Stalker Thriller Feels Sadly Current
In one of the most joyous scenarios a home video enthusiast can experience, this past week I watched a “lost” work from my favorite director of all time (a film I was barely even aware existed) in pristine high definition, and found it to be a fantastic piece of work right in line with John Carpenter’s other output in his prime. Someone’s Watching Me! was made for television, which is why it never really made it onto my radar, and was largely considered “lost” for quite some time. Scream Factory is doing the [Dark?] Lord’s work here in bringing this release to home video fans to discover. Truly everything about what I just said is pretty remarkable and brings me joy. That we live in an era where really deep cuts are making their way onto mass market formats is its own pure kind of joy. That there was a great 1978 John Carpenter horror film just out there waiting for me to discover is also an almost indescribable pleasure.
That isn’t to say that Someone’s Watching Me! is necessarily on the level of Halloween or The Thing or In The Mouth Of Madness. It’s not. But it is the work of a true master of horror within the confines of the television medium. And it’s got Carpenter’s visual eye behind it, not to mention some genuine star power in lead Lauren Hutton with support from Adrienne Barbeau. You feel the tv movie aspects of the final product most in the fairly basic sets and lighting, as well as a musical score that isn’t quite on par with Carpenter’s own compositions. But that’s honestly where my criticisms largely cease. Even the scare factor, while not gory or R-rated, is pretty on point and doesn’t necessarily feel constricted by television rating standards of the day. As a matter of fact, I was shocked at how effective the scares were for what most likely considered a “throw away” tv movie of the week. It’s perhaps possible that the scares feel so effective because they’re so painfully and tragically relevant still today.
John Carpenter is a pretty well established progressive artist, with “damn the man” masterworks like They Live under his belt and on the record. But Someone’s Watching Me! feels incredibly progressive in its handling of its two female leads. Hutton plays Leigh Michaels, a single and successful career woman getting a fresh start in L.A. at a local television station. She’s tough, honest, funny, and forthright. Her co-worker and fast friend Sophie (Barbeau) is an out lesbian portrayed as a completely normal friend and similarly driven career woman. Her sexuality is discussed, but not made to be a plot complication or wedge between herself and Leigh. It’s quite remarkable that these two characters drive this 1978 made-for-broadcast production. Perhaps non straight white males would have a different take on this, but I found the female leads to be compelling and complex in their realizations. The horror they undergo upon being stalked by an unknown creep from the high-rise tower across the way is also tragically familiar today.
The central terrifying concept behind Someone’s Watching Me! isn’t exactly that a stalker has fixated on Leigh and seems hell-bent on destroying her (though that is frightening). The real element driving this plot forward is that really, no one on earth is willing to believe Leigh in any meaningful sense. And the stalker not only knows this, but counts on societal norms to empower his deviance. Leigh meets a very sympathetic boyfriend along the way, and Sophie will go to bat for her. But the authorities are absolutely powerless to act against her assailant, and this makes the viewer both infuriated for the plight of victims in our culture and terrified for them. As research today is beginning to make clear, many mass shootings are perpetrated by people with domestic violence records, and many domestic violence-related murders are perpetrated by people who have had records of abuse in their past. It’s obvious that women brave enough to speak out against inappropriate behavior from men need to be listened to, and our system needs reform to stop abusers before they literally murder someone. But stepping down from my soapbox: it’s really compelling stuff watching Leigh, a resourceful and independent woman, go through the full gamut of reactions to the escalating “game” her stalker is playing and ultimately take it upon herself to beat her stalker at his own game when the system utterly fails her.
Someone’s Watching Me! feels like a peek into what it’s like being a woman in a patriarchal world. Sure, it’s written and directed by a straight white male, and it’s intended to be a titillating thriller. As a thriller it’s a clever slow build filled with scares and nail-biting moments. As an exploration of late 1970s femininity, it’s both compelling and exposes how tragically little has apparently changed in 40 years.
Pulling out all the stops, Scream Factory really knows how to please a fella. I mentioned that the film looks great. I chose to watch it in widescreen, but you also get the option to watch it in “full screen” aspect ratio, which I presume is how it was originally broadcast. You also get some new featurettes that feature Barbeau, Carpenter company actor Charles Cyphers, and even one featuring the man himself. There’s a charming commentary track from Amanda Reyes, an expert in tv movies. This is a true must-own for any Carpenter fans and an undiscovered gem for cinephiles.
And I’m Out.
Someone’s Watching Me! is now available on Blu-ray from Scream! Factory