John Carpenter has made some of the greatest genre films in cinema’s history but it took decades for the master of horror to be recognized as a master. The good people at Shout! Factory and their horror imprint Scream Factory have known that John Carpenter is a great, and they’ve dedicated themselves to reissuing most of Carpenter’s filmography. They’ve released the big titles, like Escape from New York and The Thing, and they’ve released some of the smaller titles, like Village of the Damned and Body Bags. They’ve even released Carpenter’s made-for-TV movie on Elvis Presley starring Kurt Russell as the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Now in their latest slate of John Carpenter releases, which includes In the Mouth of Madness and Memoirs of an Invisible Man, Scream Factory has brought one of Carpenter’s most unseen films to Blu-ray in a new special edition of Someone’s Watching Me!, a made-for-TV thriller from 1978.
As someone who has been watching John Carpenter film for as long as I can remember, it’s thrilling to learn that there’s a film of his out there I just had no idea existed. To be frank, I was thinking that there wouldn’t be much in a 1978 made-for-TV movie no matter how much I love the work of Carpenter. To be so dismissive was a mistake as Someone’s Watching Me! is well-crafted thriller and a fascinating slice of Carpenter’s filmography. Over the course of his career, Carpenter’s films have been heavily influenced by the great director Howard Hawks – The Thing is even a remake of a film that Hawks produced and directed un-credited. Someone’s Watching Me! is a noticeable diversion from his Hawksian tendencies and sees Carpenter utilizing a heavy influence from the great Alfred Hitchcock. With its use of voyeurism and escalating suspense, Someone’s Watching Me! is very much John Carpenter’s take on Rear Window and a film that wouldn’t seem out of place in the filmography of Hitchcock disciple Brian De Palma.
Leigh Michaels (Lauren Hutton) has just moved to Los Angeles and rented an apartment in luxury high-rise. When she takes the apartment she says, “It’ll be like living in the top drawer of a glass box.” If she only knew. It takes Leigh hardly anytime to find a job as a TV director for live broadcasts at a small local station. It’s at her new job that Leigh befriends Sophie (Adrienne Barbeau). Eventually, Leigh finds a romantic suitor in Paul (David Birney). Getting acclimated to life in Southern California becomes complicated when Leigh starts getting mysterious phone calls. The anonymous caller breaks into her apartment when she’s not in and leaves unexpected packages from a fictitious company “Excursions Unlimited,” including a telescope. When Leigh realizes that she’s being watched, she alerts the police who led by Officer Gary Hunt (Charles Cyphers) are of little help. Leigh, Sophie, and Paul must turn the tables on the distant stalker if Leigh is to ever live in peace again.
Since Someone’s Watching Me! is only Carpenter’s third feature after Dark Star and Assault on Precinct 13, it’s interesting to watch the director play with form as he’s still figuring out what works. The film is also fascinating for Carpenter fans as it was filmed before Halloween, meaning that this was really a trial run for Carpenter in crafting escalating tension and horror for what would become his first masterpiece. Even with the limitations created by a made-for-TV movie, Carpenter crafts a film that has very little filler, precise camera work, and a sense of helpless dread that builds and builds with help from the score by Harry Sukman, which is also the first time Carpenter worked with a composer who wasn’t himself.
The Scream Factory Blu-ray of Someone’s Watching Me! has plenty of special features to accompany the high-rise horror. There are two brand new interviews with cast members Adrienne Barbeau and Charles Cyphers, both frequent collaborators with Carpenter with the former being the filmmaker’s ex-wife. One of the fun bonus features on the disc are vintage television promos for the film – “right after Dick Clark Wednesday!” A short video on “Horror’s Hallowed Grounds” looks at the film’s Los Angeles locations today. Finally, there’s a 2007 interview with John Carpenter where he talks about the making of the film and how it represented a new chapter in his burgeoning career.
Long considered the lost John Carpenter film, Someone’s Watching Me! was hidden for years without a VHS release, though it eventually did land on DVD in 2007. Now Someone’s Watching Me! is no longer lost. Restored and reissued with an array of special features, John Carpenter’s early overlooked television movie is easily available for a new generation of fans as well some of us older fans who never had a chance to see Carpenter traverse in the same arena as Alfred Hitchcock. This movie is a treat for admirers of John Carpenter’s films and just another example of Scream Factory’s unparalleled dedication to honoring the robust filmography of a genre legend.