When half of an archaic crucible is discovered while excavating in the basement of an old Victorian mansion, Isabelle, an assistant museum curator, is hastily dispatched to authenticate the finding and to confirm the analyst that the cauldron is, in fact, the missing second half to the one in the museum’s possession. Isabelle is greeted by the estate owner, Karl, his wife Evelyn, and their eccentric daughter Scarlet who welcome Isabelle to stay with them while she evaluates the crucible. The unnerving manor home keeps Isabelle awake at night as she frightfully witnesses silhouettes of a young woman wandering through the haunting corridors and the untended rooms. As Karl brushes Isabelle’s nightly concerns to the side, impatiently urging her to summon for the other half of the piece and finalize a match that would then focus on the crucible’s value, the young curator can’t shake the continuously dreadful sensation that danger lurks in every dark corner of the estate and that the residents are inherently grooming her for a sinister awakening of immortality and power.
Writer-director Iain Ross-McNamee has diffidently checked all the British-gothic horror boxes in his latest film, a brooding vampire macabre entitled “Crucible of the Vampire.” “The Singing Bird Will Come” director co-writes the script with Darren Lake and “I Bought a Vampire Motorcycle” screenwriter John Wolskel to reel in the once was, the gilded age of British horror that made a nick in time with the vehemently violent and boldly colorful enriched Hammer Horror. Like other genetic make-ups of horror bodies, Hammer Horror has a genome of a check list of self-defining attributes and “Crucible of a Vampire” aims to notch a few key elements including the Gothicism finesse, the sexually unchaste vampire, and, also, to deliver big horror on a small budget. Ross-McNamee places stakes not into the cold, bloodthirsty hearts, but more so into construing a film that isn’t a carbon copy of the old days, adding a contemporary digital presentation that’s laced generously with contemporary photography techniques even when the opening prelude is set in the 17-century and shot in a sepia style.
The story centers around the assistant curator, Isabelle, who has wearisome tendencies of 24/7 suspicion, being a pawn in every sense of the word. From the head curator to Karl’s family, Isabelle finds herself alone in tight spots and not many people she can count on. There are a couple of characters that are potential allies, but their feeble attempts in buffering Isabelle from the house’s evil secret are no thinker than a single sheet of college rule paper. Isabelle herself is her strongest defense and when push comes to shove, the curator turns ass kicker against a family of vampire acolytes. Katie Goldfinch handles Isabelle with reasonable composure, if not slightly timid at times, especially during fight sequences. Goldfinch sustains her lead performance of her sophomore feature film that is exposition heavy to formulate an isolating and intimidating dynamic between her and Karl’s family. Karl’s portentous cruelty is town-renowned, shaped by rumors and peppered with truisms and Larry Rew channels Karl precisely. The “Underworld: Rise of the Lycans” actor has traditional methods of able to creep one out by standing still and speaking with a vigorously commanding tone, but Rew feels significantly older compared to his wife and daughter. Karl’s wife, Evelyn, stammers as a wild card in a role that seems to go nowhere and Babette Barat can only strut her hippie performance of Evelyn so far until we’re wondering what’s significance as a mother, as a wife, and as part of the crucible grand scheme. Scarlet had the opposite effect as the daughter was overly forward with defining her intentions that toward Isabelle that involved stealing, desiring, and chastising. Scarlet’s predestined for villainy and actress Florence Cady provides a fringe heavy and tantalizing seductive performance. So much so, Cady nearly becomes the female lead, but certainly overshadows the crucible’s calling, a vampire named Lydia, a non-verbal role with barely much screen time given to wild-eye, teased haired, and paled Lisa Martin. Angela Carter, Brian Coucher (1995’s “Underworld”), Phil Hemming, Aaron Jeffcoate (AMC’s “The Terror”), Charles O’Neill (“Cripsy’s Curse”), and the UK Bob of “Bob the Builder” Neil Morrissey co-star.
