Color, 1978, 97 mins. 9 secs.
Directed by John Carpenter
Starring Lauren Hutton, David Birney, Adrienne Barbeau, Charles Cyphers, Grainger Hines
Scream Factory (Blu-ray) (US RA HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9) and 1.33:1, Warner Bros. (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
An entertaining made-for-TV thriller, Someone's Watching Me! is mainly known today as John Carpenter's made-for-TV entry he wrote and directed just before Halloween, and it aired just as that film was beginning to make its way around the United States. In fact, Carpenter's name was all over the place in 1978, also turning up as the writer of the Eyes script that would morph into Eyes of Laura Mars and one of the writers of the Suzanne Somers romp, Zuma Beach. In fact this would turn out to be one of two back-to-back films made for TV by Carpenter, followed by Elvis (shot later in '78 and shown in '79) with both films introducing him to actors he would go on to become signature players in his films. Fortunately this film has held up very well over the years, essentially functioning as Carpenter's clever homage to Rear Window as much as Halloween refers overtly to Psycho.
Following a heartbreaking split from her boyfriend, TV director and habitual monologist Leigh Michaels (Hutton) winds up renting a single-bedroom apartment in downtown L.A. Things seem good at first when she finds a friend in coworker Sophie (Barbeau), who's also a lesbian in what was a very progressive bit of character shading for the time, and strikes up a potential romance with single professor Paul (Birney). Unfortunately she also has a menacing secret admirer who starts prank calling her and sending her fake sweepstakes prizes including a telescope, which becomes instrumental in figuring out that someone is indeed watching her every move. She goes to the cops but finds little support, and it's clear that the stalker is capable of something very deadly if she doesn't unmask him in time.
A prime slice of late '70s Los Angeles culture, Someone's Watching Me! is obviously constrained by its network TV limitations but manages to pack in some admirable suspense sequences and even a couple of really good shocks. Hutton makes for a fine protagonist here, really mining her character's penchant for oddball humor and developing terrific chemistry with Barbeau. In fact, Barbeau is so good here (she and Carpenter ended up dating at the end of the shoot and would go on to marry) that one wishes her part had been even bigger, and it's also fun to see Charles Cyphers (who played Sheriff Brackett in Halloween and Halloween II) turn up as the main cop here with a couple of juicy scenes. In fact, he and Barbeau would go on (ironically enough) to play phone buddies in peril in Carpenter's The Fog two years later, with yet another reunion in 1981 in Escape from New York. Perhaps the only really significant flaw in the film is the score by Harry Sukman, who did fine work just after this for Salem's Lot but really overdoes it here with an attempt to mimic Bernard Herrmann that becomes more obtrusive than terrifying. That's easy to overlook though given the skill at work here in front of and behind the camera, and it's a fine entry in Carpenter's filmography as well as a fascinating dry run for tricks he would go on to use in his most famous horror film right after this.
Despite its pedigree, Someone's Watching Me! didn't get a home video release of any kind in the U.S. until a Warner Bros. DVD release in 2007. That release looked fine, but it's easily obliterated by the 2018 Blu-ray from Scream Factory sporting a new 2K transfer that ranks as one of the most beautiful presentations of a made-for-TV title shot on 35mm to date. It's quite striking with a fine amount of detail visible in the apartment scenes and the dark climax now playing more legibly than before. The disc offers a choice of open matte 1.33:1 framing (how it was originally aired) or matted 1.85:1 (slightly more than the 1.78:1 of the DVD); you can argue the virtues of either one since it was common practice at the time to shoot made-for-TV movies with safe areas so they could be released in theaters later if they were a hit (see also Duel, Battlestar Galactica, Night Drive, The Dark Secret of Harvest Home, etc.). The 1.33:1 looks more comfortable in some shots, especially the POV telescope ones with the circular framing more effective, and the grain seems finer and more natural in that option as well; on the other hand, the 1.85:1 fares better in medium shots with all that extraneous headroom lopped away. Try both and see which one you prefer. The DTS-HD MA English mono audio (with optional English subtitles) sounds fine either way. The film can also be played with a very fast-paced new audio commentary by Made for TV Mayhem's Amanda Reyes, who blasts through the film with a wealth of information about the broadcast stats, the backgrounds of the characters, her appreciation for the underused Grainger Hines, and the role of Laura Mulvey's pioneering male gaze theory in this film. She also gives multiple shout outs to one of this reviewer's favorite made-for-TV titles, the great Lynda Carter chiller Hotline, which is really screaming out for a decent release as well.
A new interview with Barbeau (10m32s) is quite fun to watch as she explains her pride in playing a pioneering gay character on TV, and she's also reveals a key bit of acting advice Carpenter gave her that informed her work here and elsewhere. Next up is a chat with Charles Cyphers (9m43s), who only touches on this film briefly but does go into his numerous collaborations with Carpenter as well as his particular fondness for Sheriff Brackett. A new episode of "Horror's Hallowed Grounds" (7m12s) features Sean Clark taking a quick tour through the downtown L.A. and Santa Monica locations seen in the film, including a fun They Live connection and a little peek inside the main apartment building. In "John Carpenter: Director Rising" (6m14s) from the old Warner Bros. DVD, the beloved filmmaker explains how the film got off the ground and became his first studio experience, with Hutton herself really hanging out of the building at the end. (That's not a matte painting!) Also included are a gallery of stills (1m19s), some bearing the alternate titles High Rise and Someone Is Watching Me, and a slightly truncated TV spot and what appears to be a radio spot with a visualizer, bundled together as one file.
Scream Factory (1.85:1 version)
Reviewed on July 25, 2018.