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Showtime Original Movie When a Stranger Calls Back

Successor to the 1979 chiller feature "When a Stranger Calls" works up a basketful of scary passages under writer Fred Walton's cunning direction. With Jill Schoelen limning the beset Julia, Walton (director of earlier nail biter) successfully rings the bell.

Successor to the 1979 chiller feature “When a Stranger Calls” works up a basketful of scary passages under writer Fred Walton’s cunning direction. With Jill Schoelen limning the beset Julia, Walton (director of earlier nail biter) successfully rings the bell.

The setup’s not unique, but it works: Teenager Julia arrives to baby-sit two tots for the evening, and will call her brother to come after her when the parents get home around 11:30 p.m.

Alone, she starts studying when there’s a knock at the front door by a man who wants to use the phone; wisely, she refuses to let him in and volunteers to make the call for him.

When she dials, the phone’s dead, and the man persists in trying to make the call himself. The unnerving mood is sustained, with Dana Kaproff’s eerie score humming along under the action as Julia prowls the house. Conclusion of the sequence is a hair-raiser.

Jump forward five years and Julia’s living in an apartment off campus at the university. Creepy things start happening, and Jill — a student adviser played by Carol Kane in a reprise of her role in “When a Stranger Calls” as another haunted baby sitter — tries helping her.

But someone’s breaking into her triple-locked apartment and moving things. Inanimate objects — the telephone, a milk carton, an open window — tell her whoever plagued her five years ago is back.

Walton’s script works up plenty of the requisite fright tactics, and David Geddes’ prowling camera probes into obscure areas or catches Julia standing in mid-fright after her tormenter leaves a memento.

The telefilm is a good rattler, despite some logic dropouts.

Charles Durning ambles through the role of a police detective he created in the earlier stanza. Kane is up and down as the woman who’s lived through the terror herself and hasn’t adjusted. Schoelen’s teenage sitter is solid, with her sensible good looks and quiet demeanor appropriate; as the haunted college student, she’s fine.

David Lloyd’s editing cannily builds the suspenser, and Chris August’s overall design is fitting. For a vidpic that’s really hollow, the fright looks awfully real.

Showtime Original Movie When a Stranger Calls Back

(Sun. (4), 9-10:36 p.m., Showtime)

  • Production: Filmed in Vancouver by Krost/Chapin Prods., the Producers Entertainment Group and MTE. Exec producers, Doug Chapin, Barry Krost; supervising producer, Barry Greenfield; producer, Tom Rowe; director-writer, Fred Walton; based on characters created by Steve Feke, Walton.
  • Crew: Camera, David Geddes; editor, David Lloyd; production designer, Chris August; art director, Clyde Klotz; sound, Ralph Parker; music, Dana Kaproff.
  • Cast: Cast: Jill Schoelen, Carol Kane, Charles Durning, Gene Lythgow, Karen Austin, Babs Chula, John Blackwell, John Blackwell Destry, Duncan Fraser, Jennifer Griffin, Gary Jones, Terence Kelly, Michele Lonsdale-Smith, Kevin McNulty, Sheelagh Megill, Rebecca Mullen, Bobby Stewart, Jerry Wasserman, Cheryl Wilson, Meredith Bain-Woodward.
  • Music By: