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.
Struggling filmmaker Gavin York discovers a stowed away box full of film cassettes in his in-law’s basement. As York delves into the tapes, he becomes obsessed with the tapes’ contents involving two film students documenting the evoking of localized folklore phantom, known as Peeping Tom, as their thesis. Capturing Peeping Tom on their camera acting as a human lens, the two students can’t escape the malevolent presence that gets closer and closer to their reality with every shutting off the camera. York, himself, is also being documented by a group of filmmakers, attempting to capture the far-fetched story of Gavin’s unravelling of the historic legend as well as to turn a profit in revealing that Peeping Tom does, in fact, exist. The two tales of filmmakers ride a distressing parallel that spirals them into ghastly obsession and forces them to never, ever blink again!
“Butterfly Kisses” is the 2018 supernatural faux-documentary from writer-director Erik Kristopher Myers. The “Roulette” filmmaker finds inspiration in Ellicott City, Maryland’s, very own, staring contest champion in Peeping Tom; a 16th century labeled example of a Flickergeist, a shadowy image just on the edge of the peripheral vision, and Peeping Tom also goes by the monikers Blink Man or The Tunnel Man. “Butterfly Kisses” title comes as when Peeping Tom gets closer with every blink of an eyelid, his victim will need to painfully keep their peepers open for as long as they can, but when Peeping Tom is so close, close proximity to the face, flutter’s his eyelashes against her eyes forcing one to blink and succumb to his deadly motives. With Myers’ film, a little bit of this reviewer wanted to see Peeping Tom actually deliver the act of butterfly kisses upon a victim before mangling the poor soul into oblivion.
While both documentaries involve shedding light onto the exposure of a Flickergeist, the narrative harshly shines more of the starlight onto the characters making these films. Gavin York is essentially dissected while he being self-absorbed in himself and his dollar signs he thinks his project is worth to the word. Seth Adam Kallick does Gavin well though perhaps slightly overselling the performance; however, there never was a deeper rabbit hole for York to escape from, leaving not a lot of range for Kallick and his character to arc. York studies and analyzes the original thesis film spearheaded by Sophia Crane, played by Rachel Armiger, and her cameraman Feldman, played by Reed DeLisle. The dynamics are fine between Armiger and DeLisle whom poke the bees nest of folklore legends, but moments to reflect their humanity, why should we care about these two characters as people from abandoned or forgotten footage, didn’t quite translate. Rounding out the cast Erik Kristopher Myers, Matt Lake (Author of the “Weird” state book series), and Eileen del Valle.
The documentary inside a documentary is like looking into a mirror that’s facing another mirror, ping-ponging back and forth between parallel stories that are only set a part bestowed year their recorded while peppering Peeping Tom true to form, as a flicker of a shadowy figure. Myers does his due diligence in editing these two films together, meshing appropriately the intertwining, sometimes combating, docs to find common ground in a linear story. Sometimes the realism just didn’t hit the mark and creating that casual dialect or the valueless moments didn’t blossom, staying focus more on the task at hand. Also, this narrative has been told and rehashed before in some way, shape, or form, whether hunting the legend of Bigfoot or summoning the Slender Man, finding separation between Myer’s film and those other project proves difficult. What’s enjoyable about “Butterfly Kisses” are the welcoming jump scares and while only a couple of jump scares make the cut, the two are well-timed, well-scored, and well-placed to send a shockwave through out the nervous system. Even I jumped on these scenes.
Four-Fingered Films presents Erik Kristopher Myers’ “Butterfly Kisses,” a supernatural documentary that explores a national, Great Depression-born, folklore bred in Maryland and depicts a contagious obsession of stubbornness and worth. Unfortunately, an online screener was provided for this critique so the audio and video aspects will not be reviewed. There were also no bonus material with this screener. “Butterfly Kisses” is a quasi-found footage spook show surrounding another of America’s frightful urban myths, granting Peeping Tom more staying power just inside the corner of our peripheral vision, but the film doesn’t quite highlight and tour the reason or the rhyme to Flickergeist’s true power. Myers chose to detail the downward spiral of those consumed by the sight of his very questionable existence in more than one profitable fashion and that can be more frightening than the realism of a ghoul.
When the Mt. Jang cave is broken into by a couple of lethal wrongdoers, a ominous presence is released onto the mountainside, a malevolence that can precisely mimic voices of loved ones to lure victims to their ultimate doom. A young family, hanging on to a last bit of unnerving hope, moves into a house on the surrounding area, seeking to reverse the impossible by rejuvenating their semi-catatonic grandmother whom perhaps knows the last whereabouts of their missing boy from five years ago, but what the family encounters on the mountainside is a harmful specter hellbent on using the body of a obsessive and loyal shaman and his innocent, preschooler daughter to obtain more souls for a fearful urban legend, the Jangsan Tiger.
Based off the South Korean folklore involving the Jangsan Tiger, a man-eating beast that lives and hunts on the Jangsan Mountains and can imitate a woman’s screams or the sound of running water to lure people in, “Hide and Seek” director Huh Jung helms “The Mimic,” his sophomore 2017 fantasy thriller that explores a highly entertaining, opt-ed version of the urban legend. Originally titled “Jang-san-beom” in South Korean, Huh also pens the script catered to blend fantasy with delusional, family-destroying hope. Even though hope is more than usually a positive aspect in all dire situations, Huh manipulates hope by molding it as an entrapment, leading friends and family members down a path to a false reality, psychological impairments, and, ultimately, to a melancholic demise.
