Last night, I watched the 1981 slasher-musical hybrid, The Fan.
Why Was I Watching it?
I had read about The Fan on a few slasher-related film sites and, despite the fact that the reviews were always universally negative, the former aspiring prima ballerina was intrigued by the idea of a slasher movie where the mayhem was occasionally put on hold for a dance number. When I saw it listed as being on AMC last night, I set the DVR to record it. Later, around 4 in the morning, I was battling insomnia and I didn’t really feel like watching infomercials or hurricane coverage. So, I watched The Fan.
What Was It About?
Lauren Bacall is Sally Ross, an aging actress who smokes and smokes and smokes. A very young and handsome Michael Biehn is Douglas, The Fan. He’s obsessed with Sally and writes her hundreds of adoring letters. “Believe me, I have the equipment to make you very, very happy,” the 20ish Douglas tells the 60ish Sally. Sally’s secretary (Maureen Stapleton) writes back to Douglas and tells him that it’s illegal to “send pornography through the mail.” Douglas responds by doing the whole slashing-up-the-world-with-a-straight-razor thing. Meanwhile, Sally is in rehearsals for her Broadway musical debut and wow, it’s the worst musical since Nine. Will Douglas be stopped? Will Sally getting a standing ovation? And how many cigarettes will be left by the end of the movie?
Michael Biehn is actually fairly good as the killer and the opening credits — where the musical score is nicely integrated with the sound of Biehn typing and reading his obsessive prose — are nicely done. And technically, the film looks good. The cinematography is credited to someone named Dick Bush and that’s all I’ll say about that.
But, let’s be honest, I wasn’t watching this film for quality. I was watching for the Broadway dance sequences. Films are always at their campiest when they try to portray a “Broadway” hit and that’s especially true if the film was made in 1981 (like this one). And, on this, The Fan did not disappoint. Seriously, the “show-within-the-show” here appears to be one of the greatest debacles in the history of imaginary Broadway. Lauren Bacall rasps out her songs while chain-smoking while the chorus line spins across the stage in a blur of sequins and glitter. On top of that, the show is named Never Say Never which has to be one of the most boring titles ever, as far as imaginary Broadway is concerned. Yet, when it’s all over, the audience gives Never Say Never a standing ovation. It’s a hit! There’s no accounting for taste as far as fake Broadway is concerned.
Here’s a show-stopper from Never Say Never, starring Sally Ross:
Plus, about 40 minutes into the film, Bacall and Stapleton have themselves a good, old-fashioned bitch-off which just has to be seen. There’s nothing like watching two divas compete to see who can devour the most scenery.
What Does Not Work:
Well, to be honest, the entire film doesn’t work. The pacing is terrible, the scenes with Biehn kills his victims somehow manage to be both bloodless and overly sadistic at the same time, and Bacall seems to be not only ticked off at having to appear in the film but angry with you for watching it as well. Add to that, there’s a bizarre homophobic subtext to this film that, while typical of a film released in the 80s, still seems odd for a movie that’s so obsessed with Broadway show tunes.
“OMG! JUST LIKE ME!” Moments:
I related to the dancers who show up on-screen whenever Sally is in rehearsals for her show. Being trapped on the chorus line of a terrible show? Been there, done that. It’s actually a lot of fun because you’re freed from having to worry about how terrible the show is. Instead of rehearsals being a death march, they’re an exuberant, doom-themed Mardi Gras.
Don’t allow anyone else to answer your fan mail.