(director: Sean S. Cunningham; screenwriters: from the novel by Mary Higgins Clark/Earl Mac Rauch/Victor Miller; cinematographer: Barry Abrams; editor: Susan E. Cunningham; music: Lalo Schifrin; cast: Kate Mulgrew (Sharon Martin), Rip Torn (Artie Taggert), Shawn von Schreiber (Julie Peterson), James Naughton (Steve Peterson); Runtime: 92; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Sidney Beckerman; MGM; 1982)

“A first-class creepy performance by Rip Torn as the sadistic psychopath.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A made-for-television movie by Sean S. Cunningham (”Friday the 13th”); the B movie director’s best film but one that bombed at the box office. It’s his only film that shows him capable of shooting for more than cheap shock thrills. The disturbing urban thriller is taken from the novel by Mary Higgins Clark and written by Earl Mac Rauch and Victor Miller. It features a first-class creepy performance by Rip Torn as the sadistic psychopath.

The film opens as Artie Taggert (Rip Torn) rapes and bludgeons to death Brenda Peterson, the mother of 8-year-old Julie Peterson (Shawn von Schreiber), as she watches from the staircase of the family home. A shaken Julie mistakenly identifies the culprit as the 19-year-old delivery boy who entered the house after the incident and after two years he’s sentenced to die in the electric chair. Julie’s father Steve (James Naughton) is set to remarry popular television news journalist Sharon Martin (Kate Mulgrew, her film debut). Meanwhile Taggart is worried Julie will realize her mistake and snatches her from her bedroom community private house, and also manages to snatch Sharon. He keeps them captive in a tunnel beneath NYC’s Grand Central Station and leaves a tape for Julie’s father asking $182,000 ransom. The two females are tormented by him, as he revels in his dominance over them. In one instance, he’s almost stabbed in a Central Park mugging in the bathroom. The viewer has to root that the remorseless sicko survives, otherwise no one will find the females before they starve to death.

The film is bleak, humorless and very upsetting, and leaves us rooting for the victims to outwit their tormentor. Even if the plot has serious flaws and it’s not entertaining to watch such torment, the performances are convincing and the stark atmosphere of the city’s underbelly (consisting of Hispanic gangs and the homeless) is impressively depressing.

A Stranger Is Watching Poster

REVIEWED ON 11/18/2006 GRADE: B-