Someone's Watching Me! (1978)
WRITER: John Carpenter
DIRECTOR: John Carpenter
STARRING: Lauren Hutton as Leigh
David Birney as Paul
Adrienne Barbeau as Sophie
QUICK CUT: Upon moving into a new apartment after leaving NYC, Leigh becomes the latest subject of a stalker. As the threat becomes more and more real, time begins to run out for Leigh. Happy Valentine's Day!
Leigh - An up and coming news director, Leigh left her last job in New York after being the target of a fellow employee's advances leading to a scandal. She doesn't have much luck upon arriving in LA, and almost immediately getting the attention of too many men. She is a very strong, smart woman, driven in her career, and to find out what's going on before it drives her insane.
Paul - The one guy Leigh meets that doesn't immediately want to get in her pants. Also the only guy who believes her when she seems more and more insane when she tells people about her stalker.
Sophie - Leigh's coworker, assistant director, and best friend in LA. She may want something more from Leigh.
It's a two for one movie deal! We have a mini John Carpenter month planned, mostly by accident, and it's Valentine's Day, so in proud slasher movie tradition, I dug out this late 70s little known classic by Carpenter about a man dangerously obsessed with a woman. Celebrate your holidays the Trisk way.
Why John Carpenter? I am still recovering from Silent Month, Deadly Month, and Doctor X. I needed some genuinely well made movies. He may still make some movies that are generally considered good, but he still has his moments of cheese. Not a bad fit for Trisk. And away we go!
Someone's Watching Me! kicks off in a decent enough fashion, with some ominous music as a man fiddles with some equipment and a phone. The phone rings for a long time as he scans a nearby high rise with a high powered telescope, going all Rear Skyscraper on us. Finally, the line is picked up, and we hear the object of his obssesive affections on the other end.
He asks why she wasn't at work today, and you would think a stalker would know these things. She says he's won, she's leaving, but he naturally doesn't want his girl to go. He says wherever she goes, he'll find her, he never gives up. And we have our plot! Or we would, if we ever saw Elizabeth again.
We find his next victim a lot faster than he finds Elizabeth, as Leigh's being let into her new apartment, and we get to hear all about the modern amenities of 1970s high rises. Including high tech computers that will increase AC at certain times and locations to accomodate changes in the sun! If this was a different movie, I'd be waiting for the computers to take over all functions of the building with dolphin brains, but no...
Just as she's getting settled in though, her neighbour across the concrete canyon is back at his telescope, and has found the latest target for his obsessive personality.
Later, Leigh heads to a job interview and she's immediately given a test for station director, and dropped right into the thick of things with only about 15 seconds to prepare. That should be more than enough time! Her trial by fire goes well though, and she gets the job.
And wow, I'm a little surprised. We get some character moments in Leigh's office which she shares with Sophie, and we learn multiple things. First of all, Leigh left her old job over what sounds like sexual harassment, with a hefty settlement. Secondly, we find out that Sophie is a lesbian. That...I would not have seen that coming for a 1970s era made for tv movie. I'm almost pleased at the progressiveness of it.
Oh, and the complex Leigh is living in? Named Arkham Tower. Insert your Batman and Gotham jokes here, people.
Sophie picks up the phone when it rings, but it's for Leigh, and transfers it over. Once she picks up, the kindly, womanly voice changes to the slightly treated male voice we heard earlier. This stalker works fast. He almost immediately hangs up once he knows its her, and the terrorising has begun.
That's when her other coworker Steve comes in and repeatedly tries to ask Leigh out, and repeatedly gets shot down. As he leaves, he just smiles and says he won't give up. Just a few days in LA, and already she has two stalkers all her own! Way to go, Leigh!
Leigh heads home to find her apartment door open, breaking the good mood of a new job well done. She calls out, but no one answers, which is becoming an increasing problem in this movie. She spends way too much time talking out loud to nobody.
