The Film: Someone’s Watching Me! (1978)
The Principles: Directed by John Carpenter, starring Lauren Hutton, Adrienne Barbeau, and David Birney.
The premise: A woman moves into a Los Angeles high rise and is shortly terrorized by an aggressive peeping tom.
Is It Good: Yes. It’s not great, but it is good. 1978 was a prolific year for John Carpenter. He shot three films in a short time: Halloween, the Elvis TV movie, and Someone’s Watching Me! – another TV movie. Shot before the previous two films, SWM! is an interesting work in Carpenter’s canon. It’s certainly not his strongest, but it displays a young master honing his craft, setting the groundwork for what would become his trademark style.
It’s also a pretty damn good little suspense thriller too, with enough nail-biting moments to satisfy the most stubborn genre fans. Part Rear Window, part Sliver, SWM! is definitely worth a look for Carpenter fans.
Lauren Hutton stars as Leigh Michaels, a damaged woman who relocates to Los Angeles and nabs a job directing a live cooking show. The gig allows her to move into a swank apartment in a mammoth high rise. The apartment’s balcony offers an impressive view of the bustling city, especially the high rise directly across the street. Someone in that building begins spying on Michaels, leaving her gifts, and incessantly calling her.
Since no actual threat is made by the peeping tim, the worthless police don’t lift a finger to help. But her co-worker Sophie (Adrienne Barbeau) and boyfriend Paul (David Birney) believe her and help Michaels strike back against the voyeuristic creep. Together the trio play detective to figure out who is messing with Michaels and how the hell can they prove it. When Michaels reaches her breaking part and decides to go over to the other high rise, shit gets hot real fast – culminating in one helluva climax.
The suspense escalates exponentially with each anonymous phone call and cryptic package. All the while, Carpenter plays with POV shots that he would finely tune in Halloween and utilizes ominous panning shots for maximum tension. The film is a bit rough around the edges and a tad clunky in its pacing, but the latter is probably because it’s a television movie. It’s fun to watch Carpenter testing the waters – in a way, he’s the star of the film.
It’s also crazy to think that he shot this and Halloween the same damn year – the seminal film that influenced an entire genre. Halloween is light years better than SWM!, making one wonder how much of a say the peacocks at NBC on the final cut.
Is It Worth a Look: For Carpenter fans and completists, absolutely. For the casual genre fan, it’s totally cool to skip. Personally, I really dig it. It’s the perfect Sunday afternoon flick. BUY IT (FOR WICKED CHEAP) FROM CHUD!
Random Anecdotes: For the finale, Hutton really teetered on the edge of the balcony.
Carpenter met his future wife Adrienne Barbeau on set.
Cinematic Soulmates: Rear Window, When a Stranger Calls, Sliver, Halloween