Saturday, March 19, 2011

Someone’s Watching Me! (1978)

Even though the made-for-TV thriller Someone’s Watching Me! debuted in November 1978, director John Carpenter actually filmed the picture prior to making his breakthrough hit Halloween, which debuted in theaters a month before Someone’s Watching Me! reached the airwaves. In nearly every possible way, the telefilm is, at best, a footnote to Carpenter’s storied career. A forgettable suspense flick in the Hitchcock Lite mode, Someone’s Watching Me! bears relatively few of Carpenter’s stylistic and thematic signatures, even though he wrote the script in addition to directing. That said, the project hews to Carpenter’s early-career trope of strong heroines: Model-turned-actress Lauren Hutton plays a woman who realizes she’s being ogled from afar by a dangerous admirer, then fights back. As for the plot, the premise tells the whole predictable story. Stalker notices girl, girl begins to suspect something is amiss, close encounters hint at looming danger, and finally a confrontation happens. Along the way, there’s a whole lot of voyeurism, but because the project was made for television, none of the Brian De Palma-esque kinkiness teased by the setup materializes. Its all quite bland, as is Hutton’s star turn. Occasionally, Carpenter eschews flat camera coverage for imagery that’s outside the TV-movie norm—tracking shots down corridors, vignettes in cramped spaces, and so forth. Better still, Carpenter’s dialogue has flashes of sardonic bite. Yet the realities of the project dim any hopes for bravura storytelling. Adhering to the boxy visual style of ’70s TV prohibits Carpenter from creating his usual widescreen artistry, and its a drag he didn’t score the piece himself, since the minimalistic synthesizer music he composed for his early pictures was a major part of his fearmaking toolbox. As a cinematic experience, Someone’s Watching Me! is thoroughly underwhelming. Yet for the perspective it offers on a filmmaker’s development, the picture is mildly interesting. It was also the first collaboration between Carpenter and actress Adrienne Barbeau, who plays a supporting role. She later appeared in Carpenter’s The Fog (1980) and Escape from New York (1981), in addition to becoming Mrs. Carpenter from 1979 to 1984.

Someone’s Watching Me!: FUNKY


Peter Bracke said...

Just a quick note, John Carpenter actually shot Someone's Watching Me! (originally titled Highrise) before Halloween, though they debuted in reverse order. The two were made, in fact, almost on top of one another, with Halloween beginning production a mere three weeks after Someone's Watching Me!. In interviews over the years, Carpenter has said that he tested first in Someone many of the techniques he would go on to employ to better effect in Halloween.

By Peter Hanson said...

Thanks for the reminder to revisit this piece, which I'd been meaning to do. I became aware of the history behind the project well after penning my original remarks, which of course contained an inaccuracy about the timing of the production. As a longtime Carpenter fan, I'm embarrassed that I let such an obvious mistake live on the web for so long. Thanks again.

Peter Bracke said...

Apologies, I didn't mean my post to come off as a reprimand--I really enjoyed your review. Rather, I mentioned just to point out that knowing Halloween was shot after, it makes Someone's Watching Me! perhaps more interesting in terms of Carpenter's developing technique. It's also notable how both films really make good use of very small, normally innocuous residential spaces.