The Surprising Queer Representation In ‘Someone’s Watching Me!’ [The Lone Queer]
We’re here. We’re queer. And we’re going to take some deep dives into The Lone Queer characters present in horror films past. In the past, obvious queer representation has been scarce. Coding and baiting were prevalent, but there are some characters who have stood out as solid queer individuals. Most of those end up dead and buried by the film’s end thus giving birth to the phrase, “Bury your queers.” So let’s resurrect and appreciate those who were buried, appreciate those who survived, and those who were just a little bit naughty. Let’s give the respect that is deserved to The Lone Queer.
Women in horror are, and always have been, alive and thriving. The first queer female character in horror that popped into my head resides in a film from a time period that I—as someone who did not exist at that time—never would have imagined including a queer person. The year is 1978. The medium is national broadcast television. The channel is NBC. The movie is Someone’s Watching Me!, directed by John Carpenter.
In Someone’s Watching Me!, Leigh (Lauren Hutton) moves to a new city for a new job. Her surroundings are unfamiliar. Within moments of moving to her new city, she begins receiving obscene phone calls from an unknown assailant. It becomes obvious that her apartment has been bugged and is being surveilled by this unknown assailant. It is up to her and her new coworkers to discover who is stalking her.
We aren’t here to talk about Leigh, though. We’re here to talk about Leigh’s coworker, and new ally, Sophie (Adrienne Barbeau). Sophie is a co-director at the new TV station where Leigh works. Instantly, the two hit it off. Sophie comes out to her in a very organic sort of way. The two women are casually mentioning past lovers. Leigh asks, “Who was he?” Sophie responds with, “She,” with a coy smile. A slight “Hm” from Leigh is the only response. Sophie continues her smile, and responds with, “Don’t worry. You’re not my type.” Leigh assures that she’s “…not worried.”
Later in Someone’s Watching Me!, Leigh and Sophie are at dinner, talking about the weird goings on occurring with Leigh. Sophie makes a comforting remark towards Sophie, and lightly touches Sophie’s arm. It’s all completely platonic, but it leads Sophie to mention how she’s surprised that Leigh isn’t threatened by her sexuality. Leigh comments that she’s with men all of the time (in the workplace, on dates, etc), and feels less threatened with Sophie.
That’s the extent of the discussion of Sophie’s sexuality within the film. Leigh, a cis straight woman, finds her utmost reliance with Sophie. Their friendship is ignited immediately. What is awesome about this friendship is that it takes place in a film from 1978 that was made specifically for broadcast television. Prior to Sophie appearing on TV screens, portrayals of queer individuals were mostly categorized within the villain department. Adrienne Barbeau comments on this in her interview for Scream Factory’s Blu-ray release:
“I was very happy, and rather proud to be doing it because I believe in 1978, we had not seen a gay woman on camera. We hadn’t seen a lesbian on camera. And the few gay characters that we did see on television, at least, were either being arrested or beaten up or vilified in some way, and here was Sophie. John wrote such a simple scene in which the audience realizes that she was lesbian. And that was the first revelation, and it was perfect.”
Later in that interview, Barbeau mentioned that the coming out scene was so simple and effective that she thought Carpenter, himself, was gay and was using how he came out to people as an example. As we all know, John Carpenter is not queer. Barbeau and he actually ended up dating for a while after this movie.
How Carpenter presented Sophie in Someone’s Watching Me! was how queer characters were not, and had not been, presented. She was here, and she was queer, but it did not affect the story. She was the supporting character, yes, but she was treated as any other character was treated within the film. In fact, she was the next character to Hutton’s Leigh who carried the story. If this were an article about queer besties who deserve better than they received, Sophie would be at the top of the list.
The main reason for the placement of the potential Queer Besties who Deserve Better? Sophie agrees to go along with Leigh in investigating the strange phone calls, letters, and apartment shenanigans that she was experiencing. And we all know how this always ends up for the queer character. Sophie gets buried, and is one of the only characters to be buried in the film. This occurs while Leigh looks on, but can do nothing to help Sophie.
No negativity towards Carpenter for Sophie’s demise, but why?! Because stakes need to be made in a horror/thriller, and disposing of the next closest person to the main character definitely raises those stakes. So, in accordance with the niche, we had to bid farewell to Sophie.
What Sophie leaves behind is a legacy of being one of the first respectfully displayed lesbians on national TV within the realm of horror. Especially within a year in which gay rights were actively being fought for—as if this isn’t still happening to this day—but positive queer characters are more prominent on TV than they were back then. Seeing someone like Sophie, a lesbian, being portrayed in an incredibly respectful light and as a character who contributed to the story was nearly unheard of in 1978.
1978 was the first year that the initial gay pride flag debuted. The pink, red, orange, yellow, green, turquoise, indigo, and violet rainbow flag flew in the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parde in June. 1978 was also the year that Sophie, a queer woman living her best and most respectful life, debuted on TV screens to the entire nation. And as the lone queer of Someone’s Watching Me!, although she is buried, she makes a prominent moment in the history of queer horror.
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