‘Someone’s Watching Me!’ – The Lost John Carpenter Movie

 

Someones Watching Me Blu ray cover

Someone’s Watching Me!” is often referred to as the lost John Carpenter movie due to its unavailability on video and DVD for many years. It finally got released on DVD in 2007 (Shout Factory later released it on Blu-ray), but while there are some Carpenter movies I still need to catch up on, this may be the only one I haven’t heard of previously. I ended up buying it from a video store which was closing down as I am a huge fan of the director’s work, and I have no excuse for being this far behind on the films he has made.

The movie stars Lauren Hutton as Leigh Michaels, a television director who has just moved to Los Angeles and has set herself up in a luxurious apartment in a high-rise building. But as soon as she starts unpacking her things, a stranger begins stalking her with his telescope and calls to leave threatening messages with that deep, ominous voice stalkers usually speak in. Things continue to get worse from there until she finally decides to take matters into her hands.

Carpenter wrote “Someone’s Watching Me!” back when he was primarily making a living writing screenplays. At that point he had only directed “Dark Star” and “Assault on Precinct 13,” and this movie was completed a few days before he began work on “Halloween.” You can see a lot of “Halloween” in this one as Carpenter gets some great shots of what’s going on behind a character, and the point of view shots really increase the tension as he puts you into Hutton’s shoes to where you feel as menaced as she is. It also shows how brilliant he was in not only creating suspense and tension, but in maintaining them all the way to the end.

This script also shows one of Carpenter’s strengths as a writer as he creates strong female characters which would inhabit all his movies. Hutton is very good as Michaels and I thought she made the character very believable in a way which wasn’t showy. As her anxiety gets increasingly worse, she stands her ground and refuses to move out of her apartment. Michaels is not about to be intimidated by this peeping tom, and you root for her to turn the tables on this guy at any given opportunity.

“Someone’s Watching Me!” also stars Adrienne Barbeau who would later become Carpenter’s wife for a time (this was the first project they worked on together) and starred in “The Fog.” She plays Michaels’ co-worker, Sophie, who is tough as nails and not easily intimidated by anyone around her. Barbeau gives Hutton great support throughout, and it’s great fun watching her steal one scene after another.

The movie also stars David Birney as Paul Winkless, the man Michaels ends up flirting with and falling for. It’s almost surprising Michaels would fall for anyone as she proudly asserts herself as an independent woman right from the start. Birney matches Hutton’s strength and wit throughout, and Carpenter’s direction successfully casts doubt on him as well as everyone else surrounding Michaels throughout.

Charles Cyphers, a member of Carpenter’s repertory company of actors, appears here as police detective Gary Hunt. It threatens to be a thankless part as the character seems brought in just to express disbelief in the protagonist’s fears, but watching Cyphers here makes you see why Carpenter loves working with him. Cyphers gives us a character who might be a cliché, but he imbues him with a worldliness which makes his actions and beliefs understandable. Some actors would just consider this a paycheck role they could just walk through, but Cyphers proves to be the kind of actor who doesn’t fall into such inexcusable laziness.

Carpenter gets to pull off a lot of shots which have long since cemented him a master of horror and suspense. He utilizes different camera moves like shooting handheld or panning back and forth to reveal something just around the corner. The fact this made for TV movie holds up today says a lot about his talent.

Granted, this movie was made back in 1978 when voyeurism seemed like a rarity at best. These days everyone’s a voyeur as technology allow us to peak into those dark corners which we assumed were inaccessible. To discover someone is watching you from afar and that your privacy is a thing of the past is not a hard scenario to believe in this day and age. This ends up making a movie like “Someone’s Watching Me!” scarier than ever before. Even with the constraints of a made for television movie, Carpenter creates a thrilling tale which holds you in its tense grip and never lets you go.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

‘A Christmas Carol’ with George C. Scott, My Introduction to the Charles Dickens Classic

A Christmas Carol 1984 poster

I’m sure everyone has read or heard the story of “A Christmas Carol” several dozen times by now, be it as a play, a book, or a movie. My introduction to it came back in 1984 with the television movie starring George C. Scott as Ebenezer Scrooge. My parents got my brother and I to this movie back when we lived in Thousand Oaks, California. Back then, I had no idea what I was in store. All that was going through my head at the time as the movie began was, am I staying up later than Santa Claus would like? I sure didn’t want to miss out on any presents, and it was way past my bedtime. Please keep in mind, I was nine years old at the time.

What makes this particular version of “A Christmas Carol” stand out is how down to earth the actors are in their performances. These days when I see this story, it is usually at a play typically acted and directed with incredible theatricality. But with movies, things are done in a far more intimate fashion. Director Clive Donner doesn’t have any of the actors over-emoting anything and, as a result, these characters end up feeling like our next-door neighbors. Forget how this is a period piece; some things about humans never change.

Ebenezer Scrooge reminded me of the meanest bullies from school, especially those determined to make themselves feel stronger by belittling and excluding others from social gatherings. But seeing him go through the heartaches of life made this particular bully all the more sympathetic to me regardless of how cold he was to people around him. I was already feeling bad for Scrooge before the story’s midpoint. Plus, I thought it was inexcusable for the Ghost of Christmas Present to leave Ebenezer in the freezing cold instead of bringing him home to await the next ghost. Some people can be so inconsiderate.

I first came to discover actor George C. Scott in the movie “Taps,” but this is the role I will always remember him for best, and that’s even over his Oscar winning performance in “Patton.” Scott showed how Scrooge can truly be the role of a lifetime as he takes the character from being a hopeless curmudgeon of a human being to the ultimate fun-loving guy by the story’s conclusion. The moment where he realizes that what the Ghost of Christmas Future was not actually real and promises from there on out to always keep Christmas in his heart is an amazing piece of acting, and this moment remains strong in my memory so many years later.

It is Scott’s brilliant performance which made this particular “Christmas Carol” such a memorable experience for me. Now I don’t know about the rest of my family, but I found myself being pulled from one giant emotion to another. There were times where things got a little too dark for me where I almost cried, and I have always been an infinitely sensitive human being, but all those feelings made for one of the most gloriously happy climaxes in any motion picture I have ever seen. Seeing Scrooge meet up with the fully recovered Tiny Tim brought a big smile to my face. It all reminds me of how Robin Williams, in an interview he had with David Frost, talked about a Russian he once met who told him how we have to live with pain in order to feel pleasure.

It has now been over 30 years since we all watched this version of “A Christmas Carol” with George C. Scott, but the experience of watching it remains ever so vivid in my mind as was my fear of Santa not coming down our chimney if I stayed up so late.

For the record, Santa did come by and left me and my brother plenty of presents… or so I was told.