J. Jay Saunders
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Someone's Watching Me! (1978)
11th Oct 04
Killer stalks single woman in high-rise apartment block.
Carpenter wrote this TV-film, originally entitling it High Rise. Apparently it was based on a true story which happened in Chicago. The TV movie was shot before Halloween, but premiered on network TV about a month after Halloween opened.
For a TV-film this is top-drawer stuff. It's a highly effective little thriller about our heroine called Leigh Michaels (Lauren Hutton) who moves into a high rise apartment in LA. But she's got a problem - the snooper / stalker / Peeping Tom / obscene phone-caller (and generally all-round Nice Guy) who lives somewhere in the building opposite. His identity and location are hidden to Leigh, as well as to us. Soon Leigh realises his location halfway through the picture but his identity remains hidden to characters and viewers alike.
Leigh is a strong, independent woman. She's a Carpenter woman, but not like Laurie Strode from Halloween. There are character parallels between them, in that they are both fighting for their lives but you'll find that most characters in Carpenter's films are doing that at some point.
More than any other JC film, he is clearly showing his influences here. People called him the ‘new Hitchcock’ after Halloween but Someone’s Watching Me! is more Hitchcock than anything else he has ever done, and holds a particularly strong likeness to Rear Window. It’s got that ‘glued to the screen in suspense’ quality about it that will probably make it stay in your head forever.
Someone’s Watching Me! is genuinely creepy and tense. It's also effectively claustrophobic. Who is the creep making the phone calls? Will he continue stalking Leigh or will he attack? Is Leigh going to fight? Are the police going to take her seriously? This guy makes no threats – he just freaks her out. And he freaks me out too.
If ever there was a movie genre called ‘Phone’, this would be in there for sure. The ring of a telephone has been extensively used as an effective device for scene punctuation since sound films began. A phone ring is often used to make us jump out of the seat in fright, just as we are expecting something altogether more sinister to happen. In Someone’s Watching Me! the phone rings more often than any other film i've ever seen. It’s one of those films where you may shout “Just leave it off the hook you stupid woman!” more than once, and that’s fair enough but it would make for a very boring film if she did.
The film also features the great Adrienne Barbeau in an early performance as Leigh’s work colleague. Barbeau plays a gay character who befriends Leigh and totally believes Leigh’s story. She tries to help Leigh but unfortunately for her she gets a little too involved and at a moment when the story is gaining incredible momentum, dies at the hands of the killer. This is a turning point in the film and the way in which Carpenter depicts the murder will send a chill up your spine. That’s what this film does best – good old-fashioned spine-tingling moments and absolutely no blood or gore.
Someone’s Watching Me! is a very taut little thriller; inoffensive, well-directed, well-acted, engaging, creepy and, most of all, it looks great. You can tell Carpenter is having so much fun with the camera because it hardly stops moving! Carpenter was obviously taking full advantage of the visual scope that the Panaglide could offer him - he glides through Leigh's glass-box apartment with graceful ease, not forgetting to calm down and stay stationary once in a while, so we can get our heads together. If you've seen this film, you may think, 'I don't remember all that camera movement’. The reason for that is that its very subtle and you almost don't notice it happening unless you look for it. These were the days when Carpenter still had subtlety in his pictures...ouch! Sorry John...
Sadly, Someone’s Watching Me! Is not available on video or DVD, unless you’re lucky enough to know someone who recorded it off television like I did. There is something you can do to help. Click here to sign a petition to support a DVD release for this lost classic.
No doubt, if you really look hard in the TV listings for the coming years, you MIGHT be lucky enough to catch this film (I’m pretty sure it was on BBC1 when I recorded it back in 1990). I think it's high time for another re-run. TV movie magic.
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