Director – Sean S. Cunningham, Screenplay – Earl Mac Rauch & Victor Miller, Based on the Novel by Mary Higgins Clark, Producer – Sidney Beckerman, Photography – Barry Abrams, Music – Lalo Schifrin, Special Effects – Connie Brink, Art Direction – Virginia Field. Production Company – MGM.
Kate Mulgrew (Sharon Martin), Rip Torn (Artie Taggert), Shawn von Schreiber (Julie Peterson), James Naughton (Steve Peterson)
A delivery boy is about to be executed for the rape and murder of Brenda Peterson. The identification was made by Brenda’s 10-year-old daughter Julie who witnessed the killing. Julie and her father’s girlfriend, tv journalist Sharon Martin, are then abducted by Artie Taggert who takes them to his lair in the disused tunnels beneath Grand Central Station. Artie leaves a tape for Julie’s father, saying that he wants $182,000 ransom. As Julie and Sharon try to escape, they discover Artie was really the one who killed Brenda.
Sean S. Cunningham had had a huge success with the B-budget sleeper Friday the 13th (1980). The next film he made was this kidnap thriller. It was not a great success, as with most of Cunningham’s films post-Friday films – The New Kids/Striking Back (1985), Deepstar Six (1989), the frat comedy film Springbreak (1983) and the alien invasion film Terminal Invasion (2002). Indeed, the greatest success Sean S. Cunningham has had subsequently is with the House films, beginning with beginning with House (1986), which he only produced. Why Cunningham did not consolidate the success of Friday into something greater is a mystery. It is almost as though, and as all his subsequent directorial efforts show, he seems incapable of stretching beyond obvious B-budget hackwork, even though the success provided by Friday the 13th must have granted him the opportunity for much larger budgets.
A Stranger is Watching is probably Sean S. Cunningham’s best film, the only one that shows him capable of something more. He still trades in many of his customary cheap shocks – Shawn von Schreiber screaming in the shower because of cold water, cats jumping out at people and so on. However, it is a stretch to call A Stranger is Watching a horror film. It has a borderline psycho but it is more of a kidnap drama and it was only the Cunningham name attached that caused it to be reviewed in the horror genre at the time.
The film is mostly routine. There is a reasonable degree of suspense during the scenes with Kate Mulgrew and Shawn von Schreiber trying to escape up the dumb-waiter and so on. If Cunningham had concentrated the film on the psychology of escape and imprisonment rather than wasting it on Rip Torn’s encounters with Chicano gangs and co-conspirators it would have been much better. The other worthwhile thing the film has going for it is Rip Torn’s ruthless and mean-spirited performance.
A Stranger is Watching is also notable as the film acting debut of Kate Mulgrew, later Captain Janeway on Star Trek: Voyager (1995-2001).
Sean S. Cunningham’s other genre films are:- the vampire sex comedy Case of the Full Moon Murders/The Case of the Smiling Stiffs (1973), the original slasher film Friday the 13th (1980), the revenge film The New Kids/Striking Back (1985), the monster movie Deepstar Six (1989) and the alien invasion film Terminal Invasion (2002). Cunningham also produced the House series of films beginning with House (1986), the Disney teenage zombie comedy My Boyfriend’s Back (1993), Black Friday (2008) and the remake of The Last House on the Left (2009), as well as the Friday the 13th sequels Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993), Jason X (2001) and Freddy vs. Jason (2003), and the remake of Friday the 13th (2009).