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Someone’s Watching Me! (Blu-ray Review)

Long considered to be the lost film of John Carpenter, his 1978 film Someone’s Watching Me is making the leap to Blu-ray 40 years later from Scream Factory. If you’re keeping track at home (Following last night’s announcement of Starman), they have now put out 14 of the films he has directed. Including his 2 Masters of Horror episodes, that leaves them with 9 titles to go. What would be really neat, is if they put out a Blu-ray collecting his short films that most people have never seen (Including “Captain Voyeur”). This TV film, while considered forgotten, includes many important stepping stones in his career happened prior to when many people have thought they did. Someone’s Watching Me! did have a release date change, now becoming available August 7th. Pre-order using the Amazon link provided following the review, below.

Film 

Leigh Michaels takes a room in a high-rise apartment building where the previous tenant committed suicide. Soon after, Leigh begins receiving mysterious phone calls, getting anonymous gifts in the mail and finding that her room has been searched by someone. When a letter finally arrives in which her tormentor expresses his intention to kill her, she takes it to the police, but they’re unable to do anything. Terrified, Leigh nevertheless decides to find the culprit herself.

It’s important to note that while it came out a month after Halloween opened, John Carpenter had shot and finished Someone’s Watching Me! before he even took on The Shape. And how crazy is it that one month after Carpenter rises with the surprise success of Halloween, NBC is able to say “Hey! We have a new John Carpenter thriller coming to TV!” Taking that in is important as Someone’s Watching Me! introduces many Carpenter tropes and figures for the first time.

John Carpenter has never been shy of being an admirer of Alfred Hitchcock, but here he may be at his most obvious in inspiration. He pulls this story from the headlines but utilizes many Hitchcock classics to bring the movie version to life. As you weave and wander through the world of Someone’s Watching Me! you’ll see a reverse take on Rear Window that also brings in touches of North By Northwest, Vertigo and Marnie in the form of story points, character or just good old film technique.

The master borrows, but he’s also on his own path and continuing on or starting some of his own notable pieces of his craft here. Obviously there are some hints to Halloween with a stalker and a tough “final girl” told with voyeuristic aspects in not only the story but the filming of it. He begins some interesting experimenting with steady cam here as well. Carpenter continues his use of Charles Cyphers and starts his casting of (future wife) Adrienne Barbeau with this film. Even little things, like the use of the name “Leigh” for one of his characters and the on the nose reference character name of “Leone” are very Carpenter.

Someone’s Watching Me! is pretty solid. It does drag due to some of the longer and overdone dramatic sequences that can kind of be monotonous. This is a handcuff of the time as the movie has to fill a certain amount of time for a television schedule as well as just being very low budget and needing those to drive it. TV movies were a much bigger deal back during this time and taken more seriously. This one holds up and is better than most, but still falls into some of the trappings of a TV movie. Carpenter’s film is well acted and features some more creative directorial choices and style than a majority of its era.

As John Carpenter is probably my favorite director of all time, the film is a complete fascination for me to revisit to see him in his earlier workings. He didn’t get final cut and also wasn’t able to score the film as it was a total studio/union gig. Carpenter is able to do more with what little he has than a lot of people would have been able. And its also interesting to see his interesting choices and ideas immediately jump into a masterpiece with his next film in Halloween. Someone’s Watching Me! is still a solid little television movie and one of the better ones when you take it for what it is.

Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 or 1.33:1

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail: Someone’s Watching Me! debuts on Blu-ray with a 2K scan from the interpositive. For the first time, you are given the option to watch the film in either 1.85:1 (Like the DVD had) or 1.33:1 (Like the original television broadcast). The film was shot and intended to be shown in 1.33:1, but the framing looks perfectly fine in 1.85:1. More information is visible in the 1.33:1 aspect, however.  While the DVD looked pretty good, this is a solid step up, with details showcased much better with more well rounded and confident image. Clothing shows more wrinkles and shades of coloring to them as well as fuzzier txtures. You can also see patterns, like on the number plate on telephones, restaurant tablecloths and more. Hair follicles are really a standout and highlight in this image. Especially looking at the frizziness of Lauren Hutton’s hair that was never really apparent until this blu-ray. For an obscure, forgotten television film from 1978, this is pretty terrific and a nice gesture that there is a distribution company out there willing to put in some love and labor toward it.