If “Crucible of the Vampire” is supposed to be a reawakening of British gothic horror, Ross-McNamee went without the vibrancy of color and went without much of the fervent violence that Hammer Productions was keen on. “Crucible of the Vampire” sustains a dissimilar path focally toward more exposition to forefront a narrative until an action climax that’s initiated by awkwardly edited gratuitous nudity and weak character flaws. Like being brewed inside the ironclad enclosure of a crucible, the filmmaker simmered a story that quietly bubbled to the surface until it boiled over uncontrollably and extinguished itself, splattering onto the floor below in a heap of smoke. Act three is misshapen by the prior two acts with one issue being Isabella transforming in an instant into a complete bad ass when faced with death because of her pure, virgin blood. In a blink of an eye, she literally kills five acolytes with a melee weapons that include a rustic knife, the crucible, a metal pipe, and a fired filled chalice. The kill by fire chalice and other igniting instances during the film saw shoddy outcomes of superimposed, computer generated fire which really do speak the inane quality of the visual effects. Even with the practical effects, blood doesn’t spray or gush onto a wall when a vamp victim has his throat become the main course; instead, the effect squirts on the adjacent wall like from a condiment squeezer, losing a sense of convincing value.
ScreenBound Pictures presents “Crucible of the Vampire,” a Ghost Dog Films’ production, onto an all region PAL dual format, DVD/Blu-ray home video release. The Blu-ray is presented in 1080p with a widescreen, 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Picture looks absolutely gorgeous with the natural color palate, but slightly stodgy with the blood red vampire vision in only a couple of brief scenes. Details are fine and textures slice through, especially in the opening segments of Isabelle walking along the river line, and in conjunction with aesthetic wide shots that monolithic structures, like an old giant tree or the Victorian home. The English Dolby Digital 5.1 LCPM uncompressed audio track is not a film that necessarily needs five channels, but does utilize them when the night churns out bumps in the darkness. The dialogue has prominence, depth, and range without breaking or interrupting the audio lineage. The staid score by Michelle Bee and Amanda Murray floundered in the lossless audio as an unfortunate miscue to reel in and hammer away the gothic vision. This release came with no bonus features in a day and age where most Blu-rays do have some sort of extra content. “Crucible of the Vampire” has earned merit in the traditional British gothic horror sub-genre that’s been flailing over the years, reinvigorating the concept of dark arts and lesbian vampires, but loses footing at crucial moments that ultimately unglues the narrative.
On the streets of London’s Whitechapel district, women are afraid to walk the streets alone at night and angry mobs have begun to turn their backs on the police’s ineptness on catching a killer. Jack the Ripper is what the people of London label the maniacal murderer who, with surgical precisions, guts his victims and leaves their lifeless bodies on the dark, dank cobblestone streets. Scotland Yard Inspector O’Neill is joined by his friend and American counterpart, a New York police officer named Sam Lowry, to hunt down and stop Jack the Ripper’s killing spree. Deeper into the investigation, the officers are informed that the suspect they track would have medical background with a skilled blade hand, but even with that information, Jack the Ripper alludes authorities. Lowry’s romantic involvement with a young woman named Anne Ford, whose under the ward of the notable Dr. Tranter, might be very connective tissue between the constabularies and the secretive medical society needed to crack the case of the notorious Jack the Ripper before he strikes again!
Jack the Ripper is a real and iconic villain that not only terrorized the streets of London, but had later graced the screen many times over from Bob Clack’s 1979 thriller “Murder by Decree” to the 2001 Allen and Albert Hughes gothic and graphic “From Hell,” starring Johnny Depp. Before the production of those films, before Jack the Ripper really had any kind of footprint in cinema, Robert S. Baker and Monty Berman directed the 1959 mystery-thriller “Jack the Ripper” from a screenplay by Jimmy Sangster and Peter Hammond based off the theory that Jack the Ripper had a medical practice history. Baker and Berman’s film hit the controversial market from right out of the gate with grisly and ghastly murders, for the circa 1950s, and bared topless actress frivolously to insinuate the lady drunkards, the showgirl dancers, and the lone walking women as ladies of the night. Prostitutes would have been burden the selling of an already certifiable X film from the BBFC and the MPAA. However, the filmmakers constructed alternate cuts, shorting the grisliness to just grim and sheathing bare breasts with articles of clothing in shot for shot censorship. Only on the continental, aka French, version does a truly uncut and complete film live to excite, but instead a complete feature, the unmolested scenes are only available on the bonus features of the Severin Films’ release. That’s not to say that the U.S. and British versions are a complete waste of time. The classic time is utterly timeless and gripping that offers up immense amounts of whodunit suspense, implied sensationalisms, and an adequate take on how incompetent law officials can be exhibited when politics and women are afoot. Plus, the U.S. version, bought and presented by legendary producer Joseph E. Levine, comes with a brassy score by Jimmy McHugh and Pete Rugolo. The British version, also known as more of the approved director’s cut of the film, is scored by Stanley Black.
