Synopsis: A woman is being watched in her apartment by a stranger, who also calls and torments her. A cat-and-mouse game begins.
Stars: Lauren Hutton, David Birney, Adrienne Barbeau, Charles Cyphers
Director: John Carpenter
Running Length: 97 minutes
TMMM Score: (6/10)
Review: So what’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the name John Carpenter? Halloween, right? Ok…maybe Escape from New York or his remake of The Thing depending on when you were growing up…but for most cinephiles John Carpenter and Halloween are synonymous terms. Even though he had already made the respectable Dark Star and Assault on Precinct 13, Carpenter’s career took off like a rocket once his classic horror film was released in October 1978. As the 80’s arrived Carpenter delivered a handful of memorable films before petering out in the latter part of the decade. His latest efforts have been misfires but one needs only look to back at his origins to see the filmmaker at the top of his game.
Take Someone’s Watching Me!, a made-for-television thriller that Carpenter filmed before Halloween but was broadcast a month after Halloween was released. In an interview on the DVD of Someone’s Watching Me!, Carpenter acknowledged that the filming of it greatly influenced how he approached Halloween and that’s not hard to see in the finished product. Though the violence in Halloween makes Someone’s Watching Me! look like a kids film, Carpenter seems to have adapted his script to the small screen without making too many sacrifices.
Like Halloween, Someone’s Watching Me! is an economical film in that it doles out it’s suspense in small bites meant to keep the viewer hungry for more. Considering the time and place it was made it’s a fairly advanced film in many respects which sadly have left it a tad dated when viewed now. The concept of a female television director (Hutton) and a lesbian character (Barbeau) that wasn’t treated as a freak are old hat now but it took some balls from Carpenter and the studio to keep this material in without making a big deal about it. Still, early on both women are sexually harassed in a fairly jaw-dropping display of late 70’s machismo that doesn’t seem that off the mark.
Obviously filmed on studio sets, the action of the picture takes place in a supposedly swanky Los Angeles high rise that New York transplant Hutton has taken up residence in. Never mind that women in the high rise have a high suicide rate and are routinely stalked by a gravelly voiced prank phone caller. Even though its only amenity seems to be a great view and hallways wide enough to get a camera crew through, there is something accurate about the depiction of single life in LA in 1978. I believed that Hutton’s job afforded her the opportunity to pay the rent and enjoyed the period apartment stylings.
When Hutton starts getting mysterious gifts and phone calls from an anonymous man the film starts to tighten its grip on us. She starts to be romanced by a gentlemen (Birney who I can never look at the same way after reading how horrible he was to his ex Meredith Baxter) who encourages her to go to the police to get the calls to stop. As in most women-in-peril films, no one listens to her and she eventually has to take matters into her own hand. It’s not a terribly original concept but it’s in the execution of said concept that the film becomes memorable.
Carpenter likes to write for women and he’s crafted a great role for newcomer Hutton here. Though she’d really make an impression in 1980’s American Gigolo, her efforts here are welcome because she carries it all off with ease. She’s a serious woman that doesn’t take life so seriously…not quite bubbly she has a way of bounding into a room and easily becoming the center of attention. It’s not hard to see, then, why she attracts a psycho to follow her every move.
There are a few well staged scares along the way and more than several nicely crafted suspense sequences that I’m sure played well when the film was broadcast. Carpenter was originally commissioned to write the script for the big screen but when the final script came in it made more sense to film it for television. That’s a wise move because it wouldn’t have worked half as well on the big screen without adding gore, nudity, or other selling points (for the time).
Looked at now, Someone’s Watching Me! is a tame film compared to horror movies receiving theatrical releases at the time. It does make me miss the television movie which has seemingly gone the way of the dodo. Seriously, remember how we’d get a movie-of-the-week every week with our favorite stars of the small screen? With this film, Carpenter had a chance to test out some of the principles he put into practice for his most memorable work, gave a plum role to the talented Hutton, and met his future (and later, ex) wife Barbeau. Not bad for a day’s work!