She finds her new phone installed, and assumes the men who did the job just forgot to close the door. While she calls down to the building manager, there's a great moment of a man in black running past the camera in the background. It's a movie cliche, but this one is handled really well, timed just right, and is just unexpected enough to shake you out of the otherwise mundane scene.
The intruder foolishly slams the door on his way out, and Leigh investigates. She pokes her head out into the hallway, but all she sees is a closing elevator door.
Later, Leigh is fixing up some old radios and listening to the news, which includes a report of a woman named Elizabeth committing suicide. Well, I guess he found her after all!
The phone rings, and it's a 50/50 chance which stalker it will be. It's the less-serious one from work, and Steve tries to get Leigh to let him come over and help her settle in. She refuses, repeatedly, but like a dog with a bone... Wait, how did he get her number so fast?
Once again, the phone rings, and Leigh fakes being the operator telling what time it is, to hopefully disuade Steve. After hanging up for the third time, the phone continues to ring, and I have had days like this. I could tell you stories.
Finally, the phone stops ringing and Leigh gets back to work on her gadgets and idly singing. But the camera pans down to a device hidden underneath her table, broadcasting her American Idol audition all the way to wherever the more crazy flavour of stalker is hiding and recording.
Sometime later, Leigh has Sophie over to make dinner, and she finds a mysterious letter in her mail, trying to pitch her on a free European vacation, all she has to do is identify the location of the vacation based on packages to come later. That is the weirdest scam I have ever heard.
As a brief cultural aside, I love how very 70s some things are. Practically everyone in this movie smokes, and Leigh is rarely sene not lighting up in a scene. I don't approve one way or another, but it is weird to see how styles and sensibilities have changed, with how prevalent smoking was. In fact, she's doing just that when her power begins to flicker.
Rather than deal with her flaky electricity, Leigh takes to the bar where she turns down advances from guys, until she spies one random guy randomly, and introduces herself to Paul. And then walks away. And then comes back. The whole scene makes Leigh seem very...quirky, to pick a word. And yet, oddly human at the same time, as she stumbles through bad jokes and ice breakers. It's a nice bit of characterisation to make your lead so awkward, actually, and I rather like it.
Of course, she also says she is afraid of being raped by dwarves, so who knows if they went beyond quirky into the realm of what? The movie describes her as wacky, and I guess that's as good a word as any. The pair walk alone for awhile, chatting, but not without being under the watchful eye of one of Leigh's stalkers. Oh, he won't take her kissing a guy well.
Leigh realises she didn't give Paul her number, and rushes after him back to the park they were walking through. But the man has pulled a Batman and completely disappeared. Odds of this being explained? Zero!
We catch a flash of a George Wendt wannabe in the car window as Leigh gets in, and then she drops her keys. When she looks back up, Norm is staring right in her window, and startles her again. He just mumbles something semi cryptic and wanders away. I suspect she was just bugged by a drunk, and he has nothing to do with the plot. And by the way he wobbles down the sidewalk, I'm right.
Time passes and Leigh comes home one day to discover a package outside the door, and it looks like a suitcase wrapped in brown paper bags, with holes cut in them for the handle to poke out. She brings it inside and putters around for a bit, having a smoke first and returning her attention to the package.
Before she can do anything with the package, the phone rings, and she hears a voice at the other end telling her it's present number one, before hanging up. This is clearly supposed to be part of the Excurisions Unlimited trip, and if you hadn't figured it out yet, it's all a trick from our stalker.
Inside the package though, is nothing too nefarious, just a simple telescope she has to put together. It doesn't really offer her any clue as to where her trip might be for, and it doesn't matter, since that plot point never comes up.
Later, after another bizarre phone call, Leigh gets interrupted from the shower when her doorbell rings, and outside is what I believe is a Gratuitous Director Cameo of John Carpenter as the doorman, delivering another package. How funny would it be if the director himself turned out to be the stalker? Literally the man behind the camera? Oh, if only anyone would be that clever or meta.
