With countless imitators, including the Scream franchise, the opening sequence of Fred Walton’s When a Stranger Calls still has a bone chilling effect.
Putting Carol Kane in despair, Stranger made the bold choice and general horror no no; of killing children.
Instead of following the tropes of John Carpenter’s Halloween with the soon to be formulaic slasher format, Stranger goes down a more psychological thriller route as we follow the antagonist rather than the protagonist.
What is more remarkable is Tony Beckley who played killer Curt Duncan, was terminally ill during production but Walton refused to recast the role. He sadly died 6 months later in April 1980, aged just 52.
The crew also had to deal with the threat of a real life serial killer, who was targeting the same homeless community region in Los Angeles being used in the film. Thankfully none of the production team had a run in with this killer.
Stranger was originally a short film that Walton was inspired to adapt into a feature after Halloween’s box office success.
We don’t revisit Kane until the chilling finale as her past catches up with her, as she effectively flips roles to terrified parent rather than babysitter in peril.
The orchestral score by Dana Kaproff harkens back to classic horrors such as Psycho and becomes an extension of the more tense scenes.
Much like Halloween, Walton goes for tension rather than bloodshed, as despite the disturbing subject matter, there is only a couple of murders.
Stranger feels like more sophisticated horror which goes for scares over gore.
Much like Billy from Black Christmas and Halloween’s The Shape, the crimes of Duncan remain unexplained, as the story says he’d only been in America for a week before the opening murders.
A killer who can strike anyone at anytime is quite a terrifying prospect.
14 years later Kane returned with Walton and Charles Durning for a straight to TV sequel When a Stranger Calls Back, which surprisingly feels on par with the original despite treading a fairly original path.
A remake in 2006 during Hollywood’s obsession with reimagining 70s and 80s horror failed to capture audiences imaginations.
When a Stranger Calls has been remastered in 4k for a special edition Blu Ray by Second Sight Films, which includes the sequel and the original short film which became the feature. This is now available in HMV and Amazon.