Mill Creek Entertainment releases noteworthy horror film “When a Stranger Calls.”

Mill Creek Entertainment is the way to go if you casually buy physical copies of movies and television series. For those who aren’t into collecting, the idea of buying a $40 movie isn’t in the cards. The price for pretty (Steelbook disc covers ring up in the higher range) isn’t pretty. Fortunately, there are companies like Mill Creek that dust off classics, coat them with a retro look, and sell them for an affordable price.

The home distribution company tips its hat to all kinds of content from different mediums, whether it’s a forgotten movie gem or a popular TV series. Considering it’s not very easy to keep up with what streaming service is getting what material — and for how long — you might as well own a few on a physical disc.

Retro releases

The Mill Creek products that get me excited each month are the retro releases. These are the ones that immediately catch your attention by turning back the clock to video store days.

On the inside of the release, it’s just the movie. But on the outside, it’s a conversation piece that makes you think about those times when you’d hold a VHS in your hands (or a dollar bill) and wonder, “Where have you been?” Complete with a worn-edge aesthetic and a sticker design that notes the film genre and how you should “be kind and rewind,” get ready for Mill Creek to flood in with warm nostalgia.

When a Stranger Calls (1979) (★★★★) — If you want to see a bold movie — not just for horror, but film at large — the original When a Stranger Calls, starring Carol Kane, is worth picking up. It’s wildly ambitious, even compared to today’s standards. It’s not often that a thriller feels like three movies rolled up into one. Not because it’s unfocused and is battling some narrative tug-of-war match. Instead, it evolves like a compelling miniseries.

The first part features a babysitter being stalked by a stranger who threatens to kill some kids under her watchful eye (or lack thereof). The second section should be called “When a Stranger Follows You Home” — new victim, same stalker. You get to understand how the killer ticks, and it’s a hard pill to swallow. Lastly, the third and final is a sequel to the first part, picking up seven years later with the original babysitter now a mother.

When a Stranger Calls takes its time. It rings and rings and patiently waits for you to answer. Once you do, you’ll be frozen in fear. One line about the outcome of the first chapter is unshakeable. Let’s just say my wife and I immediately wanted to wake up our sleeping son to hold him. If a film can make you anxious and scared like that, you know you have something truly terrifying. Nothing flashy — just quality.

Rated R, 97 minutes.

Hudson Hawk (1991) (★★★) — Talk about a deliciously entertaining cheese ball. Bruce Willis developed the story for this movie, and it feels as if Dumb and Dumber and Ocean’s Eleven had a party. It’s essentially “Dad Joke: The Movie.” So, naturally, as a father, I was cracking up.

Where else are you going to see a dude holding a grenade launcher and yelling, “fore,” before blasting enemy territory? Or fall off a cliff in an exploding car and still live to tell the tale, like you’re Danny McBride’s character in Pineapple Express?

It’s got bad guys vs. badder guys, a heist, a love story and a buddy comedy all rolled into one burrito. It’s pure joy. Even when the jokes are dated (and there’s one big one), you laugh because you can’t believe how bold it is for going there.

Rated R, 100 minutes.

No Mercy (1986) (★★★) — Usually, Richard Gere movies aren’t for me. I’ve seen that man whisper through enough of his roles to throw in the towel. However, his early days with works like No Mercy are a whole other animal.

This 1986 film is vicious. It’s got the buddy cop element, but it’s got a serious tone that’s brutal. It could pair well with something gritty like RoboCop, although not as smart. Plus, the climactic action sequence is rock solid and will bring the sweat.

The love story that happens between Gere and Kim Basinger’s characters is clunky. There’s no way it would take the same path today. However, it’s a detail that can be pushed through to savor the moments that have impact.

Rated R, 106 minutes.

Vibes (1988) (★★★) — Easily the weakest of the bunch (but far from a throwaway) is Vibes. It has excellently goofy vibrations that could make Mark Wahlberg bring back the Funky Bunch. For a romantic comedy, it’s a horse of a different color. It pairs the king of silly, Jeff Goldblum, and popular ‘80s singer, Cyndi Lauper, in a story about a couple of psychics who are duped into flying to South America to find a fabled city of gold.

Vibes is that classic battle against evil forces and a quest for truth that’s fun to endure. Not everything clicks, but when it does, you absorb it — most notably Peter Falk’s character, who appears and asks for the gifted couple for help in locating his missing son. Just leave logic at the door.

Rated PG, 99 minutes.

Other Mill Creek releases

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (★★★½) — What started as a refreshingly original series lost momentum. Over the course of four seasons, the Netflix show Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt began to wave goodbye to its optimism. It’s like going from meat and veggies to something aggressively upbeat like cotton candy, with the occasional buttered substance.

When the show is at its high point, it’s cracking jokes and touching on topical issues with aplomb. It’s a messy run, but it’s got plenty of charms and Tituss Burgess one-liners to supply your next great meme.

Mill Creek has packaged all 51 episodes into one merry collection. Its story concerns its titular character (Ellie Kemper) emerging from a 15-year imprisonment in a bunker. She was held against her will and is freed to take in a whole new world. It’s looking at the world’s problems in a fish-out-of-water narrative.

Kemper has infectious energy. She brought that from The Office and transferred it to her solo project of sorts. It’s surprisingly dark at times. Rather than drizzle everything in syrup, Kemper will honor her character’s trauma. It doesn’t always need a gag to lighten the mood. It will sit with its feelings and allow the audience to feel them.

There are areas where the series runs out of things to say, but it finds its footing again and brings it home. It’s a pleasant series that wraps up quite nicely, even if rushed.

Rated TV-14, about 25 hours and 14 minutes.

Wild Child / Life Happens (★★★) — This double feature of romantic comedies is merely comfort food. If they were truly exceptional, you would know about them.

2012’s Life Happens is a cliché plot about two besties (Krysten Ritter and Kate Bosworth) who struggle to maintain normalcy after one of them becomes pregnant.

For anyone familiar with that problematic transition of friends falling out of touch when you get married or start a family (because they’re not on the same page as you), this movie is for you. Thankfully, there are one-liners and a decent cast (also including Rachel Bilson and Geoff Shults) that come to its rescue.

2008’s Wild Child – starring Emma Roberts, Aidan Quinn and the late Natasha Richardson – is a tween comedy that coasts along fine enough until it trips over its preppy shoelaces. It’s tame in comparison to other movies like it (such as Clueless and Lindsay Lohan’s Freaky Friday remake), but you’ll eat your popcorn throughout and smile every now and then.

For a date night combo watch, this double-shot of cute isn’t the worst way to go.

Life Happens is rated R, 101 minutes. Wild Child is rated PG-13, 99 minutes.

Extras: Wild Child is the only feature that contains bonus content. It includes an audio commentary, deleted scenes, a making-of and other behind-the-scenes featurettes.

All releases can be purchased off of Amazon or at your local Movie Trading Co.

PRESTON BARTA is a member of the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association. Read his work here, on FreshFiction.tv and on RottenTomatoes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @PrestonBarta.

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