Friday, July 27, 2018

SOMEONE'S WATCHING ME! (1978) (Scream Factory Blu-ray Review)


Label: Scream Factory
Region Code: A
Rating: Unrated 
Duration: 97 Minutes 
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Fullscreen (1.33:1), Widescreen (2.35:1) 
Director: John Carpenter 
Cast: Lauren Hutton, David Birney, Adrienne Barbeau, Charles Cyphers, Grainger Hines, Len Lesser, John Mahon, James Murtaugh

Made before Halloween (1978) but not aired till a month after it's release John Carpenter's made-for-TV thriller Someone's Watching me! (1978) is one of the director's more overtly Hitchcock-ian thrillers with a story pulled straight from the headlines, we have an L.A. TV producer named Leigh (Lauren Hutton, Once Bitten) who moves into a high-rise apartment building with a sister tower across the way, After moving in she finds out that the woman who lived there previously committed suicide, and soon after begins receiving strange phone calls from an anonymous caller, also receiving gifts from a fake company called Excursions Unlimited, at first the calls are an annoyance but soon enough they begin to turn darker, with the caller threatening kill her. 

This one is a decent TV thriller for the period, but it has some drawn-out melodrama that slows it down, but even in this post-Assault On Precinct 13 (1976) film you can see some steady cam and POV shots that would inform Carpenter's next film, the iconic slasher Halloween (1978). Hutton is good here, an attractive career woman who rises to the occasion when she finds her privacy encroached upon by an unwanted male, the movie makes a point not to sexualize her, she's played smart and has no problem rebuffing unwanted advances from the men who surround her. She take on a new lover by way of Paul Wrinkes (David Birney, Nightfall), and she has a lesbian best-friend played by the future wife and muse of Carpenter, Adrienne Barbeau (The Fog), who notably plays the character contrary to 70s stereotype, which was not the norm for the period.

As Carpenter films go this is one that is not at the top of the pile for me, it's a TV movie, which was a more prestigious platform back in the day, when there were four major TV channels. It's good within those confines, but it doesn't have the visceral Carpenter edge I'm craving, but that's not to say it doesn't have plenty of Carpenter-ism throughout, with a strong final girl who fights back, some good voyeuristic use of POV and the camera is always moving, which feels like a directorial choice I didn't remember from a lot of TV movies from that period, so it's interesting to see what he was capable of early on in his career. It's also great to see Carpenter regular Charles Cyphers (Halloween) as, what else, a cop, plus Len Lesser (Blood and Lace), who most will fondly remember as Uncle Leo from the Seinfeld TV series, as a possible creeper. 

Audio/Video: Someone's Watching Me (1978) arrives on Blu-ray from Scream Factory with a fresh 2K scan of the interpositive performed by Warner Bros., Scream offer the option to watch it in the original fullframe (1.33:1) version or the matted 1.85:1 widescreen. I prefer the widescreen version, it looks comfortable and doesn't feel cramped in the framing aside from a few shots. It's nice to have the original full frame version that aired on TV, which was not offered on the 2007 DVD from Warner Bros.. Colors are noticeably more saturated than the DVD, grain looks nicely managed if course in a few scenes, and blacks are deep and inky looking, it just looks real nice transfer and a marked improvement over the DVD. 

Audio comes by way of an English DTS-HD MA Mono with optional English subtitles, the audio has some analog hiss present but it's subtle and not overpowering, but it's there if you're listening.  The score from composer Harry Sukman comes through nicely, adding some orchestral suspense to the proceedings, though it does sound a bit off for a Carpenter film, but for a made-for-TV film it's alright, he would go onto do the score for Tobe Hooper's TV mini-series Salem's Lot (1979) the next year. 

Scream Factory offer a few new extras for this TV film, beginning with a brand new audio commentary with author Amanda Reyes (Are You in the House Alone?: A TV Movie Compendium 1964-1999) who begins with a discussion of the "male gaze" and how that represented in the film, she gets into the careers of the main cast, Carpenter's filmography, and other made-for-TV films. It's a good listen and offers some good insight into he film I didn't have before, siting many literary references along the way.  

There's a new 10-minute interview with Adrienne Barbeau who played the bestie of the main character, she discusses being cast in the film because Carpenter saw her as a Howard Hawks-ian type of woman, how the the film was based on a real-life stalking incident, meeting Carpenter and eventually marrying him, playing a non-stereotypical gay character, which was not common at the time on TV or in the cinema. 

Actor Charles Cypher recalls meeting Carpenter for Assault on Precinct 13, shooting Soneone's Watching Me on the Warner's lot and on location, going onto Halloween, walking is through his collaborations with Carpenter, seeing him mature as a director as the films go along. He also mentions being surprised that Kurt Russell would be playing Elvis in Carpenter's TV film about the King, and how blown away he was by the performance, and noting how worldly Lee Van Cleef turned out to be on the set of Escape from New York. 

We also get another episode of Horror's Hallowed Grounds revisiting some of the location used in Los Angeles and Santa Monica, including the high-rise apartments, the bar, some establishing shots throughout L.A., even getting inside one of the apartment buildings.   

Scream Factory carry-over a brief 6-min archival clip of Carpenter discussing the film and how it happened that he ended-up directing it, casting Lauren Hutton and Adrienne Barbeau, and how it helped mold his style of shooting on Halloween, plus some Hitchcock zooms he used in the film, and a stunt Hutton performed fighting the villain while leaning out of an actual window, which for anyone with a fear of heights will give you a fright. He packs in some good info for such a brief clip, good stuff, glad they carried it over.  

The last of the extras are 2 TV spots for the TV film - narrated by nasally radio personality Casey Kasem - plus a 1min gallery of the Warner press kit, stills from the film, plus various home video releases. 

The single-disc non-collector's edition release comes housed in a standard Blu-ray keepcase with a 2-sided sleeve of artwork, the a-side featuring the familiar key art used on the 2007 DVD with the reverse side featuring images from the film and information about the transfer. This is not a collector's edition so no slip. 

Special Features:
- NEW 2K scan from the original film elements – in both 1.85:1 and 1.33:1 aspect ratios
- NEW audio commentary with author Amanda Reyes (Are You in the House Alone?: A TV Movie Compendium 1964-1999)
- NEW Adrienne Barbeau: Looking Back at Someone’s Watching Me (1q1 min) HD 
- NEW Carpenter’s Enforcer – an interview with Charles Cyphers on his career in John Carpenter’s films (10 min) HD 
- NEW Horror’s Hallowed Grounds – a look at the film’s locations today (7 min) HD
- John Carpenter: Director Rising (6 min) 
- TV Promo (1 min) 
- Still Gallery (1 min) HD

It will always be a treat for me to see more John Carpenter films debut on Blu-ray, I'm still waiting for Ghost of Mars and Escape from L.A. to get special edition Blu-rays, just give me some news extras and a new transfer and I'm on board. I don't dislike Someone's Watching Me (1978) but it's not a cherished film either,, it's a bit dry, but I love hearing the stories about the making of it on the extras and commentaries, they gave me a new appreciation for this formerly "lost" gem from Carpenter's early career. If you're a Carpenter completest or a 70's made-for TV movie connoisseur you need this one in your collection, Scream Factory did good work on this one and the transfer and extras are great.