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Friday, September 18, 2020

‘When a Stranger Returns’: Writer Jake Wade Wall Dials Up Details On His Unmade Sequel [Phantom Limbs]

phantom limb /ˈfan(t)əm’lim/ n. an often painful sensation of the presence of a limb that has been amputated.

Welcome to Phantom Limbs, a recurring feature which will take a look at intended yet unproduced horror sequels and remakes – extensions to genre films we love, appendages to horror franchises that we adore – that were sadly lopped off before making it beyond the planning stages. Here, we will be chatting with the creators of these unmade extremities to gain their unique insight into these follow-ups that never were, with the discussions standing as hopefully illuminating but undoubtedly painful reminders of what might have been.

For this entry, we’ll be taking a look at When a Stranger Returns, the unproduced sequel to the 2006 horror remake When a Stranger Calls. Joining us for this chat is screenwriter Jake Wade Wall, who discusses how the idea for this project came about, where its story would have gone, and why it ultimately never happened. In addition, Mr. Wall points out in advance that the story details are somewhat sparse, as the sequel never made it to the scripting stage.

For those unfamiliar with When a Stranger Calls ‘06, a quick recap: expanding the opening act of the 1979 original to feature length, the story concerns Jill (Camilla Belle), a teenage babysitter in charge of spending the evening watching after the Mandrakis children in their wealthy yet secluded home. With the children asleep and the night wearing on, Jill begins to receive strange phone calls from an anonymous stranger (voiced by Lance Henriksen). As bizarre events occur and the calls becoming increasingly threatening, Jill ultimately finds herself in the fight for her life and she attempts to protect herself and her charges from the shadowy Stranger (Tommy Flanagan) who has invaded the Mandrakis home. After an intense third act, the tale eventually wraps up with the Stranger in custody, but with Jill left to wrestle with the fallout of the psychological trauma she’d endured over the course of one terrifying night.


Tommy Flanagan as The Stranger in ‘When a Stranger Calls’ (2006)

Given the remake’s success (nearly $70 million worldwide on a $15 million budget), the open-ended nature of its finale, and the fact that there was plenty of story left to mine from the rest of the original ’79 film, a follow-up seemed like an inevitability. Indeed, a sequel titled When a Stranger Returns was in the offing, and yet hasn’t materialized in the near-fifteen years since the remake’s release. So what was the plan for Returns? “Originally, I don’t think there was much thought of doing a sequel. They wanted to see how the original would perform before that even came up. But, in turning the original into the remake, one of the things I did was … I’m a big fan of the original When a Stranger Calls. When I went back and rewatched it before I did the project, I was blown away that what I thought was almost the whole movie, which is the babysitter sequence, was only pretty much the first fifteen minutes. As a kid, I of course thought it was much longer than that. So when I went in to work on that, my angle was, ‘Why don’t we do the full length babysitter version of this? It’s never been done.’

“We were all very surprised by its success. We were very pleased by that. And I think because I only used the first ten or fifteen minutes of the original film for the remake, and because it was a success, we thought ‘Okay, there’s clearly room for a sequel here.’ What we had originally discussed was the concept of having it basically unfold the same way as the original did. Have Jill then later become a mom, and blow that out to an entire film where she goes through the same experience now as a mother, not the babysitter. And so, it was basically taking that original movie and making the first remake and its sequel, in essence, the same [as the original].”

Mr. Wall continues, describing how much planning went into the story before the project was ultimately abandoned. “There was a lot of talk about how to structure that, and when to do it. Because if we were to follow that path, with Jill as a mother now, then we had a problem with Camilla Belle, who was absolutely fantastic in the original. There was a discussion that, if we did that version of it, we’d have to wait a few years because she was quite young when she did the original. Carole Kane, on the flip side, was older and could play older, but could also play young. The studio just thought that we just needed to give it some time to let her age into it. There was also, in that process … I was working out how that would unfold, where it would feel like a new angle of her going through something similar. Because there was that issue of, ‘Well, we’ve got time on this because our actor has to age a bit’, we never actually got to writing the script. It was more the idea phase. It became a project that … the more I would work on it and sketch out how it would look, Screen Gems in the interim became quite successful with their remake films [which included Quarantine, Prom Night, and The Stepfather]. So I think, because they had a series of other successes, there stopped being an urgency to ‘Oh, this is our one hit title, so we have to have to do a sequel to it.’ They were then coming up with quite a few remake successes.”

