Written and Directed by: John Carpenter
Reviewed by: Brett G.
Throughout my childhood and into my teens, I became a huge fan of John Carpenter and made it a personal mission to watch all of his films. This of course began with Halloween, but I soon moved on to his other horror offerings (The Fog, The Thing, etc.). I eventually ventured out to his non-horror films, and found that I loved just about everything the man directed. Even though his output has diminished in both quality and quantity over the years, John Carpenter remains my favorite director. Imagine my surprise when I learned about Someoneís Watching Me, a made-for-television flick that Carpenter directed right before he began work on Halloween. I literally had no idea the film existed until I read about it on the internet, and the film remained un-released on video and DVD until Warner Brothers released it as part of the Twisted Terror Collection last September.
Someoneís Watching Me is an interesting film in the Carpenter canon. There are no supernatural stalkers, aliens, demons, or ghosts; instead, the film is about Leigh Michaels, a twenty nine year old woman that has moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in directing live television. She moves into a nice high rise apartment, lands a good job at a local station, and meets Paul, a professor at a local college. All seems to be going well until she begins to receive strange phone calls and gifts from a company that claims she has won a vacation.
Over the course of the film, the stalkerís threats increase, and Leigh eventually discovers that she is being watched from the adjacent apartment building. This forces Leigh to seek help from the police, but they canít help her because her stalker technically hasnít done anything illegal. As a result, Leigh begins to take things into her own hands, and the film becomes a cat and mouse game with tragic and deadly consequences for everyone involved.
Iíve heard people refer to Halloween as ďHitchcockian,Ē but Someoneís Watching Me is Carpenterís true tribute to Sir Alfred, as the film seems like something he would have been directing a decade earlier. Even the photography (its color palette especially) looks like a classic Hitchcock film, despite the fact that the film is loaded with 70s clothing and hair styles. Furthermore, the filmís theme, voyeurism, is one that was explored by Hitchcock several times throughout his career. Heck, Carpenter even uses a dolly zoom technique at one point thatís lifted directly from several Hitchcock films.
Of course, the real question is whether or not Someoneís Watching Me lives up to the films to which it pays tribute. If I have to answer honestly, the film obviously isnít on the level of something like Vertigo or Rear Window, but it is an above average thriller, especially when you consider that it was made-for-television. Furthermore, the film was shot in only ten days, but the final product seems very tightly constructed and well polished. One can easily see this as a proto-Carpenter film despite the fact that itís not shot in scope, nor does it feature a Carpenter-composed score. Still, the film is often moody and suspenseful like many of his later films. The film also features Charles Cyphers and Adrienne Barbeau, two Carpenter regulars who give solid performances.
Lauren Huttonís performance as Leigh must also be commended, as she is truly the glue that holds the film together. Given the fact that the entire film revolves around her being stalked, a strong performance is required so that we actually care about whatís happening to her, and Hutton delivers. Leigh is a quirky, assertive young lady who comes across as a very believable character. Think of her as a cross between Laurie Strode and Stevie Wayne (from The Fog), and you get sort of an idea of how Hutton plays the role. All told, itís a job well done, and the film would have suffered greatly from a flat performance in this respect.
As far as the filmís villain goes, he remains largely unseen until the very last couple of minutes in the film. Heís not the most memorable character in horror history, but heís creepy enough. The film instead relies more on letting the viewer know that he can see and hear everything that Leigh is doing while sheís at home, which is an absolutely frightening notion at its core, and it still resonates with modern audiences today. Keeping in mind that the film was made-for-television, one shouldnít be surprised that there is absolutely no gore in the film, but it still remains effective despite this, as there are some memorably suspenseful sequences in the film. Also, one can see Carpenter utilizing the POV stalker shots that he made famous in Halloween; there are also a few fleeting shots of the stalker that are reminiscent of that film as well (it should come as no surprise, seeing as how Carpenter began directing Halloween a week after this film wrapped).
All told, Someoneís Watching Me is an interesting piece of horror history, as itís one of three films (along with Dark Star and Assault on Precinct 13) that allow viewers to see John Carpenter before he became John Carpenter. Obviously, itís not a masterwork like his later films due to its budget and time limitations, and Carpenter freely admits this. Still, itís a curious film that all Carpenter fans need to see, especially considering he no longer puts out a film every year anymore. Out of all of Carpenterís film, it sticks out as the most unique because of the aforementioned restraints. Generally an independent director, Carpenter was forced into a box with this production, but his genius still shows, as he elevates a made-for-television film to something that's technically well done.
As I mentioned before, Someoneís Watching Me had never been released on home video until Warner Brothers released it last September, both as a stand-alone release and as part of the Twisted Terror Collection. Considering the film's age, the DVD is very well doneóthe print is generally clean, and the colors are reproduced well. The soundtrack is also clear, which is good since the film is dialogue-intensive. The lone special feature is a feature with Carpenter discussing some of the filmís background. Itís not very long, but itís a pretty informative piece that Carpenter fans will eat up. If youíre a fan of his, youíre obviously going to buy this. Everyone else, however, will probably be satisfied with one viewing, as the film doesnít lend itself to multiple viewings. Rent it!
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