Tall, handsome, and walking into another country like he owns the land, detective Sam Lowry is introduced at about 10 minutes in, standing at a bar and reluctant to be rough and tough with a mob ready to lynch him for potentially being the Ripper because of his inquiries. Lowry’s charming persona with the women, like the bar maiden and Anne Ford, are only offset by his complete incompetence to be a police detective. Lowry does absolute zilch investigation and, instead, goes out on a date with Dr. Tranter’s niece and makes snarky comments at a merciless, ready to judge horde of scared Whitechapel residents. American hunk Lee Patterson stands out amongst the gothic rich atmosphere to the point where’s he, like his character, is an outcast and Patterson’s talents could only take him so far into a gloomy, morbid narrative that was unwilling to accept his chiseled chin and starry eyes. Eddie Byrne fit the mold better than Petterson as the Scotland Yard Inspector at rope’s end with not only Scotland Yard, but also the rest of London. As Inspector O’Niell, Byrne, who went on to star in “Island of Terror” and “Devil’s Darkness,” humbly accepts his restraint as the Irish born actor takes a wallop from all sides and still remains calm, collective, and ever present on the task at hand with a character being beat from all ends of the spectrum. Anne Ford opposites Lowry as the potential love interest who has come of age, as she notes a few times, to takeover temporary responsibilities at the hospital where her uncle performs dire surgeries. Being oppressed by her own family and seeing London being ripped a part by its own people, Anne latches onto Lowry, an outsider, to find a connection or a release from sullen cloud that hangs over Whitechapel. Unfortunately, Betty McDowall is sorely overshadowed by many of “Jack the Ripper’s” formidable characters and that Anne is not wholeheartedly written though her character is important to the story. Even the showgirls sizzle in more ways than one than does McDowall whose kept in check by Lowry, doused with someone’s problems, and only given an allusion of her worth in a moment of fright. Ewen Solon (“The Curse of the Werewolf”), John Le Mesurier (“The Jabberwocky”), Barbara Burke (“Blood of the Vampire”), Denis Shaw (“Curse of the Werewolf”), Bill Shine (“Burke & Hare”), and Anne Sharp (“Murder on the Campus”) round out the cast.
“Jack the Ripper” is a classic, literally and physically. The scaled down sets of the Whitechapel area bring to life the tenebrous soil of 19-century London. The elegantly painted backdrops of tall mast ships enshrouded by synthetic fog paint an archaic picture of how movie magic has progressed over the decades. Attention to detail in the set construction and the flavor of time period customers brought a sense of authenticity that nostalgically harps on the once was that now only exists as recorded cinema history. “Jack the Ripper” casts a forgotten beauty in the barbarism. By today’s standards, “Jack the Ripper” would be written off as banal and uninspired by critics and audiences, but if you can imagine yourself in 1959-1960, Robert Baker and Monty Berman just blew your mind with onscreen taboos and in America, Joseph Levine’s technicolor blood scene, with a duration of only a few seconds, would be the viral talk of the town.
