• Martyn Wakefield

WHEN A STRANGER CALLS [1979] (REVIEW)

Dir. Fred Walton

Reviewer. Dan Cook

Despite a number of fine performances and one of the most notoriously terrifying first acts in cinema history, Fred Walton’s 1979 psycho-horror WHEN A STRANGER CALLS is a rather lacklustre and underwhelming affair that sadly fails to sustain the nail-biting tension of its brilliant first 20 minutes.


To its credit, the film, which sees a child killer on the run after escaping from a mental asylum, certainly sounds the part - with composer Dana Kaproff’s nightmarish glissandos providing one of the most intensely creepy under-scorings of any 70’s horror.


Meanwhile, the performances from the cast which include Charles Durning, Colleen Dewhurst, Tony Beckley and Carol Kane are all very strong - in particular Beckley (who sadly died less than 6 months after the release of the film), who is especially good here as the quiet yet malevolent killer whose soft voice and timid exterior hides a truly evil soul while Carol Kane steals the show as a babysitter who suffers the psychological torments of the psycho with wide-eyed terror.


Unfortunately, these fine performances as well as some very well directed sequences of suspense aren’t enough to satisfactorily carry the majority of ‘When A Stranger Calls’ which, in my opinion, would have worked far more effectively as a short than it does as a full length feature.



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