The films of John Carpenter are nothing new to lovers of horror, sci-fi and the like. However with Shout! Factory's recent Blu-ray release of one of John Carpenter's earliest films, it's tough not to be impressed by how he handles this very interesting subject matter. On the face of it Someone's Watching Me! might play like your garden variety thriller. The fact that it was a TV movie from 1978 also limits what it is capable of being from a content standpoint. However, don't be fooled by any of this because Someone's Watching Me! is a "lost" film that isn't ever going to go away. And, at its heart really shows why the films of John Carpenter are still with us today. If you doubt this then just ask yourself why the already remade Halloween has been remade yet again and is one of the most highly anticipated films of 2018.
Lauren Hutton stars in this film as Leigh Michaels. A TV director, Michaels has recently uprooted herself from New York to Arkham Tower in Los Angeles. She gets her feet under her at a new job and soon begins a relationship with Paul Winkless (the imminently recognizable David Birney). Michaels also befriends Sophie (Adrienne Barbeau) who works at the television station. Things get odd when Michaels starts receiving gifts, letters and phone calls from a stranger. What starts off as something kind of funny quickly takes on a different tenor as the gifts, phone calls, and letters soon take on the tone of stalking. The tension gets ratcheted up as Leigh starts to investigate who might be after her. She turns her attention to the building across from Arkham Tower. What ensues is a cat and mouse-like game in the vein of Alfred Hitchcock.
For the longest time, Somebody's Watching Me! was considered a "lost" John Carpenter film. Even with the VHS boom that started in the late 1970s and continued until the late 1990s (before DVDs took over), this movie never saw the light of day. In fact, Somebody's Watching Me! even came out in Europe on VHS when it wasn't available here. Warner Bros. Home Video eventually gave this film a DVD release in 2007. While it was pretty clear that this was a made for TV movie (even though Somebody's Watching Me! was written for the big screen), the film really showed that John Carpenter didn't need a lot of money to create something scary and filled with tension.
As I mentioned above, Somebody's Watching Me! recently came to Blu-ray from Scream Factory. This Lamborghini release makes the DVD that was released 11 years look like a Pinto. The Blu-ray features a 2K scan of the "original film elements." It offers this in both 1.85:1 and 1.33:1. However, this Blu-ray is loaded with special features. The DVD only had the featurette "John Carpenter: Director Rising." This showcased him talking bout making this film and how it was the jumping off point for everything that came after. On the Blu-ray we now get an audio commentary track with Author Amanda Reyes who wrote the book, "Are You In The House Alone?: A TV Movie Compendium 1965-1999," featurettes on Adrienne Barbeau and Charles Cyphers, as well as a great edition of Horror's Hallowed Grounds - A Look At The Film's Locations Today. Sean Clark and Co. do not disappoint as they show us what the locations of Somebody's Watching Me! look like 40 years later.
In resurfacing, Somebody's Watching Me! shows that even with films like Halloween and Assault on Precinct 13 under Carpenter's belt, he was able to deliver a taut thriller with very little trickery. He didn't need guns or crazy effects to create the feeling of foreboding that Somebody's Watching Me! oozes. This film was a departure to be sure, but was a Carpenter departure. It was just minimal enough to lull viewers into a sense of complacency. The thrills, chills and scares that we are shown in this movie, are always done in service of the plot. What should be readily apparent even working in a different genre, at a stage in John Carpenter's career that was still fairly early, he shows just as much poise as he would throughout the films later in his career. For that reason alone, Somebody's Watching Me! deserves to be seen and showcased again.
They Just Don't Make TV Movies Like This Anymore
When was the last time we saw a TV movie like this? Sure, we are in an age of smart TV but Somebody's Watching Me! takes place in a little over 90 minutes. Now, as I mentioned earlier, according to some research I've done this movie was originally written for a theatrical release. One can tell by watching it that it was meant for something bigger. Today's smart TV shows are great. However, not every one of them is going to be Breaking Bad. In fact most of them aren't but they're still very good. Having said that, when was the last time we saw a bonafide thriller on TV? Sure, channels like Lifetime do a great job of creating tense films. Sadly, a lot of them follow the same storyline (ie. women in peril). Somebody's Watching Me! features a woman who is in peril but the look of the film, the story, how the character of Leigh Michaels deals with it is what sets it apart.
John Carpenter Can Make Anything Scary
Truthfully, the actual story of Somebody's Watching Me! isn't doing anything to re-invent the wheel. Which is why comparisons (in content) to Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window aren't that unfounded. And Rear Window this isn't. What it is is a film by John Carpenter so automatically that sets it apart from a host of other films that might call themselves thrillers. Ultimately, the mood of this film is what helps it rise above. As I stated, Somebody's Watching Me! was originally conceived as a movie for the big screen. Since it didn't end up becoming that, it's apparent that Carpenter's sense of horror minimalism needed to be employed. And employ it he does as this movie really ratchets up the tension. One of the best scenes in the film is where Leigh Michaels is in her apartment. A figure runs past her. This reveal is extraordinary because she doesn't know the extent of her problem yet. However, as audience members we DO. That raises the stakes to a whole other level because we know that something really bad is in store for her. There are FX in this film but they are of a practical nature and they do nothing but serve the story at hand. To see such poise from a young director is very rare. Also, take one look at the scares in 2008's The Strangers. You don't have to look too far to see what film Director Bryan Bertino most likely studied when it came time to lens that scarefest.
Someone's Watching Me! Might Be Even More Relevant Now
Just turn on the news and you will hear stories of hacking, surveillance, privacy issues and just about every other kind of invasive practice. Somebody's Watching Me! really brings home that idea in a very real way. For this entire movie Leigh Michaels is invaded. Her privacy is compromised. We think of our homes as sacred places. They are our personal lairs. We use locks (and now smarthome security and tiny cameras) to keep evil people out. Somebody's Watching Me! predates all of this by decades yet it is still just as jarring. Is there anything worse than having your privacy compromised? Then having your identity stolen? In Somebody's Watching Me! we, in a very real way, see what happens when somebody foolishly thinks they're safe inside a steel fortress. It is this illusion that John Carpenter shatters so deftly in Somebody's Watching Me!. All throughout the movie he peels back each and every layer. Little by little the illusion of security gets laid bare in a way that makes the forgotten Somebody's Watching Me of 1978 feel a lot like 2018.