Starring Lauren Hutton, Adrienne Barbeau, David Birney
Directed by John Carpenter
Distributed by Scream Factory
Growing up in the 80’s and 90’s, I suppose I’m one of the last generation of folks who experienced those special attraction made-for-TV movies that would air on the major broadcast networks occasionally, very often during sweeps. Over-hyped and usually featuring lurid or sensationalized subjects, they were almost always exciting to watch, especially since these movies needed a cliffhanger before each commercial break to keep viewers glued to their TVs.
In November 1978, one of many of these TV movies aired. Someone’s Watching Me! (yes, the title rather annoyingly uses punctuation) is an above average thriller mostly notable as one of two TV movies that Carpenter made that year (his far more well-known Elvis biopic being the other). It was also here where Carpenter would experiment with some of the techniques he would use in Halloween, which he filmed immediately after Somebody’s Watching Me!
Lauren Hutton (American Gigolo, Once Bitten) is Leigh Michaels, a director of live television who’s a new arrival to Los Angeles. Her high-rise apartment is directly across from an equally large and imposing apartment complex. As you might have already figured out from the title, Leigh soon finds herself the target of an obsessed stalker who spies on her with a telescope from somewhere in the apartment building across from her. He leaves her dirty messages and enters her apartment when she’s not there. The stalker has definitely picked the wrong woman to mess with, though. Leigh eventually turns the tables on him, and the hunter becomes the hunted.
Along for this tense ride is Leigh’s best friend, Sophie (Adrienne Barbeau), as well as Paul (David Birney), her love interest. Barbeau, who would go on to perform in several other Carpenter movies, is a wonderful actor with so much charisma that she almost outshines Hutton. Almost. Barbeau plays a rare (for broadcast television in the 70’s) out of the closet lesbian with a confident, take-no-shit attitude. She’s the one who convinces Leigh to take matters into her own hands when the cops prove ineffective. Birney is in the film because, I don’t know, I guess you can’t have a film with a female lead without giving her a love interest. His character is basically useless. He mostly does nothing of importance except give Leigh the occasional comforting hug. Birney is a perfectly capable actor, but he has nothing to work with here.
Hutton is absolutely magnetic as Leigh, a strong woman with a playful sense of humor. She’s equally adept at making Leigh seem tough or vulnerable. Sometimes both at the same time. She’s in nearly every frame of the movie, so there was a lot riding on her performance. But she pulled it off, and because of this and Carpenter’s direction, Somebody’s Watching Me! can be quite riveting at times.
The penetrating gaze of a very large telescope and a strange man entering Leigh’s apartment while she’s not there (sometimes even when she is there) are obvious metaphors for rape, but the suspense also works on a more surface, primal level. Even viewers who didn’t see the story as something basically as close to a rape-revenge film that was allowed by the FCC at the time could certainly relate to the home invasion angle. After all, almost everyone would have been watching this film at home in the evening, when it’s dark outside and the imagination goes wild. Is someone looking in the window? Could someone be hiding in the bedroom? Or the walls? It’s hard to go wrong with a story like that.
This is a good film, but not great; and if it wasn’t a John Carpenter movie, it’s likely to have faded into obscurity like so many other TV movies. The special edition Blu-ray released earlier this month by Scream Factory is probably only of interest to Carpenter completists. It’s interesting enough, but generic at times.
The Blu-ray comes with a new 2K scan of the film that looks almost too good on a modern TV. (Though the option to watch the film with a 4:3 aspect ratio helps you somewhat recreate the conditions that the movie was meant to be viewed in.) There’s no commentary track from Carpenter, unfortunately, but we do get a very informative one from Amanda Reyes, the writer behind Are You in the House Alone?: A TV Movie Compendium 1964-1999. She’s a fast talker, and the commentary is packed with information, both about TV movies in general and this production in particular. There are also new interviews with Barbeau and Charles Cyphers (who would go on to play Sheriff Brackett in Halloween). A couple of featurettes round out the collection. Like a lot of Shout!/Scream Factory releases, this is likely going to be the film’s definitive treatment. Anything more would be excessive.
- NEW 2K scan from the original film elements – in both 1.85:1 and 1.33:1 aspect ratios
- NEW Audio commentary with author Amanda Reyes (Are You in the House Alone?: A TV Movie Compendium 1964-1999)
- NEW Adrienne Barbeau: Looking Back at Someone’s Watching Me!
- NEW Carpenter’s Enforcer – an interview with Charles Cyphers on his career in John Carpenter’s films
- NEW Horror’s Hallowed Grounds – a look at the film’s locations today
- John Carpenter: Director Rising
- TV Promo
- Still Gallery