Review Date: October 14, 2007
Released by: Paramount
Release date: 09/24/2002
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
It’s always great when a trendsetting independent horror film hits big and leaves Hollywood scratching their heads. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
and The Blair Witch Project
were all underground successes that Hollywood could never replicate. In these cases, Hollywood just never seemed to understand that you can’t really make a big budget slasher or a faux documentary. It’s that impendence of style and subject that make those films stand out against Hollywood’s grand ideas and aesthetics. Still, Hollywood no doubt tried to replicate these films, with the flop Fear dot com
as the most recent example. The slasher had a little bit better track record in Hollywood, with the John Carpenter-penned Eyes of Laura Mars
leading the way. There was another glossy Hollywood slasher though, 1981’s The Fan
. Filled with classy, Oscar-winning stars and some beautiful cinematography, it begged for credibility. Should it get it?
“Dear Miss Ross, I am your greatest fan, because unlike the others I want nothing from you. The only thing that matters to me is your happiness.”
So begins The Fan
, with Douglas Reed (Michael Biehn
) typing out his infatuation with the aging starlette (Lauren Bacall
). Sally Ross has dealt with celebrity all her life, ever since her days with Bogie. She’s older now, and her Hollywood marriage to big star Jake Berman (James Garner
) has long since ceased. She’s still a public figure though, with hundreds of fans begging for her autograph at any public sighting. She’s about to start a new Broadway musical, too, so fan interest should only increase. Douglas is different though, he’s not into autographs and memorabilia. No, his infatuation goes much deeper than that. To him, they are meant to be together.
By day, Douglas is a clerk at a record store, but by night he sits at his typewriter professing his love to his favorite star. All he wants is a response, some sort of knowledge that she too feels for him what he does her. He’s upset when, instead, he’s given a response by her secretary, Belle Goldman (Maureen Stapleton
). He sends her another, but still only a courteous thank you from her assistant. He begins to hatch the idea that Belle is devising some weird scheme to keep them apart, so he decides to take matters into his own hands. He tries to deliver a message to Sally directly. When this gets intercepted by a now concerned Belle, Douglas has no other choice. During a late night walk from the subway, Belle is stalked and eventually stabbed multiple times by a masked perpetrator. Now, finally, Douglas can have Sally to himself.
The grief of losing Belle has Sally running back into the arms of Jake, and other comforting bodies. Seeing this causes Douglas grief, so much so that he begins to lose it at work. Douglas realizes that this is only bringing them further and further apart, so he devises one last great scheme. He will see her opening night, congratulate her on the performance and whisk her off into the sunset. His letters may have gotten vulgar, but his intentions for her are still as pure as they always were. He and Sally were meant to be together, and nobody can keep them apart anymore.
is an interesting, if not entirely successful, glam slasher. It takes the formula outside of the middle class and explores the high life of celebrity, suggesting a look into the essence of fame. That Lauren Bacall plays a role not far separated from herself hints at layers of complexity that most slasher films touch only subconsciously. Add in supporting roles from the likes of Maureen Stapleton (just coming off her Oscar for Reds
), James Garner, Hector Elizondo and a young Michael Biehn, and this is without a doubt a film bubbling with aspects of celebrity. Yet, instead of critiquing society’s infatuation with fame, the film instead indulges in it, reveling in a number of stagy, campy and tedious musical acts from the Bacall’s Broadway play. You know the tone is completely off when the film switches from Pino Donaggio’s assaulting score to a Tim Rice musical number called “Hearts, Not Diamonds.”
As if the shifting in tone weren’t pronounced enough with those terrible musical numbers, there’s also a tasteless scene on the other end of the spectrum. After the fan has truly gone off his rocker, he goes to a gay bar, when he quietly picks up a man and takes him up to the roof tops. There the man goes down on him, and as he thinks of Sally, he slits the guy’s throat. This seems complacent with the popular notion at the time that somehow homosexuality was a mental illness, that unstable minds like it in the back end. This scene is Cruising
, but without Friedkin’s complex ambiguities. It aims to speak for itself, passing off Douglas’ stalker impulses as some offensive fag illness. It trivializes Biehn’s otherwise complex character, and worse off, reveals Hollywood’s prejudice against difference. That’s why horror need exist outside the mainstream, to subvert society’s puritan presumptions.
There’s no denying the film is shot with panache, from the prowling opening shot of personal possessions similar to those in Deep Red
to the wide-angle finale in an Opera
-like theater. The performances are all solid too, easily better than most any other slasher. Yet, for every flourish, the film remains inescapably a product of its time, more interesting historically than anything else. It comes from Robert Stigwood (of Grease
fame), so the stagy dance numbers are forced into an otherwise moody story. It comes from the slasher era, so observing the ways the film conforms and deviates from the genre norms is inevitable. Yet most tellingly it comes from a time of a time of intolerance, and from a studio system conservatively at odds with it. There’s only one passing scene of homosexuality, yet that scene sticks out most in this otherwise passable thriller.
comes from the era at Paramount where slashers would get no extras, but instead merely an accomplished anamorphic transfer. This 1.85:1 film looks solid here, encoded progressive and very clear in sharpness and rich in detail. The film is grainer than it needs to be, and there are a few scenes (particularly in the dance studio) that look a bit washed out. Otherwise though the cinematography by Dick Bush (who more than proved his worth on a number of Hammer films, and particularly Friedkin’s Sorcerer
) is finally done justice by the professional transfer.
It’s mono and it sounds it. It’s particularly flat, but never distorted or hissy. The worst part of the track is probably the fact that the clarity behind it emphasizes just how bad Lauren Bacall’s singing in this truly was.
There has been a single alteration to the dialogue for this release, however, and many fans of the film will probably be disappointed. Probably the most notorious line from the film, the threatening “How would you liked to be fucked with a meat cleaver?” has in a bout of unneeded taste been replaced with “I've exhausted myself on thinking of ways to kill you.” It doesn’t quite register with the same impact, and reeks of censorship, but at least it isn’t distractingly dubbed.
Remember how Paramount’s April Fool’s Day
and My Bloody Valentine
had no extras? Neither does this.
For better or worse, The Fan
is inescapably a product of its time. As a slasher, it offers comparatively great performances, cinematography and direction. As a cultural document though, it’s infused with bad Grease
-inspired musical numbers and some totally unwarranted homophobia. There’s nothing to be afraid about with this transfer though, which is another solid genre transfer from Paramount. Yet, the mono sound and absence of extras also comes with the Paramount territory, too. The changing of a famous line of dialogue sadly reeks of censorship, as well. While I’m not entirely a fan, it’s an interesting film, and slasher fans should give it a pass.
Movie - C+
Image Quality - A-
Sound - C
Supplements - N/A
- Running time - 1 hour 34 minutes
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English mono
- English subtitles