, spanning over the course of 14-years. Walton’s uncanny ability to invoke fear through a conduit of simple objects, such as a telephone ring or in the thicket of dead silence, and leading a direction of motivational hesitation or slowness to the story and through it’s characters is dread absolute. There’s similarities between Fred Walton and “The Driller Killer” director Abel Ferrara with a scent of realism and grittiest blanketed with a knack for the abstract in certain facets. Though slightly fluffier to Ferrara’s shock value, Walton builds anticipation in not just his hit first film in 1979, but also in his made for TV movie in 1993.
Starring as the lead in both films is Carol Kane. The “Scrooged” actress shells out a white knuckling performance in Jill, the terrorized babysitter phoned inside the house by man upstairs. The harrowing night that will scar for Jill for life will continue through into the sequel, “When A stranger Calls Back.” As Jill grows through both films, so does Kane who builds the character a tougher exterior to match wits with second psychopath stalking a hapless co-ed. She’s teamed with legendary actor Charles Durning. Essentially in Walton’s “When A Stranger Calls,” Kane and Durning never have any scenes together, performing in almost two separate stories until the climatic that intertwined that collaboration. During’s a fine actor and can be the bull of any detective and/or private dick lead, but, to be honest, Durning always carried a hefty, front-heavy load that didn’t quite fit his character, John Clifford, chasing on foot a much leaner foe. “When A Stranger Calls” cast also includes Ron O’Neal (“The Final Countdown”), Tony Beckley (“In the Devil’s Garden”), and Colleen Dewhurst (“The Dead Zone”) while “When A Stranger Calls Back” also includes Jill Schoelen (“The Stepfather”) and Gene Lythgow.
A fleeting glimpse of brilliancy can go relatively unnoticed in Fred Walton’s “When A Stranger Calls.” Much of what makes the film so effective is essentially obsolete; for example, rotary phones are dinosaurs or even landlines for that matter. Also, the way Walton breaks up the film into a definitive three separate acts perfectly stretches the urban legend much more than warranted and the director also completes the story and character arcs. Dana Kaproff’s sophomore score can be characterized as menacing, suspenseful, and aesthetically unfit to the point of inspiring dreadful sensations that heighten the story’s already engrossing nature. In “When A Stranger Calls Back,” the opening is basically a mirror image of the original film with a slight (of hand) change and the narrative itself is captivating enough to get engrossed with, but there’s something about the made for TV movie that doesn’t quite sit right. Perhaps, the killer’s underdeveloped motives doesn’t make things crystal clear or just maybe the killer’s use of a ventriloquist and body art into his perverted and obsessive arsenal is too zany. Despite being a made for television movie, Walton’s followup film was premiere on Showtime back in 1993, giving the movie a not-so-diluted and PG-13 appeal; instead, bits of grittiness and some strip club nudity rivals the tone of it’s predecessor.
Second Sight presents “When A Stranger Calls” and “When A Stranger Calls Back” double feature on Blu-ray home video in the United Kingdom. Despite the upgrade, a DVD-R was provided for the review so technical aspects will not be reviewed. The disc did include bonus features such as Fred Walton’s inspirational short film “The Sitter” and interviews with director Fred Walton, Rutanya Alda, and Dana Kaproff, and Carol Kane. Carol Kane has more recently been the quirky and city-salty landlady that’s quick to whip sarcasms and clobber any hipster with a gentrifying agenda with a baseball bat in “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” but Fred Walton saw Kane for how the actress could truly perform under a realistically terrifying moment, a moment that savors being on tenterhooks and frozen in time for almost the last 40 years as a classic and iconic scene in horror movie history. “When A Stranger Calls” and “When A Stranger Calls Back” is simple, yet deploys effective thrills with pure impending loom and dread in massive, lucrative quantities that may have been antiquated by time, but is epitomized as vintage and elegantly construed horror.
NYU Philosophy doctoral hopeful, Kathleen Conklin, has a run-in with a woman on the night streets of New York City, attacking her into a secluded dark enclave, and biting her on the neck after Kathleen is unable to comply with the woman’s bizarre instructions of ordering her to go away. The incident instills fear into Kathleen that quickly turns to a painful vampirism transformation that involves aversion to sunlight, self-antipathy, and a craving for blood. She continues to her studies that evolve into a deeper analytical parallelism of her newly acquired immortality, the results of it, and the human aspect that’s affected by it while along the way, feeding and turning friends, colleagues, and strangers into her brood of own image. Kathleen happens upon Peina, a vampire like herself, that has claimed to conquer his own addiction to blood and can even mirror himself as human, such as eating normal food and jogging. The agonizing withdrawal with Peina drops a slither of a notion into Kathleen that her gargantuan thirst for blood will overdose her soul to pure evil and she has to come to terms with her immortal being on the life she wants to live.
