UNDERRATED SEQUEL – When a Stranger Calls Back

When a Stranger Calls Back posterWhen filmmaker Fred Walton (April Fool’s Day, 1986) originally set out to make a horror film, he created one of the most terrifying short films called The Sitter.

After the success of Halloween, he set his sights on turning the short into a feature length film, cashing in on the then fresh, but quickly escalating, “lonely babysitter being pursued by a psychopathic stalker” sub-genre. The outcome was a terrifying 20-minute opening sequence (the original short, based on the phone call came from within the house urban legend), followed by a drab 67 minutes of filler called When a Stranger Calls.

Fast-forward 24 years to the made-for-TV (and far superior) sequel, When a Stranger Calls Back.

It begins in the tradition of the original film, where an isolated babysitter named Julia (scream queen Jill Schoelen, The Stepfather, 1987) is being harassed by a stranger through her employers’ front door. In what unfolds to a truly horrific experience, Julia lives through the incident, but is scarred for life.

A few years later, Julia is enrolled in college, but knows that the stranger has been frequenting her apartment, playing games by infiltrating her home and moving objects while Julia is absent or sleeping.

After seeking help from the police, who merely laugh at the idea, Jill and John (Carol Kane and Charles Durning reprising their roles from the first film) come to Julia’s aid to catch the stranger and help her nightmare end. The pursuit eventually unfolds into one paralyzing moment after another, and it all leads up to one of the strangest and most realistically terrifying scenes ever put to film.

When a Stranger Calls Back is an atmospheric film through it’s use of lighting and camera techniques. It sets the scene and makes viewers feel very uncomfortable through long shots and plenty of dark spaces throughout.

The disturbing realism is reminiscent of other psychological thrillers that swept through the early 90s, unfortunately leaving this one over-shadowed. Films like The Silence of the Lambs, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, Cape Fear and so on, but When a Stranger Calls Back deserves to be a top contender amongst them all.

It is one of the few films that has a realistically haunting climax that has stuck in my head since first viewing over twenty years ago. I was lucky enough to find this film in one of the last remaining video stores’ VHS bins to re-live it recently, and it’s undoubtedly the same copy I rented way back when.

~ Matthew McPhee



where the hell have we been?

Confused_Zombie_by_SunkenShip777 If you follow this blog regularly you have probably been wondering where the hell has everyone responsible for the reviews been? well the reason why the reviews this year have been pretty slim is because everyone on the Hidden horrors team has been a bit preoccupied with there dreams.

Matthew McPhee has been producing short films like “Hack Job” and “Playmate” and is planning some more intriguing horror shorts in the future

Dakoda Brookes has been very busy working on a few of his short films as well plus he has not been responding to my emails…

Sterling Anno has been busy working on and promoting several film festivals including the Underground film festival happening in Temecula CA in May in which two of yours truly’s short films “Disappointed” and “Be good for goodness Sake” . And not only the film festivals but Sterling and I just recently recorded the first ever Hidden Horrors Podcast! it needs some editing first but when it is ready we will let you all know.

And finally for me James J. Coker I have been busy getting my short films into film festivals and currently writing my next short horror film which is best described as a very emotionally tormenting Twilight zone homage. Along with the short films I have also been planning on getting my name out there a little more but in different ways.

So dont worry hidden horrors fans, The blog is not dead just a bit stagnant at the moment, but hopefully the podcast will bring things back up to speed but in different ways. – James J Coker

HIDDEN HORROR – The Shining (April Fool’s Day Special)

shiningNow, on this very day, I know how Louis Pasteur felt when he created the vaccine for Rabies. What a fantastic discovery to be credited with. The world at that moment changed due to that random stroke of luck. Well my friends, I may have discovered something just as, or perhaps even greater than any generic disease cure. Up until now, “Hidden Horrors You Must See” has been comprised mainly of films most have heard of, yet never actually seen. Those who have actually seen them first hand are sometimes few and far between. Not until now have we brought you something from so deep within the confines of obscurity, that I’ll put a big sack of dollars on the table that I’ve just stumbled upon the next chapter in human evolution. Let alone a great damn movie. Please, stay seated, for I’m positive you won’t be for too much longer…