Inside package number two (And yes, we get the expected phone call trumpeting that fact), is an itsy bitsy, teeny weeny, orange polka dot bikini, again from Extrusions Unlimited. And the stalker hopes it fits. Leigh is getting visibly disturbed by all this, as anyone would when the deliveries seem to be aware of when she's opening them. And they get the sizing right.
That night, or near enough, Paul comes over for dinner and can tell something is wrong. Leigh breaks down and tells him about the strange letters, gifts, and phone calls, to see what he thinks about the whole thing.
At last, things take a turn from the strange and only creepy, to truly sinister after Paul leaves. Leigh is getting ready for bed, and the next phone call tells her sweet dreams. Things are ramping up nicely, I must say.
Paul turns back up and shocks no one with the news that Extortion Unlimited is unlicensed in LA, and seems to not exist at all. He urges Leigh to call the cops, but since that would amount to telling them she is being given gifts and offered a trip to England, they might laugh at her for asking them to make it stop.
Leigh meets Sophie for dinner, and they too chat about her problems, and after Sophie leaves, a bottle of wine is delivered to Leigh. Compliments of the man at the bar. BUT THE MAN IS INVISIBLE!! No wait, he just left.
That night, Legih can't seem to get to sleep, and the reason why is proven to be more than just a fear, when the phone rings yet again. The voice on the other end apologises for her not liking the wine, and before he hangs up asks if she's enjoying the view. Leigh is becoming visibly frazzled, and her slow descent so far has been well done.
But Leigh has had enough, and calls the authorities. Sadly though, since all it's been are harassing phone calls, no threats, and not much else, they can't really do anything. When she hangs up the phone, she clangs the light hanging over the phone, and it seems like one of those in the moment things that just happened, and not planned. I love stuff like that. And to top it off, the light didn't like being hit, so the rest of its brethren in the apartment flicker some more.
We cut to Leigh some time later backstage at the tv station she works at, talking to someone to get help, telling them she's changed her number, but the calls keep coming, several times a day. Nice touch that she's become so frazzled and paranoid, she can't make this call from inside her own home, fearing whomever is doing this might hear her. Ahh, the days before cellphones.
She returns home and gets another package, this time of photos of a naked person, although I'll be damned if I can identify them. I think they're of Leigh. And in addition to that, the cable repair guy left a note on her door, saying he missed her...er wait, no. Just another note from Excalibur Unlimited, saying they missed her, and are waiting in the parking garage.
And total credit to the movie for having Leigh go into her apartment first and grab a knife. Not every movie would have a heroine smart or strong enough to do that, especially in 1978.
Leigh creeps around the garage, and at least there's more cars here than in SNDN 5's garage. She continues deeper into the basement, sneaking into the laundry room, but all she finds there is a machine rumbling along.
And then we have a total facepalm moment of something banging and startling Leigh, which makes her drop the knife while she's standing over a grate. Guess where it goes! It's a believable moment, but still just makes me shake my head.
She manages to pull off the heavy grating to try and get the knife, at least. It's just out of reach, so she slips into the hole to get closer. As Leigh is crawling into the hole in the floor, she hears someone approaching and ducks all the way down, pulling the grate back into place. She sits quietly in her spiderhole as a man stands right over her and finishes his cigarette.
Once he's done, he drops it down the hole, and the still burning stub bounces off Leigh. I love that the character nor the actor did more than flinch. It's a great moment showing her strength of character, and Lauren Hutton's acting talents and willingness to have that dropped on her.
Once the coast is clear, she crawls back out, completely forgetting the knife. She heads out of the laundry area and runs right into the guy that almost immolated her. Back upstairs, Leigh finds another note from Excelsior Unlimited, saying they missed her again, and will contact her later.
Paul comes over to console her as she's freaking out over...well, everything. And understandably so. He agrees to stay with her for the night, and I would be suspicious of him being the mysterious voice at this point and things going exactly to his plan, except we cut to that guy's apartment across the way, listening in on their conversation and watching.
