2/22/08

All Dancing! All Singing! All Slashing! THE FAN

He's hot, he's sexy, he's psychotic ... and obsessed with an aging Broadway star - He's Douglas Breen (Michael Biehn), and he's got the fever for the flavor of the goddess of the Great White Way, Sally Ross (Lauren Bacall).

1981's The Fan is a strange film that blends the typical slasher flick with a backstage fable about an older glamor gal attempting to reclaim her place at the top of the heap by agreeing to be in a musical. Imagine All About Eve meets He Knows Your Alone, or something like that.

The film is chock-full of famous faces; you've got Maureen Stapleton as Sally's feisty assistant, Belle; James Garner as Sally's ex; and even Hector Elizondo as a somewhat star-struck New York City police inspector. But the real star of this epic is Biehn as "the fan".

With his baby face and puppy dog eyes, Biehn's Douglas is one of the most handsome stalkers to come down the pike in ages. That he plays his part as earnestly as he does, only adds to his psychotic characterization. Douglas actually believes that he and Sally are soul mates and what begins as creepy fan-boy-antics on his part, soon turns into a bloody obsession.

It is pretty clear from the get-go that our boy is gay. And I for one, had no problem with that. I don't get very upset when the bad guy in a film turns out to be gay considering that most villains portrayed are usually straight - so let's get this out of the way here: watch The Fan with an open mind and you'll enjoy yourself.

That said, it is also clear that this movie was made for a gay audience. What other slasher flick from the golden age of slice and dice cinema featured:


A - A handsome killer.
B - A middle aged, legitimate movie star as both victim and final girl.
C - Musical numbers written by Marvin Hamlish.
D - The Broadway stage as the stalking ground.
Imagine if the producers of Jason Take Manhattan had included a scene with Jason stumbling into a theater showing Cats? How cool would that have been with old Hockey Mask Face slashing his way through the cast and maybe even slitting the throat of Grizabella as she was warbling, Memory?

But I digress...

Back to The Fan ; the first person to figure out that something is going awry is Belle, since she reads and answers all of Sally's mail, she has been monitoring all of Douglas's letters and has watched as the missives have become less complimentary and wide eyed and have started to become more obscene. Unfortunately for her, Douglas has decided that the secretary is coming between him and the object of his obsession - he even suggests in one of his letters to Sally that Belle might be a lesbian (ain't that just like a bitter queen).

Once he gets into his head that Belle must be stopped, Douglas follows the old gal to the subway and uses a razor to slash her about the face.

It's an odd moment, watching Maureen Stapleton scream and flay about as she is being slashed since we usually don't see middle aged women being attacked like that in films of this nature. Frankly, it's downright unnerving. Happily, Belle is tough enough to survive this ordeal and ends up in the hospital still cracking wise as her face heals.

Now that Douglas has attacked, he starts plowing through Sally's associates. First he hunts down the pretty boy dancer that Sally is seen lunching with in a brutal attack at the public swimming pool.

Honestly, this one the most diabolical things ever dreamt up: as pretty boy swims along in the pool, Douglas, who is also in the pool, silently glides beneath him, takes his straight razor out of his trunks, and just glides the weapon under the belly of him thereby gutting his victim. At first pretty boy is not even aware that anything has happened. And as Douglas leaves the pool and strolls away nonchalantly, other people at the pool begin screaming as they see the pools water go from cobalt blue to blood red while the victim is left convulsing and flaying about the death pool.

Still, the show must go on. And even though the reaper is stalking Sally Ross, she's got a show to do. So through a series of montages we watch Bacall's Sally learn dance numbers, rehearse songs, and discuss various other things related to her big comeback: what a perverse pleasure it is watching Bacall belting out these hokey songs in her rehearsal garb of a man's shirt and tights (to accentuate her gams) - you might have to keep reminding yourself that Bacall actually had been doing musicals on Broadway for several years when this film was made, because her singing voice is dreadful! But still, watching her hoof it up with a bevy of dancing boys more than half her age will make most Broadway baby's heart leap with glee!

