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TV Terror Guide: Someone's Watching Me! (1978)

In 1976, Warner Bros. hired a mostly unknown director named John Carpenter to write a screenplay for a feature film based on the terrifying true-life experience of a woman in Chicago. During the eight months following completion, Warner Bros. decided they wanted it to be a TV movie and asked Carpenter to direct it. It ultimately aired about a month after the release of Halloween; however, Carpenter claims he devised many of its techniques while making Someone’s Watching Me!


It shows. Someone’s Watching Me! contains signature visual flourishes that most TV movies don’t. From the way the camera slides along the length of a high-powered telescope to the way a message written on a fogged mirror evaporates, it’s evident there’s something more than a hired hand calling the shots. Since the bulk of the action takes place in one setting, the high rise apartment of Leigh Michaels (Lauren Hutton), these flourishes heighten the suspense and speed the film along.


As I pasted the title card into this review, it evoked for me the credits of Psycho and made me realize it’s not the only homage to Hitchcock. I now think of Vertigo (indirectly, fear of heights) and Rear Window (directly, watching what’s happening in an apartment across the way.) Of course, no one believes that a mystery man is stalking her, but it’s mostly due to the fact that he’s put in a lot of planning to remain undiscovered. While we don’t get a motive (just like the first version of Michael Myers), we don’t need one. We just know he’s evil.


Yes, I’d say Carpenter also found some themes in Someone’s Watching Me that he brought into Halloween. The violence is more psychological than physical, but the basic concept is the same. Likewise, Leigh is a strong woman, vowing that she won’t let this creep destroy her life. (Previously, he’s driven women to suicide.) Laurie Strode is strong in a different way, but they’re both survivors, not surrendering to their tormentors. Leigh’s experiences an arc, though. that puts her there…


At first, she relies on a man, Paul Winkless (David Birney) for support, but learns that sometimes a woman can do what a man can’t. She also gets support from co-worker, Sophie (Adrienne Barbeau), who’s a lesbian! In 1978! Interestingly, it’s what happens to Sophie that kicks Leigh into high gear. Hmmm… We can assume Barbeau is at least partially hetero because this is the movie on which she met Carpenter and soon married him. She later appeared in The Fog (1980) and Escape from New York (1981.)


Sometimes early television work from a famous director is nondescript. (I’m thinking of you, Wes Craven.) This is a case, though, where the work hints at what’s to come while letting the director’s style form. (I’m thinking of you, Steven Spielberg.) With Assault on Precinct 13 two years prior, it was evident that John Carpenter was going places. Instead of sweeping it under the rug, Someone’s Watching Me! should be embraced and enjoyed. It really is in a league all its own, a standout among its peers.

Someone's Watching Me! is available on Blu-ray from Shout! Factory. Visit the TV Terror Guide: 70's TV Movies playlist at ClassicHorrors.Club TV on YouTube to watch other great movies from this series.

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