TSJ Reviews John Carpenter’s “Lost” Film SOMEONE’S WATCHING ME!
Shout! Factory has been releasing John Carpenter films on Blu for a few years now. Each features additional special features that previous discs did not, many including interviews and brand new commentaries not on previous iterations. Their releases of THE THING and ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK are real standouts in their Carpenter library.
Carpenter wrote and filmed SOMEONE’S WATCHING ME! for television broadcast in 1978. Two weeks after the ten-day filming concluded, he was off doing HALLOWEEN, a movie that blasted his career into the stratosphere. (See my articles on it here and here, and I spoke about it on a radio show here.) SOMEONE’S WATCHING ME! involves a stalker tormenting a woman (Lauren Hutton, playing Leigh Michaels) who has just moved into a new Los Angeles high rise apartment. Little does she know, the stalker lives in a facing building and is spying on her through a telescope. Sound familiar? Yep, it’s SLIVER fifteen years earlier. The original title was HIGH RISE, and John Carpenter wrote it hoping for a theatrical release. (It was based on a real incident that occurred in Chicago.) Warners, however, felt it was a little light on horror, so they relegated it to their TV department. Carpenter was game for the change, arranging through his agent to have himself hired as director.
The movie begins with the stalker tormenting another woman (“Elizabeth”) in the same high rise building. It’s a brilliant way to start a thriller, just as with a novel — a short prelude that showcases exactly what kind of sicko we’re dealing with here. It’s a well-written beginning and we find out what happened to the woman in a subtle scene later in the film. Blink and you’ll miss it. It also foreshadows what the end result of this is going to be: either Hutton’s death, or the stalker’s.
The Carpenter style is on full display in this film. He actually experimented with the first person POV tracking shots that he innovated on HALLOWEEN (using a steadicam) only weeks later. Hitchcockian influence is also present, including a “Dolly Zoom” shifting-background-perspective “VERTIGO” shot. It’s achieved by dollying the camera backward (or forward) and zooming in (or out) on the subject at the same time. The point of the effect is to showcase an emotional breakdown, a revelation of some sort, or to highlight a moment of terror. Here are some examples from other films, the most prominent being JAWS, from the YouTube channel “Now You See it:”
As Leigh Michaels experiences a series of disturbing phone calls and letters, her early rational and logical self unravels, and Carpenter’s directing mirrors the emotional avalanche. In the third act the camera grows more unstable. The shots quicker. No one believes Leigh during her downward spiral, except for her new friend Paul (David Birney). But is he really her friend? Or is he actually the stalker?
It’s an early film by Carpenter that doesn’t say quite as much as a film like THEY LIVE or ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, but it’s a tense thriller that terrified audiences in 1978. The Shout! Factory BluRay special features include:
— “Director Rising,” An interview with John Carpenter
— Commentary by TV pop culture writer/historian Amanda Reyes
— Television spots
— Interview with frequent Carpenter-collaborator Charles Cyphers (ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13, SOMEONE’S WATCHING ME, HALLOWEEN, THE FOG, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK)
— Interview with Adrienne Barbeau (SOMEONE’S WATCHING ME, THE FOG, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK)
— “Horror’s Hallowed Grounds — SOMEONE’S WATCHING ME!”
— Two aspect ratios: 1.85:1 or 1.33:1 Side Matted
This film has many fans. Check out the user reviews on IMDB. Many of them write about how the film terrified them during the original release back in 1978. Carpenter is a trailblazer in the horror genre. Many credit him with innovating the “slasher” movie, and SOMEONE’S WATCHING ME! has his fingerprints all over it. It’s a true gem, quite compelling, with a standout performance by Lauren Hutton. The story is captivating with a prelude that will draw you in, and a cast of suspects that’ll keep you guessing until the end.
TSJ’s rating: 8.5/10
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