After gaining surprise success with the influential (and oft copied) original Friday The 13th movie, Sean S. Cunningham returned to the director's chair a few years later with a psycho of a different kind in this adaptation of Mary Higgins Clark thriller, A Stranger Is Watching.
Two years after witnessing her mother being killed in a home invasion young Julie (Shawn Von Schreiber) and her father are awaiting the trail of the murderer. However all the killers claims of being innocent may just be true as one evening Julie and her fathers reporter girlfriend Sharon (Kate Mulgrew) are kidnapped by a mysterious assailant (played with thuggish "New Yawk" menace by Rip Torn) who shuttles them off to a dingy basement storage room deep beneath Grand Central Station. It's the perfect spot to keep them as the constant noise of the subways roaring by overhead muffle their cries for help and all their escape attempts just don't seem to work (including Julie's climb up an old dumb waiter, that ends up being blocked by a brick wall).
Torn ends up demanding an 182,000-dollar ransom (which just happens to be the amount Julie inherited when her mother was killed) and it's up to the police and Julie's dad (James Naughton) to try and hunt down the kidnapper and save the girls from certain death.
Playing out like the well staged thriller it is, A Stranger Is Watching doesn't really offer up much new but Cunningham's direction is steady and he keeps the story moving at an acceptable pace. The acting is pretty solid throughout as well and while it's sometimes hard to buy Torn as anything more than a small-time criminal he does get the chance to not only toss a knife across the room into his accomplish and but also throw a knifed hobo down a flight of metal stairs to try and convince us otherwise.
I can't claim to have much of an affinity for Higgins' novels as I find them to be pretty by-the-book "someone you love goes missing" affairs, but this is probably one of the better adaptations out there and despite a finale that's not overly satisfying (Torn's fate is especially weak), a forgotten subplot about the imprisoned innocent man's fate that's given a mere line of text before the end credits for closure, and the fact Earl Mac Rauch and Victor Miller's script doesn't seem to use the possibilities of the films location to full advantage it's still a quite watchable time and a good way to pass a slow evening.
Cunningham previously worked with co-writer Miller on Friday The 13th and he'd go on to act more as a producer (he'd have a hand in all four of the House movies) while sporadically directing a film here-and-there, but at least he wouldn't forget about the genre that kickstarted his career. (Chris Hartley, 10/20/05)
Directed By: Sean S. Cunningham.
Written By: Victor Miller, Earl Mac Rauch.
Starring: Kate Mulgrew, Rip Torn, James Naughton, Shawn Von Schreiber.
Picture Ratio: 1.85:1 Widescreen.
Picture Quality: What a good looking print Warner has given A Stranger Is Watching. The picture is consistently solid and despite a few scattered specks there's nothing at all to complain about. It doesn't look over twenty years old, that's for sure.
Extras: As with the other releases in Warner's 2005 "Halloween Havoc" line (that includes Night Of The Lepus, Demon Seed, Private Parts, and Dracula A.D. 1972) the only extra here is a trailer.