Severin Films presents “Jack the Ripper” onto a region free, 1080p Blu-ray for the very first time anywhere! Complete with two cuts of the film, the British and American version, Severin presents both in their released aspect ratios of a lossy standard 1:33:1 in the British version and 1.66:1 in the American version, both in B&W with a pop of technicolor in one scene in the American version. Severin’s transfer is perhaps the best we’ll see from an original print that’s laced with scratches, but a bit more light, or some brighter contrast, sheds some light in the inky corners while managing a rich appearance that’s not monochrome or sepia. The English 2.0 audio track maintains an equal quality with some static in dialogue and ambient tracks. Jimmy McHugh and Pete Rugolo’s brass-heavy score thunderously pack the scene that surely takes the lead amongst the tracks. Bonus features include snippets of the continental versions with the extended violence and nudity and the audio commentary with Robert S. Baker, screenwriter Jimmy Sangster, assistant director Peter Manloy is extracting and interesting helmed by horror historian Marcus Hearn. Also included is an interview with the author of “Jack the Ripper” The Murders of the Movies” Denis Meikle, “The Real Jack the Ripper” featurette, theatrical trailer, and poster and stills gallery. Exposed and disclosed, the various faces of Robert S. Baker and Monty Berman’s “Jack the Ripper” now have a hi-def upgrade and though a full continental version eludes this release, Severin provides the cliff notes in order to not overcook the same story a third time.
After spending five years in incarceration for being convicted of having sexual relations with a 15-year-old girl, the now 25-year-old Michael has been released and is in the hands of a parole officer, Eddie. Eddie arranges housing for Michael in an apartment block, providing some pocket cash and job prospects to get the reserved demeanor parolee back on his feet and reintegrate him back into society that has radically changed in his favor in half a decade. Though having these advantages at his fingertips to start a new life, non-violent sexual urges still race through Michael’s blood and Eddie has nested him right smack in the middle of many young women with hefty promiscuous appetites. Michael must try to keep up the tiresome façade of clean living when Eddie’s sudden pops up as he continues his sexual escapades through the likes of married women, threesomes, and kinky block flat neighbors.
Viva la revolucion! Or should I say, “Lang leve de revolutie” in this censor ban breaking Dutch sex-comedy, “Blue Movie,” from breakthrough writer-director Wim Verstappen alongside cowriter Charles Gormley. Verstappen and Gormley’s experience on the 1971 feature forms a long time collaboration through an immense body of work of films in the 1970’s including “Dakota,” “Alicia,” and “Don’t Worry Too Much.” Masked an adult romance, “Blue Movie” exploits sex to be the symbolism of choice when exhibiting the Netherlands antiquated view on censorship that bogged down their local film industry and led a bold, new Dutch filmmaking expanse that goes onto dismantling the Dutch Censorship board.
Michael is a cool cucumber, who just step one foot free out of prison. On parole and looking to restart his life again from the generous assistance by a parole-like officer, Michael is set up an a apartment block with a view of the land, but the ex-con looks inward, at his neighbors, his beautiful, succulent, and promiscuous flat mates that hone in the fresh meat. Hugo Metsers captures Micheal’s essence, a gentle ex-con, even when Metsers’ sporting thick, under-jowl mutton chops. Then there’s Eddie, whose in a parole officer type position, yet tries eagerly to be puritanical guardian angel on Michael’s sordid shoulder. Seemingly part of some foundation that helps ex-cons get back on their feet, as I assume this to be a Netherlands’ societal reform program of sorts, Eddie solicits his steer clear and keep your nose clean advice, randomly checks in at all times of the day, and even makes furniture purchases for Michael’s bare flat. Eddie’s nose is so intrusive, he oversteps his position in an attempt to sweet talk a building tenant on Michael’s behalf, right out outside the parolee’s flat door. Helmert Woudenberg, another actor in Wim Verstappen’s cache of talent, does annoyingly helpful well. Woudenberg, who later had a role in Dick Maas’s “Amsterdamned,” portrays Eddie’s antiquated beliefs on Netherlands sex culture with such poised conviction that the character does feel like a lonely satellite cut off from progressing mothership. The women characters are extremely important in Blue Movie because they’re key to Michael’s motivation to not be only rooster in the hen house but to help him find actual love and while not one actress plays opposite to Michael, Ine Veen’s Julia stands out as the pivotal moment in Michael’s stagnant and sleazy stint. Julia is beautiful and coy as she’s casually noted to Michael upon their first exchange that she rather listen than to talk, but Julia comes with baggage – a child. The only child in Verstappen’s film is the main obstacle in Michael’s conquering of the opposite sex in the entire apartment block. He even backs out of a date with Julia upon seeing her tending to the child’s need first, transferring his needs into being very brash and childlike, but once Michael sustains and profits from his transient lifestyle, an obvious void is left unfulfilled until Julia strolls back into his life. Veen’s blue eyes are striking and could be theorized why this movie is titled “Blue Movie” as she’s truly the object of his affection. Ursula Blauth (“Sex is Not for Virgins”), Kees Brusse, Carry Tefsen (“Diary of a Hooker”), Marijke Boonstra (“Obsessions”), Monique Smal, and Mimi Kok from “De mantel del Liefe” costar.