The film in question, is called… Okay, hold on one second. The name of this movie doesn’t sound all that threatening nor horror-ish by any regard, but trust me, it’s more than worth a look. It is called “The Shining”. It is literally one of the greatest underground cinematic creations I’ve ever had the pleasure of viewing. I’m humbled by the fact that I now get the chance to introduce all of you to its majesty. In this movie, a family moves into a giant hotel when Jack Torrence, the father, gets a job as the caretaker during its off-season. Jack is played by Jack Nicholson(most people know him from The Departed and for the Saturday Night Live 40th Anniversary Special). He and his family, comprised of a small psychic child named Danny and Olive Oil, arrive at the Overlook Hotel and are greeted by its chef, Dick Halloran. The chef, who sounds a lot like Hong Kong Phooey, offers Danny some ice cream with his brain. Creepy. He then explains to Danny that he shared a telepathic ability with his grandmother when he was young. They called this ability, “shining”. Just so you know, that’s why the movie is called “The Shining”. After Dick leaves, the family begins to live their normal lives. However, over the course of their stay, Jack begins to slowly drift into madness from not just the solitude, but from ghosts!

After being persuaded by a phantom bartender to unleash his true power(possibly a reference to Dragonball Z)and becoming borderline Emily Rose possessed in the process, he tries to off his family by any means necessary. Once Shelley Duvall realizes her husband has written the most redundant novel of all time, she hits him over the face with a bat and locks his demonic ass in the freezer. But, just as a huge plot twist occurs, he escapes from his frost bitten tomb. Chasing his family through the giant hotel, axe in tow, Jack won’t let any number of Johnny Carson allusions slow him down from going Tin Man on his pack. Danny summons Dick to come and fight with them, but Jack axes him why he came back before he can be of any use. Danny then leads his fiendish father into the old heart of a hedge maze. Here, he outsmarts his disillusioned dad and leaves him to chill out while Danny and Olive snowmobile it back to civilization.

The Shining is a terrific example of how arthouse and horror can truly meld together in one epic demonstration, without either aspect overpowering the other. But while on this subject, can I just point out how amazingly shot this film is? Seriously, this director(Stanley Kubrick)knows his stuff. Every shot is meticulously crafted for perfect symmetry. It’s as if every landscape is treated like Olivia Wilde’s face. Not a single element is off point. It’s as if he filmed everything over 100 times or something until he got it right. Not that he did that or anything, but i’d seriously believe it if you told me otherwise. I also find it weird how his use of back drops and color seem to conflict with the how you’d think a hotel would actually look. This whole Native American looking theme just seems out of place… Seriously, if you don’t have a deeper meaning for how you dress your set, just keep it believable, jeez… Yet, for something so original, even as an adaptation, I can’t whole heartedly say it was a stand alone piece. This film is apparently a prequel to Mick Garris’ multipart masterpiece known only as, “Stephen King’s The Shining”. I can see the similarities, but to avoid confusion or bias, I will not be covering that any further. Lastly, I think it’s safe to say that there is actually a documentary about this film! Yeah, I know right? It’s strange, but awesome to know that such an obscure piece of movie history actually had a non-fiction counterpart made for it. Sadly though, “Room 237” mainly just talks about Apollo 11, which I’m sure has nothing to do with “The Shining”, nor those involved.

Hopefully we will see The Criterion Collection pick up this lost film in the future, as it truly needs an audience. No fooling, It’s blasphemy knowing it may not ever get the royal treatment though. Sad days my friends. Well, that’s that as they say. My stay here at the Overlook Hotel is complete, so before I murder my family in a fit of rage, I’d like to say; Bye, thanks for reading and that I hope this fine April 1st brings you all a fresh new start.

– Sterling “The Spork Guy” Anno