Meanwhile, Douglas is about to tip over into full tit wacky land. He breaks into Sally's apartment, slashes a framed painting of her to bits, finds and kills her maid and maybe even rearranges her living room, I'm not sure. Nonetheless, after her maid is killed and her apartment ransacked, Sally leaves the city and retreats to her summer home upstate to sit things out. The police have been no help, and her ex husband is only good for saying things like, "Don't worry, the police will sort this all out in no time". So poor Sally sits and smokes a lot of cigarettes and hopes for the best.

It's at this point that devious Doug comes up with his master plan. He is going to fake his death and have Sally and the police thing all is well, and when she comes back, he'll bide his time till opening night and plead his case with her backstage after the show -- makes sense.

In what is probably The Fan's most controversial scene, Douglas goes to a gay bar and picks up another fellow who he sweet talks and takes to a back alley. As the fellow gets down on his knees to give him head, Doug stabs the poor sucker (pun intended) in the neck - watch as the camera goes in on a close up of Biehn's face while his pick-up is dying, he looks to be shuddering in almost orgasmic pleasure during all of this.

With the trick dead, Douglas pours gasoline all over the poor stiff, sets him on fire, and leave a suicide note nearby.

Thinking that all is well, Sally comes back to the Big Apple and prepares for opening night.

Finally, with Belle back from her stay at the hospital, and her ex husband seemingly ready to make amends, Sally is optimistic that everything will be coming up roses - so she saunters forth and does her show.

Once more The Fan goes into camp overdrive as we get to watch Bacall's Sally on stage, bathed in a spotlight, a cigarette dangling from her fingertips while she croaks out the Marvin Hamlish penned 11th hour number, Hearts, Not Diamonds. And to filmmaker Edward Bianchi's credit this is one of the movies best scenes as we cut back in forth to Sally on stage, and Douglas dressing for his date with destiny, the entire scene is set to the song being sung and it's greatly effective.

When Douglas gets to the theater, it is during the end of Sally's last number and she is getting a standing ovation.

Backstage we get to see Sally and her friends celebrating her triumphant night and the champagne is being poured as everyone waits for what will, hopefully be, some great review in The Times. (an aside here: I've always thought it would be have been good idea for Douglas to have found a critic who had given Sally a bad review, and then killed him as a sort of gift to his beloved; that would have been both funny and cathartic).

Of course, Sally stays behind after her entourage has left the theater and the stage is set (pun intended) for a final showdown.

Douglas gets to off one more person at this point, poor old "Pop", the guy who sits by the stage door, the night watchman, who probably had so many great tales to tell of Broadways golden years, is done in by the fan.

When Sally finds his body, she realizes that her stalker is still about and she runs insanely through out the theater screaming (actually croaking) for help until finally, Star and Fan meet in person.

At first, Douglas terrifies Sally, chasing her around with a riding crop (!) and smacking her about, until finally, having had enough of the little twerp, Sally turns the tables and begins to fight back, she even tells him off calling him "pathetic" and comparing him to the lowest form of life. That's when Douglas collapses into Sally's arms weeping.

Taking a rather oedipal turn here, we watch as Sally seemingly comforts her psychotic fan, caressing him and holding him close - it is a beguiling and effective moment in the film. And then, Sally finally turns the tables by plunging Douglas's trusty razor blade into his neck, leaving him stone cold dead, front and center in a theater staring off into space.

While it is far from a masterpiece, The Fan is a must see for gay slasher film fans. In fact this is one movie that I'd like to see a remake of. Imagine a retelling starring Jake Gyllenhaal as Douglas and maybe someone like Bette Midler as Sally Ross - hey, I smell an Oscar!


3 comments:

The Divine Ms. Jimmi said...

How I wish they could have had Tallauh Bankhead or Bette Davis in their middle-ages!

Lauren Bacall seemed like that was all they could get. it is clear this movie is reaching for some camp aesthetic and they picked an actress that is not able to reach that level.

I always felt like the pretty boy murders carried a Gay Sex = Death mentality to the extreme. If it had been just a little more camp, I would have tolerated it better.

Eternal Sunshine said...

If you have the movie, would u PLEEEEEEEEASE upload it?
Thanks!

Sean said...

Gosh, I haven't seen this movie since it used to be on an endless loop on HBO back in the day. Love it! I must be sick, because I found some of it hawt.