While Verstappen’s film was an influential piece during the Netherland’s anti-censorship and freedom of expression movement that allow creativity and taboo material to flow less restrictively, the filmmaker, or rather Jan De Bont, was a technically careless cinematographer. Sure, “Blue Movie” was on produced on micro-budget shot in a cramped location that’s very intimate and authentic for the material, but Verstappen and Bont let slide various goofs in the final cut, such as boom mic shadows, the boom mic itself, and, I believe, the director’s hand going in and out of frame twice in one scene. Along with the crew and equipment mishaps, the script or scheduling shooting has perplexing timing issues that defy the natural order of passing time. Michael goes through a series of events in, what is assumed, his initial weeks at the apartment block and even the jump between having elicit affairs with a married women and being the third party of group sex in a romping montage have plausible time possibilities. Yet, Michael’s story teleports into his money-making scheme of selling the sexual lifestyles of the rich and horny. There was no brainstorm light bulb that sudden illuminates his status from no job bed wanderer to the CEO of variety sex shows staged in his 2 bed, 1 bath flat.
From the company that delivered “Frank & Eva,” Cult Epics presents another Netherlands film, “Blue Movie,” onto a Blu-ray/DVD combo release. Shot in a 1.37:1 aspect ratio, aka Academy Ratio, the original negative has remained virtually unvarnished and Cult Epics presents a new high definition restoration and transfer by the Eye Film Institute. Natural grain looks great. The coloring remains stable throughout and the hues border the natural and just below slightly too brilliant – Ine Veen’s blue eyes could be made a case. The Dutch and German Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track is, again, a fine transfer with clear dialogue and not a pinch of pops or crackles. The optional English subtitles are well synched without translational error. Bonus material includes pre-debut film interview with director Wim Verstappen, interview with producer Pim de la Parra at the Sex Wave Festival, interview with Hugo Metsers Jr. about his father later in life and his erotically charged moment on the first time he saw his father’s film, Eye Film Institute featurette, “Blue Movie” HD poster and photo video gallery, and the original Scorpio Films trailer of the film. Wim Verstappen pioneered the Dutch Sex Wave with “Blue Movie,” a controversial artistic brief rendition of the Netherlands’s breakneck cultural upgrade to a more fluid and modern lifestyles and cinema sauté.
Former war veteran and hot rod enthusiast Larry and his wife, Carmel, take a weekend off from the children to vacation in Paradise, a retreat on the outskirt, rural area of Australia that includes pleasurable amenities such as fishing, swimming, and being an ideal location for a dirty weekend between two lovers, but an Earthquake triggers a major nuclear leak at Waldo, an international nuclear waste storage facility who aims to coverup to radioactive contamination. Heinrich Schmidt, an engineer who was deeply exposed to the waste flees from Waldo’s goons to reveal to anti-nuclear agencies the corporation’s dastardly concealments and warn locals of the tainted public water supply. With not much time to live and suffering from a serious head injury, Schmidt, with partial amnesia, is sheltered by an unsuspecting Larry and Carmel as they help him piece together his life while Waldo sends recovery and murderous thugs to quiet those who wish to leak information. Paradise is anything but as trouble brews between the vacationing Larry and Carmel, the witless locals, and Waldo in disclosing radioactive waste streaming through the water passage ways.
