Category Archives: 60s & 70s

WATCH THIS: John Carpenter’s “Lost Film”, SOMEONE’S WATCHING ME!

This piece originally appeared on iHorror.com.

A pretty, sandy-haired young woman is stalked by a mysterious figure; first via car, then by creepy phone calls, and then directly outside her window. He’s even seen in the background spying on her while she converses on the phone. She eventually takes the shadowy figure head-on, stumbling around a living room and fighting for her life, ending with a climax that reveals nothing about the madman’s motivations. Oh, and the whole thing was directed by John Carpenter in the late ’70s. Gotta be Halloween, right? Wrong.

Though it wrapped shooting two weeks before Halloween even went into production, John Carpenter’s television directorial debut, the NBC-produced Someone’s Watching Me! was actually released one month after Halloween. Due to this loopy timeline it’s easy to think Halloween informed many stylistic choices of Someone’s Watching Me!, when in reality it’s the other way around.

Leigh (Lauren Hutton) is an ambitious television producer who moves from New York to Los Angeles. She settles in a large high rise apartment, the kind where the living room is basically one giant window overlooking the thoroughfare. Unbeknownst to Leigh, a creeper who lives in a building across the street spots her and takes a real liking to her. He starts following her, calling her, and leaving her gifts. She continually rebuffs the mystery man, causing him to pursue her more aggressively. With the support of her co-worker Sophie (Adrienne Barbeau) and her boyfriend Paul (David Birney), Leigh goes to the police. Tired of the cat and mouse game, the creep finally attacks.

While not an exact Halloween clone, Carpenter admits SWM! did lay the groundwork for what would become his slasher masterpiece. “A lot of the shots, the framing – and a lot of the flow”, would be reused for Halloween. Carpenter also says, “I got to make mistakes”, referring to the TV movie, which allowed him to hone and sharpen the basic idea and deliver a much leaner and ultimately more frightening movie with Halloween. There are a few familiar Carpenter players in the small cast, namely Adrienne Barbeau and Charles Cyphers. And if you pay attention, you’ll probably spot some names in SWM! that Carpenter would later reuse, including Leigh, Paul, and Officer Tramer.

Noticeably absent from SWM! are a few trademarks Carpenter’s films would come to be known for. He had no input on the score, so here his usual piercing synths are substituted with dramatic, swelling strings – common in ’70s television productions. And his stunning wide-angle lens shots – usually courtesy of Dean Cundey but here provided by Robert Hauser – have been cropped and tightened to fit the 4:3 aspect ratio of a TV screen. Still, the movie displays all the great themes the director would come to be known for, including voyeurism and paranoia.

Watching SWM!, it’s clear that Carpenter who, in 1977, was still new to the horror genre (at that point he only had two feature films under his belt: the sci-fi satire Dark Star, and Assault on Precinct 13, a dystopian Western exploitation flick), was heavily inspired by the works of Alfred Hitchcock – mainly, South By Southwest, Rear Window, and Psycho. At times it feels like it could be entitled Alfred Hitchcock’s Halloween, and I mean that in the best way possible. For a TV movie made in the ’70s, SWM! is incredibly suspenseful and flat-out spooky. The tension builds, keeping you guessing until the very end.

Someone’s Watching Me! is often called “the lost Carpenter film” due to its relative scarcity on home media, but don’t let the hoity-toity label exclude you – I assure you it’s not just for the John Carpenter completest. In fact, I would consider it required Carpenter, especially if you’re a fan of Halloween. It’s one of those special movies that shows its director in transition; especially powerful here since Carpenter’s next film would prove to be his greatest success.

Advertisements

“The Brood” (1979) REVIEW

the-brood-photos-5

As far as I can remember, this is the first horror movie I ever saw. My mom and sister were watching it on TV, and it scared the shit out of me.
I’ve always preferred David Cronenberg to David Lynch when it came to “what-the-fuck-did-I-just-watch” cinema. In fact, it’s this point exactly that makes The Brood so scary: it’s so far out there…just the idea of what’s happening will give you goosebumps and freak you out. A description of the film from Wikipedia (since I really couldn’t put it into words any better):
“The film depicts a series of murders committed by what seems at first to be a group of children. These are in fact the psychosomatic offspring of a mentally disturbed woman, whose husband fights for custody, and finally the life, of their daughter.” Terrifying, right?

This movie has it all: body horror, killer kids, and even a statement about the topic-at-the-time, Women’s Lib.