Depth:  Another step up in this new 2K scan is the amount of space present and being less flat than it was before. Some of the more sweeping shots look more impressive like wandering through the hallway or a slow zoom/steady shot through the apartment. Characters feel more well rounded in the frame and their movements are more confident and smooth than before. The parking garage sequence halfway through the film really showcases how much this has jumped from the DVD.

Black Levels: Blacks are deep and rich here, that help to build a bit of menace. Some grain becomes more apparent the darker things can get. There may have been some very very mild crushing in areas, but nothing really distracting at all.

Color Reproduction: The film has a sort of a plain white, and beige look to it. Its rather just blah, kind of due to the cheaper nature of the film as well as the very 70’s-ness to it. Blues really do pop out and give a bit of refreshing loveliness to the frames its able to overtake. There are some nice spots where reds can pop through as well, especially during one darkened moment backstage where Hutton is on the phone and red ladder bursts through in the background.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are natural and consistent start to finish of the film. Facial features are pretty solid in medium and close up shots. You can really see some lip texture as well as seeing some of the brushing and texture of the make-up on some of the character’s faces.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean

Audio 

Audio Format(s): English 2.0 Mono DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English

Dynamics: Someone’s Watching Me! now gets a lovely little lossless mono track to continue its improved performance. It doesn’t really hit a lot of deep tones, but there is plenty of effectiveness with both the sound effects and the score. The score is nice and pronounced and helps drive a lot of the suspense and is well represented here in this mix. Said mix features a good, healthy balance with the vocals, sound effects and score, with each contributor getting the spotlight in just the right moments and not stepping over one of the others.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension:  N/A

Surround Sound Presentation:  N/A

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are clear and crisp. There is a nice little hint of its analog source which just helps to give a nostalgic feeling watching it.

Extras 

Audio Commentary

  • With author Amanda Reyes (Are You in the House Alone?: A TV Movie Compendium 1964-1999) – While by herself, Reyes is on point the whole film and really provides a lot of colorful insight on Carpenter, the film, the players and the history of television movies of this era. Its never dull, never repetitive or ever drops out.

Interview With Actress Adrienne Barbeau (HD, 10:32) – She talks how she was courted for the role, thinking her character was his personal way of “coming out” and that he gave her the best acting advice of her career  transitioning to sitcom/broadway by saying “do less”.

Interview With Actor Charles Cyphers (HD, 9:43) – A film by film career retrospective on his work with John Carpenter, beginning with his description of auditioning for Assault On Precinct 13. The last film he touches on is the Carpenter produced by not-directed Halloween II. Afterward he talks how great conventions have been for him and how he knows his legacy will always be Sheriff Brackett (A role he’d return to in an instant).

Horror’s Hallowed Grounds: A Look At The Film’s Locations Today (HD, 7:12) – Sean Clark takes us for a tour of the locations used in the film. Its primarily exteriors as most of the film was shot on a soundstage (Though there is some “dumb luck” that occurs). But, there are some cool bits here including a connection to They Live.

John Carpenter: Director Rising (SD, 6:14) – A pretty solid, quick interview with John Carpenter ported over from the original DVD release. He talks the real life origins of the film, casting and crew hiring, shot inspirations, its original title “High Rise” and how he was a screenwriter for hire at the time when he made his first union movie.

TV Promos (SD, 1:01) – One of them is narrated by Casey Kasem.

Still Gallery (HD, 1:19)

Summary 

John Carpenter’s first television film, Someone’s Watching Me!, was luckily brought back in 2007 with a DVD and now this Scream Factory Blu-ray as its a really fascinating look into his early pre-Halloween lauch to see some of the things he’s experimenting with and trends he’s starting to set. Scream Factory’s Blu-ray goes above the call of duty and not only gives us a terrific looking new transfer, but some worthwhile new bonus materials as well. For John Carpenter Blu-ray/home video collectors (As well as TV movie aficionados), this is more than we really could have asked for.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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