John Carpenter’s Someone’s Watching Me! 1978 Review
JOHN CARPENTER’S SOMEONE’S WATCHING ME1978
aka High Rise
Directed by: John Carpenter
Starring: Lauren Hutton, David Birney,Adrienne Barbeau
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Just as Dino Everett, an archivist at the University of Southern California, has discovered John Carpenter’s first student flick, which beyond doubt adds clarity to the fact that the director is an originator behind the slasher genre, I decided to post another early Carpenter prototype slasher. The recently uncovered Captain Voyeur was filmed in 1969 and the black and white short sees a masked menace stalk a work colleague in POV shots before being gunned down at the end. This clearly pre-dates Bob Clark’s Black Christmas and shows that Carpenter was already using killer-cam shots way before the aforementioned classic.
Someone’s Watching Me was also filmed a few months prior to the pre-production of Halloween and despite the fact that it may be considered more of a thriller than an out and out slasher; it’s a fine example of the helmer at his imaginative peak.
Leigh Michael’s moves in to a stylish high rise apartment with all modern conveniences and immediately finds a great local job. All is going well until she begins receiving prank phone calls and gifts from an unidentified menace. She informs the Police, but because nothing has been particularly threatening, there’s nothing they can do. Frustrated and scared, Leigh decides to get to the bottom of the mystery without the support of the law.
This is a non-stop nail-biting ride of suspense with a great mystery and standout performances from the cast. Leigh Michaels is a great example of what would become a typical Carpenter Heroine. She’s brave, independent and strong and not easily bullied by her assailant. Hutton handles the role well and is bubbly and personable whilst showing an impressive range of emotions. She is supported by a very good ensemble, including Carpenter’s soon-to-be wife Adrienne Barbeau. The performances are so natural that they add a necessary sense of realism and there are no weak-links in the dramatics.
Perhaps it wasn’t as easy to notice in Halloween, but this offers a lot more insight in to Carpenter’s real inspirations. The plot and style is pure Hitchcock, but the cinematography and framing is pure Carpenter. What a combination! Here he uses wide scale shots of claustrophobic locations to compound the tension and his love of character-perspective photography is used to immense effect. He also keeps his bogeyman off screen right up to the conclusion and the flick manages to be really creepy, without ever really treading too deep in horror stereotypes.
As I have said this is not much of a slasher flick, because there’s only one on-screen killing, but the stalking and final chase are fine examples of a pre-cursor to the genre’s template-setter. There’s even a scene where the killer moves a branch out of his POV shot, which was lifted by Friday the 13th two-years later. Threatening phone calls were a trademark of the category during the seventies and early eighties, but disappeared midway through the decade, only to be revived for Wes Craven’s Scream generation. They were used to good effect in Halloween, Black Christmas and When a Stranger Calls. Here, they are menacing instead of eerie, but well utilised as a method for sustaining tension and keeping the maniac’s presence never outside of the running plot.
It is easy to compare this to Rear Window, Deep Red and even Shaun O’ Riordan’s If It’s a Man, HANG UP from the TV series ‘Thriller’, – but it cannot be accused at all of being a complete imitation. I guess it’s like saying that Goodfellas was inspired by The Godfather, which is about as close as the similarities get. I believe that Carpenter was too good at his trade to ever be considered a copycat and everyone has an inspiration, even Sir Alfred Hitchcock. I think that if Sir Alfred had watched some of Carpenter’s work, he would have taken his hat off to him. It’s true that he does recycle some of the master’s inventions, but most importantly, he makes superb use of them and adds his own flair for tone and visuals to make for a classy cinematic delivery.
I can only thoroughly recommend this great thriller, even more so when you consider that it was a TV Movie and not given a cinema release. It was the first time in years that my partner and I checked if the door was locked, because it had that much of an effect on us. The use of location and some of the scaling photography was great and the car-park and final revelation sequences were unbelievably taut. Sharp, tense and full of great performances, it puts many modern day thrillers to shame.
Final Girl √√√√√