Abel Ferrara’s “The Addiction” has such anti-Hollywood tenacity that the black and white aurora of the 1995 noir vampire film goes against the more conventional grain that is Ferrara’s body of work, but still maintains a healthy amount of the director’s trademarks and his dispositional motifs to give the feature enough claim to clearly become his imprint of a screw you onto the big money motion pictures. The “Driller Killer” and “Bad Lieutenant” director orchestrates a film from without the complications of a union, with producers breathing down his neck to do this or that, and on such a minuscule budget; the vampires here are not transforming in bats, their eyes do not glow in the dark, and they even don’t have jugular piercing canines. Nicholas St. John’s script was written to portray monsters as just people with a severe addiction this particular drug of choice – the blood. The symbolism is so potent that’s hardly symbolism as the main character literally injects a syringe full of blood into the crook of her arm to get a fix.
Ravished without hesitation, Lili Taylor seizes Kathleen Conklin as if Taylor herself was addicted to the character, overtaking the character to an enlightened savagery of an academic disciple on the cusp of achieving stress-inducing doctoral status. Through the studious muck and death of mankind’s prior carnage, the “The Haunting” star goes for the full throttle transformation in the blink of a bite and never blatantly displays the hesitation of her former mortal self until the tide turns to whether stay blood thirsty or to live with the embattlement of struggling addiction. Kathleen crosses paths with Peina whose been undertaken by a classic Walken, Christopher Walken that is, and the New York City born “Communion” star had a big year in horror as “The Prophecy” was released the same year – 1995. Though Peina is crucial to Kathleen’s ultimate survival, the character has little screen time and Walken nails the performance with credence and gusto as some sort of subversive mentor to the young vampire protégé. The cast rounds out with Edie Falco, Paul Calderon (“Fear the Walking Dead”), Fredro Starr, and “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle’s” Annabella Sciorra as Casanova, the female nightstalker who takes a bite out of Kathleen and initiates the carnage.
Ferrara’s choice for black and white isn’t all surprising. At the time, numerous notable directors were doing the very exact concept in the 1990s, examples being Steven Speilberg’s award winning “Schindler’s List” in 1993 and Tim Burton’s dark comedy biopic “Ed Wood” with Johnny Depp in 1994, but Ferrara had a conceptually aesthetic noir appearance that created distance between the rest and established a solid black and white film that renders being akin to, perhaps, George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead.” Not only did Ferrara’s film fit in the scheme of the 90’s fad, but extended “The Addiction’s” disturbing dramatic value and horror sensationalism in which color would have for sure diluted the story due in part to the pocket change budget. Taylor, Walken, and Sciorra very much believed in the project and that belief brought their characters to the formidable forefront to where a color picture didn’t really matter in the end.
Arrow Films presents “The Addiction” onto Blu-ray home video and is distributed by MVD Visual. The Blu-ray has been newly restored 4K scan of the original camera negative and approved by director Abel Ferrara and director of photography Ken Kelsch. The high definition 1080p widescreen, 1.85:1, picture has a clean palate and despite the lack of the color palette, the black and white has virtually little-to-no blotching or DNR, leaving a flawless image. The English 5.1 DTE-HD MA and 2.0 LPCM soundtracks, with optional English subtitles, is well-balanced, at least in the 5.1 DTE-HD Master Audio. Dialogue in the forefront with a brooding and jarring score by composer Joe Delia has great distinction and range, but there’s a curious lack of ambiance that focuses more on direct action of characters. NYC should be booming with surrounding noise; yet the direction Ferrara takes with reduced ambiance is risky, but exquisitely done to add a more personal touch to Kathleen Conklin’s struggle. Bonus material includes an audio commentary by Abel Ferrara, moderated by critic and biographer Brad Stevens. There also includes a new documentary, entitled Talking with the Vampires, directed by Abel Ferrara that features new interviews with composer Joe Delia, Ken Kelsch, Christopher Walken, Lili Taylor, and Ferrara himself. A new interview with Abel Ferrera going into the background of the film’s construction and the era of filmmaking, a new appreciation by Brad Stevens, an achival piece from the time of production, original trailer, and a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Peter Strain. A supremely inclusive Blu-ray release by Arrow Films and MVD Visual of Abel Ferrara’s grittiest work of his gritty catalogue and the very spartan vampire film has an outlook of what future vampire films should aspire to with great beneficial expectations.
Cult Epic founder Nico B. wants to spread the joy of cult cinema to not only the television sets at home, but to the world! The Dutch filmmaker and passionate cult cinema lover has employed me, and other social media coordinators and bloggers, as a servant of his word, delivering the following message to all fans of erotica, horror, and arthouse films!
“We are in our last week, and this is the week that counts. Some of you have contributed to our campaign, thank you so much! and we would ask all who are fans of our label or releases and want to secure its future in the new year, please pick a Perk to your liking and support us in our endeavor bringing you new releases in the years to come. One of the titles we have secured the rights as well for is the most interesting giallo DEATH LAID AN EGG, so there is much work to do, and for such we need funding, which current distributors no longer provide.
Also please give the campaign one more push on your social media:
CULT EPICS INDIEGOGO CAMPAIGN Cult Epics presents controversial art films with a cult following on DVD and Blu-ray. At its 25th Anniversary year Cult Epics needs your support to continue bringing you new releases. Find out more here: https://igg.me/at/cultepics
Best regards, Nico B
Please show your support! Every little bit matters and you may get a little something in return if you donate $20 or more! I got my eye on that Nekromantik T-shirt! Only 1 MORE WEEK TO GO!