SOMEONE’S WATCHING ME! **** USA 1978 Dir: John Carpenter. 97 mins
Shot in under ten days – and two weeks before Carpenter began filming HALLOWEEN – this exceptional TV movie provided the filmmaker with an early showcase for the kind of framing, Panaglide camerawork and suspense / scare tactics he would perfect with the slasher milestone. From the very beginning, he toys with point of view, cannily hiding the antagonist until the finale while implicating almost every other male character by using them for fake scares or narrative red herrings.
This also has Carpenter’s first great heroine: Lauren Hutton is terrific as a live TV director battling against male scepticism and lechery in the workplace – the first guy she meets in her new L.A. job relentlessly hits on her. She is resilient, tough, sarcastic yet credibly terrified when victimised by a persistent stalker after moving into a pricey, hi-tech apartment building she refers to as “the top drawer of a glass box”. Like other Carpenter heroines, she talks to herself and is smart and funny about relationships, initiating a romance with the one non-sleaze she meets (David Birney) and befriending lesbian co-worker Adrienne Barbeau in a positive portrayal of a gay character for 70’s U.S. TV. The camera glides around Hutton’s apartment, capturing hidden microphones and background threats and using the surveillance equipment of the time to update the core set-up of earlier thrillers like REAR WINDOW. The emergent slasher sub-genre’s use of the telephone as an instrument of terror is prominent throughout, and it captures the alienating nature of modern city life via imposing multi-storey car parks, unhelpful cops and oppressive views of nothing but yet more tower blocks. The intense final battle feels like a dry run for HALLOWEEN’s climax, as the seemingly omnipotent, almost supernaturally efficient stalker is revealed as a nondescript balding maintenance man who, like Michael Myers, plummets to his death. Only this time, the heroine doesn’t need male help (Birney is never around when she needs him) and the killer doesn’t get up. This first-class thriller predated an endless series of voyeuristic 21st century found footage stalker movies, and also features a law enforcement role for Carpenter regular Charles Cyphers, upgraded to Sheriff in HALLOWEEN.
Review by Steven West