“The Mimic” stars “A Tale of Two Sisters'” Yum Jung-Ah as a grieving mother, Hee-yeon, looking for answers to the mystery of her son’s disappearance while in the care of her grandmother. Jung-ah tackles a role that’s compiled with emotional affliction, fear, and chimera to which the Seoul born actress challenges herself to depict each complication as one connective element. Park Hyuk-kwon plays her husband, whom is struggling to cope with his wife sadness and inadequacy to let go of the past. Together, Jung-ah and Hyuk-Kwon’s character dynamics strive to unearth deep-rooted, therapeutical hurdles and they accomplish just that with the help of influential costars, especially in the 9-year-old actress Shin Rin-Ah. The sweet, fresh face of Rin-Ah Shin becomes the ultimate deception, a suspected sheep in wolf skin, that this pint-sized bundle of cuteness could be the family’s undoing. The cast rounds out with Heo Jin, Bang Yu-seol, and Lee Jun-hyeok.
Now while “The Mimic,” not to be titularly confused with Guillermo del Toro’s “Mimic,” is laced with unsettling camera angles and bottom-popping jump scares, the embodied Jangsan Tiger regrettably places the Huh Jung one notch lower on the proverbial grade scale. The shaman’s body, a rather thick individual, has been possessed by the Jangsan Tiger that’s been depicted covered with stringy white coat, long arms and legs like a sloth, a tiger-like maxilla and jowl on a human-esque face, and with cold, blank eyes. Instead, the Jangsan Tiger remains in human form throughout with subtle changes that reference the tiger; for example, the horizontal white fur on each side of the shaman’s rather gnarly face. Transformation effects just don’t do the antagonist justice and, frankly, should have kept the shaman a wretched shell of himself, spawning through mirror gateways, ever reaching to touch the next soul to digest, but when Hee-yeon and her husband enter the labyrinth Mr. Jang cave system, the shaman is a rabid dog, a ravenous trickster, but not as ferocious as the description might sound.
Arriving on Digital & Blu-ray June 12, Well Go USA Entertainment distributes “The Mimic” onto an unrated, 1080p Blu-ray presented in a widescreen, 16:9 aspect ratio, and the image suffers no compression issues, has a fine palette that more-or-less of a blue or yellow hue, and has a leveled up bitrate. The 100 minute runtime feature has a Korean 5.1 surround sound DTS-HD Master Audio that’s effective with the Jangsan’s imitation lures. The waterfall rain and echoing animal ambient tracks are spot on with range and depth. Optional English subtitles are available and, considering the film’s duration, are considerable accurate and timely, but I did manage to catch one error where “leaves” was typed instead of “lives” where appropriate in the context of the sentence. Extras are slim with a cursory making of featurette and the film’s original trailer. “The Mimic” revels in South Korean lore, even if it’s a variation of, and the menacing atmospheric and audio cues exhibit a precision that’s a testament to director Huh Jung’s psychological spook show filmmaking, but the build up behind the mysterious small girl, the bricked cave, and the alluring voices are quickly summed up with meretricious humanoid value instead of a mystical and enchanting beast.
Enthralled from last week’s viewing of Richard Griffin’s The Disco Exorcist (see review here) that I checked into the player another Griffin film entitled Murder University from 2012. A fairly generic titled college slasher with semi-comedic values that tries to blend in with similar genre slashers such as Urban Legend, House on Sorority Row, Black Christmas, or Sorority House Massacre. Comedy elements separate Murder University from the rest as well as Murder University doesn’t set itself in the present time of which the setting takes place. I’ll dissect Griffin’s film the best I can because my response post viewing teeters back and forth of a thumbs up for pratical effects and homage or thumbs down for storyline and dialogue.
Greensboro University has a notorious reputation for being constructed by a founder who ritualized satanic values and murdered people for years in the late 19th century. In the late 20th century, the New England university is once again plague by the cult-like killers who call themselves the Greesnboro Devils. A survivor of a recent attack and a shunned detective try to hunt down the motives behinds the killings and the secrets of a legacy of killers.
The upside of Murder University stems from the use of practical special effects. Decapitations became an obvious motif for this film (though there was no reason to explain this and I can only guess that beheadings were a big way to die in the 80s) with a grand total of six axe-chopped decapitations. The detail in the severed heads had high marks as well as other death scenes in the movie. Another throwback from the 80’s is the music and Murder University’s soundtrack certainly have that synth, brit-rock feel in some scenes, but in other scenes, 90’s grunge ruled the screen a long with hairstyles and clothes of a more recent decade.
The downside holds more weight coming from the story and the dialogue. The story comes a part at the seems with lead character Josh Greene as his backstory is intertwined with the murders and to get more of that backstory from his past would have been better than the exposition given nature of who Josh really is destined to be and what Josh is destined to be comes off pointless by default. Was this the divine will of Satan? Were these killers psychotic? What were the motivations? That is the real questions. The dialogue also scores low marks for being off key, choppy, awkward, and explicatively gratuitous. Not everybody is Quentin Taratino and can pull of mouthy vulgarity with ease and the script with Murder University just seems too forced for comfort.
Jamie Dufault has a solid performance as our hero Josh Greene coming from a nobody in college and transforming to becoming the ultimate domineer in the end, but Nat Silva gives an even more solid performance as the killer (when the killer has dialogue) and Samantha Acampora (Josh’s girlfriend Meg) is certainly the eye candy that we wish would show a little more skin than just her bare ass.
Murder University‘s retro entertainment keeps afloat just under chin level and won’t bore you to death. Richard Griffin is two for two in my little black book of directors and I’ll keep an eye out for more of his material in the future. MVD and Wild Eye Releasing release this Not Rated, widescreen disc with deleted scenes and two commentary tracks. This should be a fairly affordable, tongue-and-cheek horror movie if you’re looking for a cheap, yet entertaining, thrills.