Tag Archives: thriller

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

“Green Room” (2016) REVIEW

green1

The way I felt watching Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room this weekend is the way I imagine unsuspecting French audiences who saw the short film L’arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat back in 1896 felt. Totally blindsided by moving images of a train up on the screen, the Parisian moviegoers ran screaming in terror to the back of the theater for their own safety. The film was so real and so visceral that it had an actual physical effect on them. It’s the type of reaction that film can (and honestly should) have on audiences, and it’s something this oft-jaded viewer is constantly in search of. Continue reading “Green Room” (2016) REVIEW

“The Invitation” (2016) REVIEW

invite2

This review is entirely spoiler-free.

The month-old trailer for The Invitation is one of a rare breed. Cryptic, creepy, and alluring, it’s an anomaly among today’s trailers which seem to want to show as much as they possibly can in their 90 second runtimes. Even though nothing is revealed – except for the movie taking place during a dinner party – it’s very clear that something isn’t right at this dinner party. But trailers can oftentimes be deceiving. Is the movie able to deliver on the ominous, mysterious tone in the preview? Continue reading “The Invitation” (2016) REVIEW

“In Their Skin” (2012) REVIEW

skin1

I’m going to keep this review a little more succinct than usual seeing as this movie came out almost 4 years ago and probably isn’t at the top of everyone’s ‘to watch’ list. I just happened to catch it last night and felt the need to review it, because, well, that’s kinda what I do. Right?

Anyway, for those who don’t know, I love home invasion movies. They are tied with ‘hillbilly horror’ for my favorite horror sub-genre. And if you combine the two — say, Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs — well then, I’m one happy pup. (In fact, Straw Dogs might’ve even been the movie that really solidified my love of both sub-genres.) That being said, there isn’t really a hell of a whole lot you can do with either of those genres outside of the most simple, straight-forward storylines, especially now — some 40 years after they made their entrance into the scene. The basics work best, but again — if you’ve seen one, it’s pretty safe to say you’ve seen them all.

With that in mind, In Their Skin is a fairly standard entry in the home invasion genre, one that I’ve seen a million times before.

A couple and their young son move into a wooded lakeside cottage for a temporary break from life. The couple’s daughter was just killed in an accident, so they’ve gotten out of the city and secluded themselves in hopes of facilitating the grieving process. Soon after settling in, there’s a knock at the door and they’re greeted by an almost identical family — mother, father, and son, all roughly the same age — who apparently live on the other side of the lake. They make plans for dinner that night, and well, you can see where this is headed. After dinner, the ‘neighbors’ reveal their true intentions and the grieving family finds themselves in for a night of torture.

skin2

Everyone does a great job in their respective roles (the evil couple’s son is particularly nasty), but the movie itself is another story. It is occasionally entertaining and even manages to ratchet up some tension with some awkward, uncomfortable scenes early on, but ultimately it suffers from stringing together one too many tired plot devices — everyone seems to be afflicted by “delayed reaction time” — to be thoroughly enjoyable in the end. I hate the “delayed reaction time” device. Characters who have the opportunity to run, but don’t; antagonists who have the opportunity to kill the protagonist, but don’t. Look, I am willing to suspend disbelief for zombies, monsters, and ghosts. But home invasion is supposed to feel real. Having your characters do unrealistic things in a realistic situation is a cop out.

Finally, the end is surprisingly abrupt. Hurried, even. For all its build up, you’d think the movie would be headed toward a nail-biting climax. But it doesn’t. The ending almost feels tacked on or improvised. It’s very strange and I can’t help but wonder if it was a decision by the studio to alter the ending. Also, there are hints at a subplot involving Selma Blair’s grieving mother character, possibly carrying on an affair? It’s very odd and seems to have been edited out in post, but there are remnants scattered throughout the film that suggest it. Only adds to the head-scratching.

Oh, and the movie is super desaturated. Easy on the color grading, guys.

My Obligatory “Best of 2015” List!

As 2015 comes to a close, it’s the perfect time to look back and share what I thought were the standout films of the year. The criteria for making the list was simple — I had to give it 3.5 stars or more on my Letterboxd account. Oh by the way: I have a Letterboxd account where I keep track of every movie I watch; there were many films I watched in 2015 that didn’t make the list, and you can find them (and all the others) over on my Letterboxd account. Did I mention I have a Letterboxd account yet? Continue reading My Obligatory “Best of 2015” List!

VENUS FLYTRAP – 13 Days of Shot on Video! (#4)

With 13 Days of Shot On Video I’ll be reviewing a new shot-on-video horror film every weekday for the last two weeks of October. You can view all entries HERE.

4

I had no idea what to expect going into Venus Flytrap. Not much info exists about it online (no Wikipedia page, a scant IMDB page, and only a handful of horror blogs have reviewed it), and the only reason I happened upon it was because it was included in one of those “buy this group of DVDs together, save this amount of money” type deals when I was adding DVDs to my shopping cart on Amazon. The cover art looked really unique and I don’t think it cost no more than ten bucks, so I thought, what the hell. You only live once, right?

Let me say, I am so happy I took a chance on Venus Flytrap! Continue reading VENUS FLYTRAP – 13 Days of Shot on Video! (#4)