The Asylum are normally on the mark about getting their versions out just before the "proper" one hits the cinema; but here, their DVD comes out more than three weeks after When A Stranger Calls. Hell, that has opened, dropped from the top 10 and will probably be in your local video-store before long. Luckily for this, I didn't see it: I don't watch big-budget horror remakes unless I can be convinced they bring something new to the party. Thus, the new versions of TCM, Amityville, Precinct 13, and The Fog have all passed me by. [The Hills Have Eyes may be worth a look: and, lo, The Asylum are bringing out Hillside Cannibals, again about three weeks later.]
Anyway, this feels fresh, since I haven't seen even the original When A Stranger Calls in years. In it, a babysitter receives increasingly scary calls, telling her to check her charges. After calling the cops, she's told the calls come from - dramatic pause - inside the house. All the elements are present here, and the killings which pepper proceedings have a nasty edge that's discomforting: the R rating is a welcome improvement over the PG-13 remake. And, despite annoying attempts to jazz up the visual side with jump cuts and audio scratches, the most compelling moments are simple - Trisha's (Kochan) wide-eyed, bound and gagged stare, as she sees the killer slice up a victim in front of her, is genuinely creepy. However, points are deducted for the climax. Trisha runs outside, into broad daylight, when we've been given no reason to believe it's much after midnight. And she's no longer barefoot: such a nice psycho killer, pausing while she puts her boots back on.
Kochan generally does well, especially since she's in almost every scene. Less effective are the other characters, who seem to exist purely as meat, and are so irritating their fates are less shocking or horrifying, than a good thing. Their arrival does an unfortunately good job of relieving the tension which was being built up, and knocks the film back about half an hour. While I certainly appreciate the increased body count, the film is at its most tense and successful when Trisha is alone in the house, dealing with calls, text-messages and gruesome pics from her tormentor. Anything that interferes with this straightforward "killer vs. teenager" duality is unnecessary, and should have been dispensed with as a result.
[The film is released on February 28 in the US: the DVD includes a commentary, behind the scenes footage and bloopers. For more information, visit The Asylum's website.]