When a Stranger Calls

Director: Fred Walton

Cast: Carol Kane, Charles Durning, Tony Beckley


Happy Birthday to Me

Director: J. Lee Thompson

Cast: Melissa Sue Anderson, Glenn Ford, Lawrence Dane 

By Brian M. Sammons

This double feature Blu-ray from Mill Creek Entertainment was a Wal-Mart exclusive a few months back, but on March 26 it goes widely available from just about everywhere and for a surprisingly low price. But should you even bother to get it? Well if you’re a true horrorhead then you probably have already seen both of these movies, so you can answer that for yourself. If you have yet to see either or both of these terror titles, then keep reading.

First up is When a Stranger Calls from 1979. This movie has one of the best openings ever. It is so masterful and iconic that chances are you’ve seen it, or seen movies rip it off, even if you’ve never seen the entire original film. It’s the one where Carol Kane plays a babysitter and some creepy guy keeps calling on the phone and asking, “why haven’t you checked  on the children?”  This is good stuff, folks. A master class in how tension and dread beat the hell out of BOO jump scares and even gore (and I do love my gore) any day of the week. Sadly, this only lasts for the first 21 minutes of the movie. After that it becomes a somewhat boring and predictable police drama. It tries to get back to being a truly terrifying film towards the end, but only with mixed results. Uneven is the best single word to describe When a Strange Calls. Still, it is well worth watching if just for the beginning 21 minutes alone.

The next movie is one that a lot of horrorheads dismiss, but I must say that I really enjoy it. It is the 1981 college-set slasher, Happy Birthday to Me. It is a classic mysterious murderous maniac movie if there ever was one. It begins with a tragic accident, setting up a possible motivation for the killer, something a lot of modern slasher films fail to do. There are then some truly memorable and creative kills, another thing most recent horror flicks forget to do. Even if these kills are rather bloodless, they stick with you. Who can forget the grinding dirt bike, or the heavy weights, or the one they give away on the original poster; the shish kabob skewering? Mmmmm, that’s the good stuff. Now I admit, the ending to this flick is a big ball of silly. It is ripped right out of Scooby Doo and will leave you going WTF, really? But for me, and other fans of this fun fright flick, that’s just part of this movie’s 80s charm.

So if you have yet to see either of these throwback thrillers, then you really should. Both are good to great and highly enjoyable watches. If you have already seen these or perhaps already own them on DVD, so should you get this new Blu-ray double set? Well yes, yes you should. While this two-pack is sadly as barebones as it gets (as per usual for Mill Creek) both movies look pretty damn good in HD. Also both of the previous DVD releases I had of these films were also barebones, so it’s not like you’re losing anything. Add in the very reasonable price and you have a must have purchase for any serious horrorhead. Therefore consider this two-for-one Blu-ray double deal highly recommended.

About Brian M. Sammons

Brian M. Sammons has penned stories that have appeared in the anthologies: Arkham Tales, Horrors Beyond, Monstrous, Dead but Dreaming 2, Horror for the Holidays, Deepest, Darkest Eden and others. He has edited the books; Cthulhu Unbound 3, Undead & Unbound, Eldritch Chrome, Edge of Sundown, Steampunk Cthulhu, Dark Rites of Cthulhu, Atomic Age Cthulhu, World War Cthulhu and Flesh Like Smoke. He is also the managing editor of Dark Regions Press’ Weird Fiction line. For more about this guy that neighbors describe as “such a nice, quiet man” you can check out his infrequently updated webpage here: http://brian_sammons.webs.com/ and follow him on Twitter @BrianMSammons.

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