I’m just a few films shy of having seen every movie directed by John Carpenter (most of them lots and lots of times) and in my efforts to finish out the set, I finally got around to watching the 1978 TV movie Someone’s Watching Me! (That exclamation point is in the title, not to indicate my excitement, though I am pretty excited, and I do love titles with built-in exclamation points.) Also known by the better (though exclamation point-less) title High Rise, Someone’s Watching Me! was regarded for a long time as a “lost” Carpenter film, since it was difficult to track down on home video, though that’s no longer really the case. (However, the DVD isn’t super great, so hey Scream Factory, can we get this thing on Blu-ray sometime soon?)
Honestly, while I’m a big Carpenter fan, I wasn’t expecting a lot out of Someone’s Watching Me! I hadn’t heard a lot about it, and the fairly generic synopsis and the fact that it was made for TV made me sort of discount it. More the fool I.
Made the same year as Halloween, Someone’s Watching Me! deserves to be a lot better known. If nothing else, it’s notable for the fact that it’s Carpenter doing his very best Hitchcock. And Carpenter’s Hitchcock turns out to be more than serviceable. While Someone’s Watching Me! isn’t among the very best films by Carpenter (or Hitch, for that matter), it is a lot better than many of his later films. One of the reasons that it isn’t better known, besides its relative scarcity on home video over the years, is probably that it’s aping Hitchcock so closely that it’s missing a lot of what we consider the usual Carpenter touches. After a really great opening that could fit comfortably in with the best of Carpenter’s oeuvre or Hitchcock’s (the telescope looking like a gun barrel is a particularly nice touch) it settles into a pretty standard but always above-average film. Lauren Hutton is genuinely fun and charming as the lead, who has to carry much of the movie in scenes by herself. Adrienne Barbeau is great as always, as a character who is casually a lesbian, which made me happy. Someone’s Watching Me! is also notable for Carpenter fans because it’s where he and Barbeau met. She’d later work with him memorably in The Fog and in a small part in Escape from New York, and they were married for years.
Someone’s Watching Me! is also the first instance that I know of of Carpenter putting references to Lovecraft into his films. (Lauren Hutton’s character lives in Arkham Towers.) He’d take the same tack of throwaway place names referencing Lovecraft a few years later in The Fog.
I don’t want to oversell it. We’re not talking about a lost Halloween or The Thing or even The Fog here, but there’s a lot of really great stuff in Someone’s Watching Me! It may not be as inventive as some of Carpenter’s best pictures, but it’s always good, and there are some welcome thematic resonances that put it head-and-shoulders above the average stalker pic. Plus, and I can’t say it enough times, there’s few pleasures greater to be had than seeing John Carpenter aping Alfred Hitchcock. (There’s even a sort of reverse of the classic climax of Rear Window that goes on in the third act.)
It may not be a lost classic, but it’s a really enjoyable picture from a great director at the height of his talents. I’m glad I tracked it down, and if anyone else has been giving it a pass, I recommend checking it out if you can scare up a copy. And Scream Factory, I’m not kidding about that Blu-ray!