The next day he leaves, as they agree to see a police friend of Paul's. Leigh starts to get up and ready, as, that's right, the phone rings! The voice on the other end tells her she looks better without the robe, and hangs up. And finally, FINALLY she figures out that these giant windows she constantly has uncovered, might be a bad idea when there's a stalker in the neighbourhood. Or just any time she's naked, since anyone could be watching.
Paul naturally thinks Leigh should move, but she refuses to give in and let the terrorists win. And I completely respect that stance, continuing to appreciate a strong female character. Later, Leigh has Paul and Sophie over, and they've finally drawn her curtains closed, making her say how much better she feels already. Was that so hard?
That's when the doorbell rings and the doorman brings up more doormail from Explosions Unlimited. As a response to the drapes, the letter informs Leigh that she no longer qualifies for their offered trip, and the only option left to the faux company is 'removal'. Which sounds pretty damned ominous. A good thing this arrived just before they went to the police.
At the station, Paul's police friend is about as helpful as you'd expect. With very little real evidence, and the stalker's only crimes so far being sending gifts, it's very hard for them to do anything. I'd be interested to see just when things regarding harassment took off, to see where things like that fit in.
They drown their problems in booze, and again Paul tries to get Leigh out of her apartment, but she continues to refuse to be chased out of her home. She also feels much safer now that the curtains are closed. But the phone still rings, and Leigh still answers. Her stalker is concerned she was out so late having fun, and Leigh gets fiesty, telling him the drapes are staying shut, and he better get used to them.
Mysterious Voice tells Leigh to look for him, he's not far, and the trio immediately spot the man Leigh saw in the garage looking through a telescope. Gee, could it be a setup?
Regardless, Paul rings up Inspector Hunt now that they know who the guy is, and the cops come rushing over to stare through the telescope. Leigh takes over as the police arrive at the other guy's apartment and watch him be taken in.
The suspect denies being involved, and since he admits to taking other dirty pictures, but not the ones of Leigh, I lean towards my setup theory. Not to mention there's still a half hour left. It's maybe a bit too convenient, but then again, that is a hallmark of the genre.
Anyways, the result comes down to the guy being released since they can't really hold him on anything other than being a perv, but he's moving away to Des Moines where they'll keep an eye on him. Leigh is relieved to be free, and she opens her curtains back up.
Later, Leigh gets her mail, and finds a new letter buried amidst the junk from Exploitation Unlimited, saying that her removal procedures are beginning immediately. Aaand we got the wrong pervy guy with a telescope. Surprise!
Hunt thinks it's just one last letter from the guy they shipped off to Ohio, and he's hoping they got the right guy because of the bullying and string pulling they had to use to get the guy to move away.
Leigh isn't convinced though, and soon finds someone else with a telescope in Blake Tower, and the instant she does, the phone starts to ring. But Leigh was just getting startled by Sophie who is escaping the plot on a flight to a swamp.
Night comes, but they can't find anyone watching, and Leigh can't call the cops again for fear of being the girl who cried stalker. So she has Sophie keep an eye out while she goes to whack the hornet's nest with a knife. And hopefully she won't drop this one.
Leigh creeps through the building, all the way up to the penthouse for some reason. The only thing they gave us is that he likes classical music, just like Leigh. If it was the same guy with the second telescope, they didn't sell it very well. Anyways, Leigh gets to the top floor and starts flicking off circuit breakers to plunge the place even more into darkness, and cover her breaking and entering. Well, entering, since the penthouse was conveniently unlocked.
Once inside, Leigh does find the telescope, but also the recording equipment we've been seeing, and a log book documenting every call he's made and more. I was initially disappointed in this reveal. It's close enough to the end of the movie that it MIGHT have been legit, and tt falls quite flat, what with never really being set up, or even alluded to. The penthouse owner hasn't even really been seen in the movie. It's hard to solve a mystery without suspects.