“Who Can Kill a Child?” (1976) REVIEW

who-can-a-kill-a-child

When it comes to ‘killer kiddies’, I’d have to say this Spanish film from 1976 is my favorite — far surpassing Village of the Damned and even Children of the Corn. The kids in this film don’t kill because they’re from another planet, and they’re not inspired to kill because some god of harvest told them to — they simply do it because it’s how they ‘play’.

An Englishman and his pregnant wife decide to go holiday before their baby is born, so they head to an exotic Spanish island that they soon find is fairly deserted. In fact, the only inhabitants they do come across are kids, no older than their early teens. Soon, things turn grim as the couple realize the kids possess incredibly cruel and violent tendencies.

What I really love about this movie is, as I mentioned before, that the kids aren’t robotic, silent killers. They laugh and play and run around while killing people. They act like normal children, except incredibly deranged. Also, the title of the film brings up a moral dilemma that seems to be overlooked in all of these ‘killer kiddie’ films: you may think you’re capable of anything if pushed far enough, but when face to face with one, would you be able to kill a child?

Well shot, great score, incredibly tense and filled with jaw-dropping scenes — this is a must see.

“Don’t Look Now” (1973) REVIEW

dont-look-now-pond-scene

This creepy 1973 film is more psychological thriller than flat out horror, but I’d say the film as a whole is pretty horrific and unsettling.

After the accidental drowning death of their daughter, Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie take a business trip to Italy so he can restore a church. While there, they encounter two sisters, one of whom is blind and claims to be clairvoyant (she’s totally terrifying.) The psychic sister informs the couple that their deceased daughter is trying to warn them of some impending danger. Sutherland dismisses them at first, but soon starts seeing what he believes is his little daughter — recognizable by her little red raincoat — all around Venice. Soon, they seem to be surrounded by danger, from accidents while restoring the church to reports of a serial killer prowling the streets.

Christie goes back to the states after she’s informed that their son has been in an accident. Sutherland, now alone, goes in search of ‘his daughter’, and the results are truly terrifying.

Like Pet Sematary after it, this film explores the emotions that go along with losing a child and the psychological effect it has on a parent: what lengths will they go to for closure, and how much danger will they put themselves in? The answer is usually “far too much”, resulting in even more tragedy than to begin with.

Though a British production, the film has a very Italian feel — and not just because it was shot in Venice. The use of color is important in the film, and it was shot and edited very stylistically. And if ratings are your thing, this film got a “95% fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. So there’s that.

“Blue Sunshine” (1978) REVIEW

maxresdefault

I’ve been trying to include movies that I rarely or never hear mentioned when ‘top horror’ lists are named, and Blue Sunshine is one of those films. I only recently saw it, and I really enjoyed it.

The year is 1978. Disco is in full effect, polyester is the preferred material — everything is groovy. That is, until, certain people start suffering psychotic episodes where their hair falls out and they turn into murderous maniacs. A man, Jerry (played by a pre-Skinemax fame Zalman King), is wrongly accused of one of the murders and goes on the run. While evading the authorities, he tries to get to the bottom of these psychotic episodes. He soon uncovers the cause — 10 years earlier, a group of college students had taken a bad batch of acid called Blue Sunshine that eventually leads to their mental breakdown.

It’s a great premise for a horror film as it plays on our natural, human fears (“drugs are bad!”). Plus, there’s a bit of social commentary in there: what if your late, great 60s weren’t so great after all, and something you did during the Summer of Love came back to haunt you many years later?

The movie is pretty freaky, lots of weird imagery. I don’t know what it is, as I normally don’t consider bald people or baldness itself terrifying in the least — but the bald maniacs in this film are truly unsettling. An oft overlooked gem that’s worth a watch.

“Magic” (1978) REVIEW

fats

I only recently saw this film, but I remember the unforgettable VHS box from when I was a kid: a creepy ventriloquist dummy, with bugling blue eyes and a distorted resemblance to Anthony Hopkins, peering over the simplistic title on the front… Magic.

This is more of a psychological thriller than flat-out horror, but the inclusion of the dummy is what makes it so damn creepy. Anthony Hopkins plays a nervous ventriloquist who is usually at odds with his puppet “Fats”, whether it comes to their performance, fame, or women. It’s this latter element that causes the greatest disruption between Hopkins and the dummy. When Ann-Margret, an old high-school crush of Hopkins’, comes into the picture, Fats becomes increasingly jealous.

This one was directed by Richard Attenborough. You may remember him from Jurassic Park as the jolly John Hammond, coaxing a tiny raptor from it’s egg by repeating “Come on, love. Come on, love.” At least, that’s how I like to remember him.