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A STRANGER IS WATCHING

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Feb. 7, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: The death of prolific mystery novelist Mary Higgins Clark last week at the age of 92 brought to mind ‘A Stranger Is Watching,’ the movie adaptation of one of her earliest books some 42 years ago, starring Kate Mulgrew and the late Rip Torn (he died last year at age 88). It was her only film adaptation to earn a wide theatrical release and the reviews (including mine) were less than kind; two years later the film version of ‘Where are the Children?’ played in only a few cities, and Salt Lake wasn’t one of them. Her novels fared better on the small screen, however, with more than 30 adapted for network and cable television. My review of ‘A Stranger Is Watching’ was published in the Deseret News on March 29, 1982. The film is available for streaming on various sites and on DVD.

Rip Torn, a multi-talented actor who was last seen as the hard Scottish rancher in “Heartland,” has returned to the kind of sleazy B-movie roles he has performed in for years with “A Stranger Is Watching.”

Though based on the novel of the same name by Mary Higgins Clark, the film version has none of the former’s suspenseful buildup or depth of character. This is just another inept “slasher” film with the killer fleshed out a bit so that we know him a little better than those in most movies of this nature.

But that accomplishment is due largely to Torn’s acting as the killer. He lends a presence that is the only notable element of this film.

That’s not to say the other main actors, Kate Mulgrew and young Shawn Von Schreiber aren’t competent — they are. But the proceedings here are just too murky and idiotic to allow any amount of acting talent to rise above them.

     

Lobby card featuring Rip Torn and Kate Mulgrew in 'A Stranger Is Watching' (1982).

The basic storyline has Von Schreiber as a young girl who witnesses the brutal rape-murder of her mother and innocently convicts the wrong person of the crime; a year or so later when that man is about to be executed, the real killer (Torn) returns and kidnaps the girl, and at the same time takes a popular TV newswoman (Mulgrew).

He then transports them to an underground cell beneath Grand Central Station and locks them in as he arranges ransom.

As played by Torn, this guy is the nastiest bad guy since Richard Widmark’s famous screen introduction, but the relish he brings to the role is completely wasted.

Director Sean Cunningham, who gave us the inexplicably popular “Friday the 13th,” a truly amateurish rehash of “Halloween,” hasn’t learned a thing about moviemaking between that film and this one. There is no imagination involved in following Torn’s rounds of killing innocents who get in his way or terrorizing his victims.

     

To be fair, it should be pointed out that Cunningham does not employ the high level of gore and sex for exploitation value here that he used in “Friday the 13th.” But he also has failed to provide anything of lasting interest.

“A Stranger Is Watching” also features the favorite woman-in-peril occupation of these films lately, the TV newswoman (“The Howling,” “Eyes of a Stranger,” “The Seduction”) and exploits a sensitive crime that in itself makes for uneasy viewing when it’s not handled carefully — the kidnapping of a child.

In addition, nearly all of the characters here seem like idiots because they fail to do anything logical.

“A Stranger Is Watching,” rated R for violence and profanity, is just a dull, plodding and supremely uninteresting thriller that provides hardly a single thrill.