While Leigh tries to check out the view of her apartment from the penthouse, Sophie hears someone rattling at the door. We get to watch from Leigh's perspective through the telescope as the lights go out, and her friend is attacked. Nice bit of cinemtography to use the telescope that way, and keep us at arm's length from it, truly heightening the horror.
The attacker cleverly remains behind the curtains so we never see who it is, and if not for seeing hands grabbing Sophie, I would be suspicious of her being the stalker somehow, what with her unrequited interest in Leigh.
Anyways, Leigh rushes home, or as fast as one can rush from a penthouse suite, down to the lobby, across the street, and back up to whatever floor she lives on. When she gets back there, Leigh finds it empty, and calls the cops.
Hunt comes by to investigate, and the owner of the penthouse has been away for a few months on business. On top of that, all the equipment is gone, as well as the logbook she stupidly forgot to grab in her hurry to help Sophie. Speaking of which, Hunt looked into her, and says Sophie made her flight and used her ticket. This isn't gonna help how her sanity looks.
I am relieved at the penthouse guy being a fakeout, AND used to make Leigh seem even crazier to the cops. I only hope when the reveal DOES come, it is satisfying.
Leigh returns home, and finds her shower has been left running. She opens the door to the bathroom and no one's there, but there is a message left behind from Creepy Voice, scrawled in the steamed up mirror, "No one believes you." A nice touch that is helped along as we see the evidence disappear from sight as the steam fades away.
Because it's been a whole five minutes since the last time, the phone rings again with another taunting message, letting Leigh know she's still being watched. She flips out, grabs the table, and pulls it backwards over her. I...don't quite get why beyond flipping out, but hey. It shakes loose the transmitter underneath, and reveals it to Leigh. Yay, evidence!
Leigh hurries to the elevator, but as it's passing by the 30th floor, the power goes out and the alarm wails. The building manager gets her out, and she races off in her car as he accuses her of stopping the elevator herself.
Ha HA! Oh, nice! When Leigh raced out of the penthouse, she left behind a walkie she was using to keep in contact with Sophie, and he probably grabbed the other one Sophie was using at the time of her murder. And sitting right next to Leigh in the car is one of those walkies...and the stalker uses that to talk to her, and play back Sophie's murder. This is arguably MORE awesome now, because you know the movie was made in the 70s, so the car is COMPLETELY safe from phones...except!! NICE!
At the tv station, Paul is consoling the freaked out Leigh, still believing her, and at least thinks it through that eventually Sophie will be declared missing by the people expecting her in Fort Worth, but that could be weeks away, leaving the stalker plenty of time to act.
He starts wondering who could control two buildings so completely, have such unfettered access, and go completely unnoticed, and he has a very House-like eureka moment. They hurry over to the maintenance department, but they aren't sure what to do about anything. They ask about stuff, learn about building inspectors and their keys, access, and even control over such things as elevators.
The guy they're talking to only has one inspector in the area, Herbert Stiles, but he's away on vacation for a few weeks. Suuure he is. The guy gives them access to records and they look in on when Stiles might have had access to Arkham. Paul remembers the suicide of Elizabeth from an earlier plot point, and heads out to check police records, while Leigh heads to do some work before she gets fired.
Leigh sneaks around the Stiles abode, and this time she DOES break in, and once inside finds the recording equipment, and a printing press, next to a stack of papers with the Exsanguinations Unlimited masthead on them. In addition, she finds the telescope, and documentation on his microphones and transmitters.
While calling Paul to clue him in on what she's up to and everything she's found, we see someone's feet creeping towards the house. Paul also tells her about all the other dead girls that have possibly been terrorised by Stiles.
Leigh goes to leave, but runs smack dab into the person outside. And for a moment you're supposed to think it's Herbert the pervert, but no, it just turns out to be the cabbie, getting impatient. Having everything she needs, she heads back to Arkham.
