Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Fan (1981)

Reviewed By: Billy

The Fan is a movie that must be seen to be believed. Of course, seeing it means subjecting yourself to 95 minutes of what I’m pretty sure is the only true slasher-musical, an idea that is even more ridiculous upon viewing than it sounds on paper. But trust me, the description I present here will do absolutely no justice to this celluloid equivalent of an all-out nuclear war…and so a first-hand experience is highly recommended.

The easiest way to describe this movie to today’s viewers would be to say it’s kind of like Whitney Houston’s The Bodyguard if Whitney Houston had been a 50-something-year-old white woman who...umm...can’t quite hit the high notes. Front and center here is Lauren Bacall starring as Sally Ross, a 40-something (ahem) legend who’s in rehearsals for a big Broadway show called…wait for this…Never Say Never. If that's not the most generic title for a Broadway show ever, I’m not sure what is. Thankfully, the show is anything but generic. We are treated to plenty of behind-the-scenes rehearsal footage as Lauren and her cast of chorus boys mug their way through some of the most insane production numbers ever conceived of.

Seriously, people…this is where that “seeing is believing” thing comes in. Whatever this group of people is doing, they're not rehearsing a Broadway musical. Because if it were a Broadway musical, it would be the flop of the century. It would would be as bad as this movie.

Anyway, it seems Miss Ross has an adoring fan named Douglas Breen who’s spending a little too much time with his typewriter, constantly shooting off letters about how he and Sally belong together. Breen is a 20-something record store clerk, played by a Michael Biehn (of Terminator and Planet Terror), who has a nice apartment and a decent job and is a good looking young guy…so what exactly he sees in an older actress with a booming baritone voice is not clear.

Meanwhile, Sally’s fanmail is handled by her assistant Belle (played by Maureen Stapleton). Her “witty” banter with Lauren Bacall comes off like the worst of the late-era "Golden Girls" scripts:

BELLE: I’m going now. I had three chocolates.
SALLY: (delivered a la Charles Busch): I’ve had three drinks. Maybe we should turn ourselves in.

Apparently, Douglas doesn’t appreciate Belle’s attempted wit, either, as he follows her into a subway and slashes her face up with a razor blade. This scene is staged like a high-school film student’s homage to Dressed To Kill. Speaking of, the entire movie is set to a completely annoying Pino Donnagio score, which sounds kind of like a group of musicians trying to perform Pino's much-better work for the De Palma film after taking a lot of speed. But this musical assault is misdemeanor stuff compared to the “songs” provided by Marvin Hamlisch and Tim Rice. The legendary duo contributes “Hearts, Not Diamonds” and “A Remarkable Woman” – two of the most God-awful showtunes you’ve ever heard. The latter is one of those big “let’s put on a show” numbers that Lauren sort of grumbles through while a totally out-of-tune chorus wails behind her like a cage full of dying primates.

But “Hearts, Not Diamonds”…oh…this one’s a classic. This is the torch song, Lauren’s eleven o’clock number that brings the crowd to its feet during the inane opening night montage. And let me tell you…if JM and I were in this audience, we’d be on our feet, too, thanking Lauren for providing one of the comic highlights of our lives. Lauren’s performance here can only be described as something akin to Kathleen Turner…drunk…trying to impersonate Frank Sinatra. People…she’s actually smoking while she sings it! It’s an amazing moment, and probably something that Ms. Bacall (who has actually won Tony awards for musicals in real life!) has been trying to forget ever since. If you can’t see the movie, at least find this performance on YouTube immediately.

Anyway…despite the aspirations of being a classy New York thriller, this is a sleazy slasher, so I should probably spend some more time on the blood and gore. After Belle gets her face carved up (which results in a hilarious hospital bandage job that will absolutely be my next Halloween costume – see below), Douglas goes after Sally’s dancer friend, actually following him to the YMCA pool and slashing him while they’re both swimming laps! This would qualify as the movie’s most ridiculous murder, but a little later Sally’s maid gets slashed across the breasts and instantly dies. Now…I don’t know much about the female anatomy, but I’m guessing that a razor blade across the chest (and over clothes, mind you) probably wouldn’t result in a sudden death.

There are some other famous people in this, too, including Hector Elizando as a detective, James Garner as Lauren’s totally unhelpful ex-husband, and a young Dana Delany as one of Biehn’s record store co-workers – and their presence here makes the mystery of how this movie got made even greater. How did these people agree to this movie? Was the original script completely different? Did they even see a script? And for Christ’s sake…didn’t they realize there would be showtunes involved?

I probably don’t need to tell you that the movie is going to end with a showdown between Bacall and Biehn ….a sequence that features all the suspense and tension of a “Get Smart” episode. Somehow, our Broadway broad manages to outwit her fan and ends up plunging a blade into his throat, thus ending his reign of terror on the theatre community. At this point the death is a little anticlimactic because…well…we just really don’t care who dies anymore. And anyway, after the cinema orgasm that is “Hearts, Not Diamonds” nothing else really seems to matter.

If I’ve in any way, shape, or form made this movie sound good…it’s not. But it is hysterical, in a way that few movies are. If you at all appreciate good camp, then the showtunes here will have your belly aching for days from the get-wrenching laughter. It’s also a good example of the crazy early-80s slasher sub-genre of movies that tried really hard to be classy and sophisticated while still bringing on the blood – movies like The Seduction and Eyes of Laura Mars and Curtains. I love these movies, because their efforts to “class it up” only serve to make them ten times trashier. In this case, casting a legend like Lauren Bacall and setting the movie in the theatre world are supposed to trick us into thinking this is an adult thriller. Well, we slasher fans know better. Throw in a hockey mask and you’d have Jason Takes Broadway.

Wait a minute…now there’s a good idea.




  2. Uh, that Jason remark ... here read my take on THE FAN

  3. Wow...I guess great minds indeed think alike. Enjoyed your write up -- this is a crazy, crazy movie. I hadn't given much thought to the killer's sexuality because...well...there's just WAY too many other things to write about here!

  4. I thought Wesley Snipes was badass in this one.. Wait..

    Might check it out if it ever makes itself painfully available to me. Not eager after the review

  5. Carl,
    I've always wanted to see the Wesley Snipes/De Niro "Fan"...I'm guessing it's not a remake, unless Snipes gets all dressed up in glitter and belts a few showtunes...