Beyond Jill being the mother this time around, where else would the story have gone? “A couple of the concepts that I thought would be important … yes, if you borrowed from the back end of the original movie, it’s Jill’s [film]. But I thought that, if we were going to do this again, and make Jill be the mother, we would still want to make it a two-hander and introduce a new babysitter. I wanted to contrast what the current babysitter does – in essence, kind of all the wrong things. And Jill, being the babysitter who did all of the right things, is now the mother who’s kind of placed the safety of her children in someone who she trusts, but … I didn’t want the new babysitter to be a bad character. But I wanted her to basically do the things that most normal people would do that weren’t that smart, that continues to jeopardize the scenario, which forces Jill to come home and take up the leading role again. Now not just to save her own children, but also the babysitter.”

Camilla Belle as Jill Johnson in ‘When a Stranger Calls’ (2006)

In addition to Jill’s story, the original ’79 film also featured a supporting character in the form of John Clifford (played by the excellent Charles Durning), a detective on the killer’s trail. Would Clifford have made an appearance in Returns? “I love him. I thought he was so fantastic in the original. But I felt stylistically, when I did the first one … if we were going to do the remake all about Jill’s night in the beginning, we had an opportunity to contrast the tone [in the sequel]. Because Charles’ portion of the movie is very much a cop/psychological thriller, and the fun of When a Stranger Calls is the slasher portion of it, I think. There was some discussion about pulling in a character like him and giving him some weight, to honor that original character. But because we didn’t actually get to draft, I never got to see how that would have played out. But I did want to honor him and that character in the sequel, because I felt like adult Jill would need to use someone like him in a scenario where she’s even more helpless, because it’s her own children and she’s not there.”


Given that the original film had its own sequel with 1993’s When a Stranger Calls Back, one wonders if Returns would have been made with an eye toward continuing the franchise with yet another installment. “You know, I think it’s such a fun concept. So many people have played around with the babysitter thriller. I do think if we had made the sequel, and it was an equal success, then there would clearly be room to now continue the franchise and perhaps pass it on to the new babysitter in the sequel. But I do think there would be room.”

The conversation turns at this point to Simon West, the director who helmed the ’06 remake. Would he have returned to direct the sequel? “I don’t know what those conversations would have been. I loved Simon. He was fantastic. Had the sequel moved forward, and he had been interested, I think it would have been a fantastic match.”

Now that we’re coming up on the remake’s fifteenth anniversary, it’s worth noting that more than enough time has now passed for Camilla Belle to have aged into the role of an older Jill. So is it possible that Returns could still happen after all these years? “I would like to think as time passes that there’s still an opportunity to fulfill that sequel. Sometimes the concern with a sequel is the speed with which one gets one out. But in order to do this one according to what we had discussed, it kinda feels like the more time that goes by, the better the opportunity to actually do it. But there’s also the notion in this business – ‘Is there even a desire to create a sequel so many years later?’ That would be the conundrum. I’ve been around this business long enough to know that those are really impossible questions to answer. I would say that it would definitely be a possibility, and it would be a possibility that I would be thrilled to be a part of.”

In finishing up our conversation, Mr. Wall offers his final thoughts on When a Stranger Returns. “To follow a lead heroine fifteen years later, and to put her through a situation where she’s encountering the same monster that she thought was gone, but going through the experience with the wisdom of a young adult and mother now – I think it would be a really rich film. And ironically, I think it would be even more timely in today’s world. It’s always interesting when you go through an experience when you’re a teenager, and you look back on it and reflect on it with the wisdom of years and you think, ‘Wow, I would have done this different, or I would have done that different.’ I think that would have been a really unique, fun way to go through a horror movie. With our heroine, clearly out of danger now, having to go back reflectively and seeing what she would have done differently.”


Very special thanks to Jake Wade Wall for his time and insights.



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/editorials/3632405/stranger-returns-writer-jake-wade-wall-dials-details-unmade-sequel-phantom-limbs/

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