Young babysitter Jill (Carol Kane) arrives at a plush neighbourhood one evening to mind the children of Dr Mandrakis (Carmen Argenziano). Not long after he and his wife leave for the evening, Jill is plagued by tormenting telephone calls from a male voice repeatedly asking "Have you checked the children lately?".

Eventually Jill rings the police who put a trace on the calls. True to the urban legend this opening set-piece is based upon, the cops soon ring back confirming that the calls are actually coming from within the house.

The police race to the Mandrakis abode and arrive in time to save Jill, apprehending her would-be slayer Curt (Tony Beckley) in the process. Alas, by that time he's already torn the aforementioned children apart with his bare hands (thankfully off-camera).

Fast-forward to "Seven years later", and one of the cops who worked on the case - John (Charles Durning) - is now working as a private detective. When Curt escapes from the mental hospital that's housed him in the interim, Mandrakis hires John to track him down. John is on a personal mission to not only find Curt, but ultimately kill him.

In the meantime, the clearly disturbed Curt becomes fixated on middle-aged lush Tracy (Colleen Dewhurst) who he meets on afternoon in a downtrodden bar. "I want to be your friend", he tells her upon breaking into her apartment.

As John's net closes in on his quarry, at one point using the oblivious Tracy as bait, Curt continues to run while living on the streets ... until finally setting his sights once more on Jill, who is now married with children of her own.

STRANGER took its cue from the aforementioned urban myth, which was the inspiration for director Fred Walton's 1977 short THE SITTER. Apparently this was expanded upon and Curt's story extended to feature-length when Walton became aware of HALLOWEEN's outlandish success.

This is where STRANGER's problem begins. The first 20 minutes - riffed upon in the opening to Wes Craven's SCREAM - are taut, tense and lean. Once we shift to the telling of John's search for Curt the action becomes decidedly more pedestrian. The scary music cues are still there and performances are uniformly great, but Walton's direction is suddenly flat to the point that he has his characters pause between responding to dialogue in every single conversation. Consequently, despite a screenplay which never deviates from the central storyline (and offers a fairly original take on a familiar theme for the most part) the middle hour of this film feels sluggish. It doesn't help that a lot of the segment has the visual feel of an unimaginatively-shot TV movie.

Still, we get a strong 15-minute finale which almost lives up to the terrifying opening. Beckley - who was terminally ill with cancer at the time - does a fantastic job of eliciting sympathy from a character that most other actors would've portrayed as a ghoul. He's not your typical monster, more of an outsider who doesn't know how to connect with people and struggles with the concept of rejection, despite an intriguing early plot point which suggests he speaks in tongues (something which is never followed up). Kane is a memorable heroine for the 40-or-so minutes of screen time she enjoys, while Durning is as reliable as ever.

STRANGER also struggles when it comes to logic. But, this and pacing issues aside, the fact that it's bookended by two brilliant set-pieces and blessed with remarkable performances throughout help it endure as a classic of its era.

There's no gore and virtually no violence in this film. Walton's intent was to scare his audience without resorting to such tactics. A hard task to achieve in 1978. But he did it, and those opening/closing sequences still strike a chord to this day.

Second Sight are releasing WHEN A STRANGER CALLS on UK blu-ray for the first ever time. We were sent a screener disc to review.

The film looks amazing in a new HD scan which blows away the Region A blu-ray that Mill Creek released back in 2013 (good for its time, admittedly). For a start, it's a much more organic-feeling transfer, with more natural colour schemes and a healthy sheen of grain to preserve that welcome filmic texture. Blacks are stable, depth of image is impressively cinematic and detail is fine without ever suffering from traces of digital manipulation.

Housed as an MPEG4-AVC file and proffering the film in full 1080p HD resolution, this is a mighty fine transfer which retains the original 1.85:1 ratio.

English audio is treated to an evenly balanced LPCM 2.0 mix, with well-written English subtitles on hand as an option for the hearing-impaired.

The disc opens to a static main menu page. From there, pop-up menus include scene selection menus for both films (offering 16 chapters apiece).

A healthy array of extras kicks off with the film's 1993 sequel WHEN A STRANGER CALLS BACK.

This is presented in its original 1.33:1 ratio and once again is newly remastered in 1080p HD. It looks amazing, despite having that overt "90s TV movie" vibe (which is precisely what it was).