Once back home, Leigh looks all around, but is plunged into darkness. She opens the curtains to let in the natural light of the city and help her see. There is some nice POV shots as the camera swings around the apartment, frantically looking as Leigh looks. You can tell this is by the guy who directed Halloween at this point.
She finds the fuse box opened, and tries flicking switches randomly, to no effect. She finds the light switch and tries that, but only gets a giant spark, a singed wall, and billowing smoke for her troubles.
On the coffee table, Leigh sees another note, and this time it isn't from Expeditions Ultimatum, but rather appears to be a typed suicide note from Leigh herself.
Leigh calls out her attacker, wanting to see who it is at long last, but he remains hidden. She rushes to the phone since it seems like she might have a chance, but in another nice touch, he's swiped the guts of the phone, leaving only the shell and handset behind, not even leaving her any buttons.
She tries to get out on the balcony but the door is stuck. Fortunately she doesn't have the rock proof glass from Bloody Birthday, and uses a chair to smash one of those well-featured throughout the movie windows. She calls out for help, screaming murder, but being 40 some odd floors up...
As Leigh is about to break another window, finally Herbert leaps out of the darkness and grabs her. And frustratingly keeps his face from view. He easily grabs Leigh and tries to force her out the window, giving us a great view of the back of his head right in the camera the whole time. Grrr.
She finally grabs a shard of glass still in the window frame, tears it out, and stabs it deep into her assailant's back. This has the expected effect of making him stop trying to force her out the window, and deal with the gaping wound near his spine.
The killer stumbles backwards, finally showing us who he is and...I got nothin', folks. I do not recognise him at all, from anywhere in the movie.
He sees Leigh start to climb out of the window, and rushes towards her to finish the job. But she swings out of the way in time, and he takes a header straight out the window and towards a fast meeting with the ground below.
The movie ends with Leigh staring down the building, and saying that he got too close, which is a nice tag to the movie, really. All throughout the picture, they talked about how he kept his distance, that kept him safe, but in the end, that lack of distance did him in. It's maybe a bit of a hasty ending, but satisfying, at least. Well, not so much on the reveal, but the story itself.
I bet Leigh wishes it HAD been raping dwarves.
Video: Considering this was made in the late 1970s, for television, it looks surprisingly good. It's a little dull in colour, maybe the blacks get murky at times, but for the most part, it's solid. I think they took a 4:3 image and cropped it to make it widescreen, although I'm not sure. Still, they framed it well enough, even though I disapprove of that, if that is indeed what they did.
Audio: Again, being made for late 70s tv, gives us a mono audio track, but again it sounds good. Someone put more care into this than half the movies I watch.
Special Features: A nice look at Carpenter's career and how it pertains to this movie in particular. I found it nicely informative for what it was, although short. But still, a good history on the man and the movie.
Sound Bite: "I have strange fears ... of being raped by dwarves."
First Blood: Outside of Elizabeth way off panel, that would be the stalker himself in the final moments of the film.
Best Corpse: Herbert kinda wins by default eh?
Blood Type - F-: No blood, no effects, just a simple, well-shot movie. It doesn't need that silly stuff.
Sex Appeal: Made for tv movie, nothing to see here!
Movie Review: Well, this is something different. An actual, honest to gosh, bit of film. This is pretty solid. Accounting for it coming from the 70s, and Carpenter still being mostly new to the business, this is not bad at all. The acting is decent enough from the main cast, Carpenter is always a solid director, and the design is good too. If the movie is at fault for anything, it's that the ending is a bit rushed, and the reveal is just a bit...there. I've certainly seen worse. Four out of five phone calls.
Entertainment Value: While there's no horrendously bad acting here, no cheesy one liners from a killer, no bad effects to facepalm over, this movie is entertaining in all the RIGHT ways, and I can't fault it for that. If you want a solid, suspense movie for a rainy Saturday night, you could do worse than this movie, that more people should know about. Four out of five cigarettes.