The October Diaries: Someone’s Watching Me!

Illustration by Max Brown
Blurbs by Sean & Christof

October 21st, 2014:
Someone’s Watching Me!

Year: 1978
Director: John Carpenter
Format: DVD
From Wikipedia: A woman is being watched in her apartment by a stranger, who also calls and torments her. A cat-and-mouse game begins.

Christof’s Take:

This movie has two things you don’t expect to see from John Carpenter – a story based in conventional realism and a strong female lead. Halloween sort of has both of those, but with huge sort-ofs.

Lauren Hutton does a dang good job of portraying confidence and strength in her character in general (requisite attributes of a new television producer in town), but also earned and believably in the face of being harassed by someone who won’t show his face. She is insistent on not getting rattled by some fear-fetishist who is tormenting her from an unknown apartment facing hers. (An alternate title for this film is High Rise.) She is often calling the creep’s bluffs or just looking to get the damn thing over with. At one point, he leaves a note for her that states he’ll be in the parking garage of her building. So she immediately grabs a sharp thing and goes down there. And he chickens out and doesn’t emerge from his hiding place.

Throughout the film, she is consistently active in her own story. I can’t recall a single moment where she is passive. And ultimately, we are more scared of the creep than she is. Her no-nonsense approach to problem-solving is very refreshing for October.

The music by Harry Sukman is a strange, but (I feel a touch shameful saying) welcome addition. I love John Carpenter’s music. I love it a lot. But everything else about this movie is so different from his catalog that it makes sense for the music to have a different sensibility and flavor. The music combined with a premise that is voyeur-centric evokes a Hitchcockian tone, one that’s comparatively thin, but charmingly cheap. The good kind of cheap.

Carpenter Cheap.

Thin, but only because the small budget was spread thin across the production to make the budget seem bigger. Someone’s Watching Me! is like a shorter person standing on their tip-toes around taller people, and the person is trying to keep their balance while playing it off as their natural height.

For horror, it may not meet the qualifications you want and need as it was made for TV. But between this and his 150-minute-long biopic, Elvis, (also made for TV) you can get a more well-rounded picture of what John Carpenter is capable of doing when he’s behind the camera.

Someone's Watching Me! Lauren Hutton 1979 John Carpenter

Sean’s Take:

The good news: we got to watch a John Carpenter movie none of us had seen!

The bad news: it was a John Carpenter television movie none of us had seen.

The good news was exciting enough for us to hit play, even if the bad news meant we’d be getting a slightly de-fanged John Carpenter. He is on the shortlist for my favorite director of all time* so to see a new film of his should be a real event. The hesitation came from the televisual association.

It became evident from early on though, after just a few carefully composed images, that he would still be in his usual full command of the visual frame. This one looks and feels polished enough to be a feature film (albeit one that has been kneecapped to fit the standards and practices of 1970’s television).

It was immediately fascinating, and a little unsettling, to see a Carpenter film with music done by someone other than himself. The sound of this one was more in tune with traditional musical cues and I would have greatly prefered his synthy ambiance thrown on top of this slash-less slasher movie.

There was enough subtle character work that I was engaged for the duration. I especially appreciated the handling of Adrienne Barbeau’s lesbian character. She is never subject to goofy gay jokes or conservative hysteria. This feat must have been particularly difficult to pull off in the tone-deaf era of the seventies — a time where any gay joke was free for the taking.

The real gem of the movie was Lauren Hutton. She was our lead and and I had previously only seen her in an episode of Shelly Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre (The Snow Queen) and the 80’s vampire comedy Once Bitten (starring Jim Carrey). Her character had a strange sense of humor and was boldly independent. She is the sexual aggressor with her men and she doesn’t cower in fear like so many other heroines before her (even if the situation totally called for some bigtime fear-cowering). Hutton brought enough brazen charisma to the role to make what was on the page really sing.

The boldest moment for me was when our creep — the one who has been terrorizing her via phone calls and messages left on her door — lets Hutton know that he’s going to be down in the parking garage waiting for her. This is usually the scene where the protagonist flips-out and heads to the roof instead. Instead, Hutton grabs a nearby letter opener and marches out the door, heading directly for the garage. Hutton plays the scene like even though she is experiencing fear, impatience is the real driving emotion behind her decision. She wants to finish this cat-and-mouse bullshit and is willing to meet a violent creep alone in a garage in order to do so. Badass move for a badass protagonist.

Someone’s Watching Me! is not just for Carpenter completists. It has enough going for it that I can offer a blanket recommendation. You just have to be able to enjoy your horror on the soft side. Every now and then it’s kind of fun to bowl with the bumpers down.

* Say something disparaging about Dark Star, Assault on Precinct 13, The Fog, The Thing, Starman, Big Trouble in Little China, Prince of Darkness, They Live, In the Mouth of Madness or Escape From LA in front of me and I’ll probably have words for you. 



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