Also directed by Walton, it begins with babysitter Julia (Jill Schoelen) looking after a couple of kids. Her evening is interrupted by a knock at the door. She's reluctant to open the door to strangers, so embarks on a conversation through its wooden frame. The male voice outside claims to have broken down in his car and wants to come in to ring his auto recovery service. She takes his details and promises to make the call on his behalf. However, upon attempting to make said call she discovers the phone line is dead (a nice touch, subverting the telephone terrors of its predecessor). The evening culminates in a trauma which scars Julia for years to come.

We then fast-forward five years, where we find Julia to be a University student so paranoid that she triple-bolts the door to her campus apartment. Despite that, she's been experiencing strange occurrences in her apartment such as a book on her shelf being found misplaced and a child's shirt found hanging in her wardrobe.

The police don't take her complaint too seriously, but do call in the services of campus counsellor Jill (Kane, reprising her role). Jill knows all about this kind of harassment - the kicker in Julia's case is that her tormentor is still on the loose - and invites the student to stay at her place as a result. She also gets in touch with John (Durning), safe in the knowledge that he'll endeavour to help put this case to bed once and for all.

A surprisingly effective sequel given its belated arrival and made-for-TV status, WHEN A STRANGER CALLS BACK reaps dividends from its superior performances and intelligent script, as well its genuinely creepy compositions in key scenes (the camera placement and spooky positioning of plants, curtains etc during that opening salvo are highly effective). Sure, it slows down somewhat during its mid-section but this is a credible sequel in many ways.

Even better is the original 21-minute short film THE SITTER.

This stars Lucia Stralser as the buxom babysitter, who - in knee-length socks, short black skirt and tucked-in blouse - looks like she's just walked off the set of JOLLY HOCKEY STICKS (interestingly, Julia from the sequel wears similar attire in that film's opening sequence, and doesn't look hugely different from Stralser). Stralser's character is a little less sympathetic than Kane's: she smokes in the house, drinks the absent parents' booze and never once considers doing as her tormentor suggests and check on the children. Still, this is a nerve-shredding offering and a great trial-run for the ensuing feature's iconic classic opening. Presented in its original 1.33:1 ratio, the transfer here is clean and detailed, benefitting from some impressive restoration efforts.

Next we get a new 16-minute interview with Walton, entitled "Directing a Stranger". He reveals the inspiration for making the original short, and how it played to apathetic audiences in cinemas. Even so, he was able to use the short as a pitch to potential investors in the hope of developing a feature film from it. Walton is modest and honest - when addressing WHEN A STRANGER CALLS BACK, he simply states "I really needed the money" - making for a highly watchable interviewee. He says he hasn't watched WHEN A STRANGER CALLS in forty years because whenever he revisits his own movies he only sees the mistakes: case in point is his anecdote about attending a screening of 1986's (admittedly lacklustre) APRIL FOOL'S DAY.

A 17-minute chat with Kane finds the actress in fine fettle as she speaks of how great Durning was to work with, traces us through her career in flicks such as DOG DAY AFTERNOON, and reveals that STRANGER's shoot was a very serious one where everyone concerned put real passion into what they were creating.

5 minutes with Latvian actress Rutanya Alda (Mrs Mandrakis in the film) sees her revealing how she spent time in a concentration camp in her youth, and used the movies they occasionally screened there as escapism. She covers everything from THE DEER HUNTER to AMITYVILLE 2: THE POSSESSION with equal warmth.

"Scoring a Stranger" is an 8-minute interview with composer Dana Kaproff. He was surrounded by music from an early age, with family friends including the likes of Jerry Goldsmith and John Barry. The latter, we learn, invited Kaproff to contribute on a Bond theme in the 70s - and thus his career was underway. Kaproff has obvious fondness for STRANGER's score and seems genuinely delighted that the film is still being discussed and enjoyed to this day.

Although unavailable for review purposes, this limited-edition release also comes with the original soundtrack CD, a 40-page booklet containing a new essay by Kevin Lyons, reversible cover art and a rigid slipcase packaging.

One horror classic, until now cruelly neglected on home video, and a sequel which is better than anyone ever expected it to be, newly restored and brought to blu-ray with an excellent assortment of contextual bonus features. It goes without saying, hopefully, that this comes highly recommended.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Second Sight