“The Chain Reaction” is the freshman film of writer-director Ian Barry released in 1980. Produced by “Mad Max’s” George Miller, “The Chain Reaction” was considered an unrelated companion piece that also starred a number of the same actors, but the action-thriller aligned more with the populistic nuclear disaster genre of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Whereas George Romero focused on accidental biological effects in his 1973 science fiction horror, “The Crazies,” Barry honed in on nuclear waste disaster and the reaction of those responsible, to what length of measures would be necessary and taken to keep exposure from happening. Caught in the middle are locals and unfortunate vacations, who actually take more a stand against tyrannical, above the law organizations. “The Chain Reaction” is packed with exciting car chases and glazed with testosterone enriched standoffs on a nuclear level.
Steve Bisley steps into the lead role of hot shot Larry Stilson working his solid strong physique with a general moral, but still bad boy composure when unravelling and thwarting the Waldo conspiracy. Bisley costars alongside the late Arna-Maria Winchester. Winchester screams screen time sauciness, but as a mother of two, Winchester’s Carmel Stilson comes off as promiscuously uncharacteristic as a mother but, to be fair, Larry doesn’t necessarily yell conventional father either. However, I’m impressed by the turncoat engineer Heinrich Schmidt played by Ross Thompson, an Australia actor who can really accent well the German language and puts into his role a languishing, broken man trying to do the right thing. Together, the Stilson’s and Heinrich are tracked down by Waldo henchman Gray, portrayed by English actor Ralph Cotterill (“Howling III”). Cotterill’s menacing, stodgy dagger eyes make him a suitable villain, but falters in the screen time department, seeing not much action as needed to take care of monumental business against possible exposure. Huge Keays-Byrne (“Mad Max: Fury Road”), Richard Moir (“The Odd Angry Shot”), Laurie Moran, Lorna Lesley (“The Survivor”), and a cameo of Mel Gibson round out of the cast.
The overall problematic crux with “The Chain Reaction” stems from that director Ian Barry is no George Miller when presenting his own version of pacing a film. The narrative is casually abrupt and edited shoddily with very rough and hard to follow sequential events that are supposed to be a fiery ball of nuclear mishandling and underhandedness fury. Though highly doubtful Umbrella Entertainment took the censorship scissors to this Ozploitation flick, there are moments of bizarre, if not expurgated, cuts that debase the illustrative graphic violence. One particular moment in the climatic third act, a shotgun was only aimed to intimidate would be attackers, but never discharged. However, a character is seemingly gunned down with a blood splattered mid-section being the only clue of his demise, but like aforementioned, the shotgun was never fired. Barry’s riveting action story plays out mostly like this, reducing the action to a meager narrative withstanding only a few good car chase sequences, some character intimacy, and laced with some shrouded mystery.
Umbrella Entertainment presents under their Ozploitation Classics’ sublabel, Ian Barry’s “The Chain Reaction” onto a full High definition, 1080, region free Blu-ray with a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Honestly, a slightly cleaner and re-refined release was expected. Natural grain is expected, but the lossy definition and blurriness could have been tweaked for optimal results on the print. No edging enhancements nor print damage detected surrounding the fair natural coloring, skin tones, and, sometimes, vivid photography from Russell Boyd (“Picnic at Hanging Rock”), which is surprisingly rather bland overall. The DTS-HD Master Audio dual channel track is excellent with upfront and clear dialogue, ample ambient range, and a clean harrowing and resonating classic disaster scenario score composed by Andrew Thomas Wilson in his sole composure credit. Bonus features are aplenty with extended Not Quite Hollywood interviews with stars Steve Bisley and Arna-Maria Wichester, director Ian Barry, and producer Ross Matthews, a couple of featurettes entitled Thrills & Nuclear Spills and The Spark Obituary, deleted and extended scenes, an early cut with alternate title of “The Man at the Edge of the Freeway,” and media spots from theatrical release, TV, VHS trailer, and image gallery. “The Chain Reaction” is far from noxious, but the nuclear disaster piece could have been more radiant, a quality very difficult to achieve deep in the midst of so many great titles similar in the genre category; yet, the Ian Barry action thriller is an entertaining adversity excursion nonetheless.
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.