Written by: Matt Molgaard
Directed by: John Carpenter
Cast: Lauren Hutton, David Birney, Adrienne Barbeau
One of John Carpenter’s rarities, Someone’s Watching Me! was shot shortly before Carpenter tackled what would eventually become recognized as his magnum opus, Halloween (plenty would argue that The Thing is deserving of that title, though critically and financially, Halloween handily outperformed The Thing). And the beautiful thing about this made-for-television flick is the fact that we see a number of tactics utilized here that Carpenter would quickly master, as seen in Halloween.
The story feels a bit like a cross between When a Stranger Calls and Black Christmas. Carpenter’s centerpiece for the film is Leigh Michaels (Lauren Hutton), an attractive and ambitious woman looking to make her mark in the entertainment field. Things seem to be running smoothly for Michaels, but that all changes with a single phone call. That phone call, which indicates that Michaels has won a free trip, isn’t exactly legit. It is however, a launch point for some extreme stalking and harassment.
The phone calls persist. The façade of her winnings fading from focus quickly as each call grows more menacing. There’s someone watching her, on a regular basis. And there’s someone lurking in shadows in which he does not belong. Police have very little to work with, and that leaves this poor woman damn near alone to engage in battle with a psychopath whose obsessive and aggressive tendencies are only escalating.
I’d imagine the film could easily be categorized as thriller as opposed to horror, given the lack of gore or intense violence. But make no mistake, it’s definitely a horror film. It’s frightening, it’s creepy. In fact, it’s not just a horror film, it’s a clear love letter to Bob Clark and his masterful Black Christmas. From the telephone calls to the seeming incompetence of law enforcement, Carpenter’s film doesn’t hide its obvious respect for Clark’s work, which also happened to inspire much of Halloween, as you know, also released in 1978.
Lauren Hutton does a fine job as the final girl. She’s got some spunk to her. She isn’t overly confident, but you can see her character adopt different strengths as the flick dives deeper into obsession. She’s not pitch-perfect but she’s effectively believable, her character carrying a resilience in her personality that endears her to the audience. And Hutton gets some good support, from David Birney to the gorgeous Adrienne Barbeau, Hutton isn’t alone in the horrific experience.
I can’t lie, I’d have liked to have seen a slightly edgier rendition of this flick, as I think it could have genuinely been a scared the urine from viewers! kind of film. It’s got early Carpenter traits all over it, and in the right setting it’s a disconcerting film. Had this one gotten a slight push in the graphic direction – planned as a feature length release as opposed to a made-for-television effort – it could be downright spine tingling. As it is, there are some censorship limitations that prevent Someone’s Watching Me! from reaching sublime heights, but it’s still a truly underrated and engaging film that was tough to track down for a number of years. It’s an easier find today (get it right here, along with Wes Craven’s Deadly Friend, Ken Wiederhorn’s Eyes of a Stranger and Oliver Stone’s The Hand for a true steal of $10), and it’s worth adding to your collection without any hesitation.