Short Film Review: John Carpenter’s Captain Voyeur

“i wish i could see … i want to break the illusion and watch you in your quiet hours, when the mask is off …. and when i put my mask on….” – O.Froats, from “a discussion,” 1st stall, men’s room, Abby Theater.

That’s the opening frame of John Carpenter’s first film, the short film Captain Voyeur from 1969. As I mentioned in a previous post, I somehow had never seen another John Carpenter film before besides Halloween.

Then I saw that Captain Voyeur, a film Carpenter made while a student at The University of Southern California, was in the public domain and freely available in its entirety (it’s only seven minutes) on YouTube.

Some have said the techniques shown in this short film mirror what Carpenter would go on to do in Halloween nearly 10 years later. Well, I can see that. The opening after that quote is similar to Halloween’s: We have almost a voyeuristic point-of-view perspective.

Here’s Halloween’s from 1978. Warning, it’s graphic.

The camera also tracks around the same way. In Captain Voyeur, the camera tracks around an office-like setting, and with Halloween, it tracks around the house to get a voyeuristic glimpse at Judith Myers with her boyfriend. The same scenes even happen in Captain Voyeur, where the stalker looks in on a couple different women with men.

Like with Halloween, Carpenter makes us become the voyeur, and it’s even more on-the-nose with Captain Voyeur because it’s literally called Captain Voyeur and we’re seeing what he’s seeing through his stalking of the women, particularly the one he wants.

Also, like Myers, the main character here is wearing a mask, and as alluded to, is fixated on a girl. And again, also like Myers, when he does reach the final girl at the end of the film, he does a lot of heavy breathing. I don’t think Myers’ breathing is necessarily deviant and sexual, although one could interpret it that way, but there’s no ambiguity here with Captain Voyeur. He’s huffing and puffing like he’s aroused.

Finally, much like Halloween, this film features a female protagonist who forcefully fights back against her stalker/attacker. In this case, the unnamed woman sees Captain Voyeur looking at her, grabs her gun, and shoots at him.

I have no idea how to interpret the ending. We come back to Captain Voyeur’s house, and we hear a man say, “That wasn’t very nice to do, was it?”

Then a woman’s voice responds, “Uh-uh.”

“And you didn’t really mean to do it did you?”

“No.”

Thinking about it, perhaps she missed when she shot at him, and then somehow he was able to wrestle control of her, capture her, and take her back to his place? Where now under duress, she agrees it wasn’t a smart thing to do?

That’s a creepy and effective ending. I genuinely find this seven-minute film unsettling. I think, even aside from the voyeuristic point-of-view, the black-and-white aspect of the film and lack of dialogue (besides the end) adds an extra layer of horror to what’s going on. It’s an effective aesthetic.

It was fun to go back and see this film, where a young John Carpenter was honing his craft, and already showing glimmers of what he would do in years to come with his other films, most notably, Halloween. If you have seven minutes to watch something creepy, then I highly recommend this.

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