SOMEONE’S WATCHING ME! (1978)
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As John Carpenter is one of my all-time favorite filmmakers, I am almost embarrassed to admit that it is only recently that I finally caught up with the one film of his I haven’t seen, the 1978 TV movie Someone’s Watching Me! The film tells the story of pretty Leigh Michaels (Lauren Hutton), who has moved to the West Coast from NYC for a new job, new apartment and new life. Soon after moving into her luxury high rise digs, Leigh starts receiving strange phone calls and gifts from someone disguising themselves as a travel company. As she resists the increasingly odd advances, the tone of the calls and letters become’s increasingly hostile. Soon, Leigh realizes she is being stalked by a highly deranged individual and the police can do little until the creep acts…but Leigh isn’t going to wait to become a victim and the hunter becomes the hunted!
TV movie was written and directed by Carpenter just before he became a horror household name with Halloween. It is a very slow burn, but an effective one and really takes us through the process where odd calls and letters evolve into threats and mild concern turns to panic, fear and finally fighting back. We see some of the same qualities Carpenter wrote into Laurie Strode here, as Leigh, at first, is terrified, but then decides to do some detective work and stalking of her own when the police prove ineffective. Obviously, this is 1978 and in today’s world these type of situations are acted on far quicker, but it is entertaining to watch our heroine and her new boyfriend (David Birney) do the investigating that the investigators won’t do. Carpenter also turns up the tension a bit by letting the audience know that this individual’s admiration will turn fatal attraction at some point, so we know what might await Leigh. Drawbacks are that it is slow moving, but it is intended to be a slow boil and being filmed in a TV format and mostly on sets, it doesn’t quite have the look or feel of a Carpenter film. As it is scored by prolific 60s-70s TV composer Harry Sukman, we also miss Carpenter’s trademark electronic beats. Still, the final confrontation between Leigh and her stalker is intense and again shows that Carpenter was writing strong female characters long before it became commonplace in the 80s with the classic final girl types. It’s not his best work, but shows indications of things soon to come from the master director.
As for the cast, it is definitely Hutton’s show though she gets good support from Carpenter regulars Charles Cyphers and Adrienne Barbeau…the film where he and first wife Barbeau met…and familiar TV face, David Birney. Hutton is strong in a refreshingly eccentric part. Leigh is not your average girl. She has a bit of a mischievous sense of humor and prone to amusing conversations with herself that make her very real and very likable. When she is first seeing signs of a problem, she stands her ground and it’s only till the problem escalates that she starts to panic. Hutton takes us through a variety of emotions and we root for her when she is pushed too far and takes the fight to her mysterious admirer, forcing the final confrontation. She outwits a man who has been very good at not only hiding his steps and crimes, but even setting up a patsy as well. It is an example of Carpenter’s strong skill at creating memorable characters and Hutton being a bit underrated as an actress.
An interesting part of Carpenter’s filmography, the movie was filmed in just ten days, according to Carpenter in the DVD extras. While it is a very slow burn and more of a character study of a woman being preyed upon by an unknown individual than a slasher, it shows hints of what we first saw in Assault On Precinct 13 and then in Halloween, with Carpenter’s penchant for strong and memorable female characters. His Leigh is a bit of an oddball, but she is smart, strong and can only be pushed so far. The TV format does restrain some of Carpenter’s cinematic signatures, but his craft for suspense and intensity is apparent. Not his best work, but interesting as it shows the elements that he would use masterfully in Halloween and future projects, coming to bare.
3 (out of 4) old-style touchtone phones.