The Fan (1981)

He’s a killer queeEEEN!
Edward Bianchi
Lauren Bacall, Michael Biehn, James Garner, Maureen Stapleton, Hector Elizondo
The Setup: 
Obsessed fan grows ever more obsessed with has-been actress.

I remember this movie being out when it was originally released, I remember thinking it looked pretty cool, and I remember what terrible reviews it got. Then I read a hilarious review which said that the dangerous killer is akin to Waylon Flowers, and what can I say, obviously after that I had to see it, and see it NOW. Then add the boozy, washed-up, chain-smoking actress aspects and the backstage Broadway milieu, and you’ve got a WINNER. Or at least you’d think you would, if the movie didn’t just get so darned boring.

The movie begins with an excellent opening credits sequence which tracks in extreme close-up around the fan’s desk as we hear another wonderful Bernard Herrmann-esque score from Pino Donaggio, underlaying a typical letter from the fan in question, Douglas Breen. Douglas is a show fag who works in a record store [and I think bitches about rock music? He likes show music?] and idolizes Sally Ross, a former screen actress, now on Broadway. He’s blond and pent-up, but not as pent-up as it he would have been if the script were well-written, or if this was a decent performance.

Lauren Bacall plays Lauren Bacall, only she’s called Sally Ross, which leads to snickers every time she’s called “Miss Ross,” because, well, we all know who MISS ROSS is. Poor Lauren has fallen prey to the ravages of time, and her face seems to hang about three inches below her skull. Nevertheless, it was nice to see an older woman who hadn’t been facelifted to death. Anyway, she drinks like a fish, smokes like a fiend, and is every bit the haughty, imperious, not-qualified-to-be-anything-but-haughty-and-imperious actress you’d hope she would be. Her secretary, played by Maureen Stapleton, is the one who actually receives and answers the mail, and so Mr. Breen’s letters all end up with her at first. The letters start in a fairly off-the-wall way, so there’s not far for them to go, and it’s not long before Douglas is imagining a tepid affair between Sally and he, insinuating that Maureen is a lesbian, and Maureen is telling him to cut it out, which leads to a MASSIVE BITCH-OFF between Lauren and Maureen that may be the highlight of the entire film… if you like massive bitch-offs. Afterward, Maureen retreats into her familiar attitude of passive-aggression, and Lauren goes on with the haughty and imperious routine.

As a special treat, there are several musical sequences, as Lauren is practicing to star in the most boringly-named musical ever [“Never Say Never”]. This brings us into the backstage world of Broadway, which is always fun, though the movie never lets us get through one or two lines of the songs before they cut away [probably because they’re saving the full version for the performance at the end, though even then we don’t get to see it all]. Please don’t miss the guy slapping the other guy on the ass.

Blah, blah, blah. I forget who gets killed first. I think Maureen gets attacked [in the 42nd street subway], then some nameless assistant gets disemboweled, then Douglas comes and trashes Lauren’s apartment—though you’ll note that it’s all perfectly back to normal by the next scene. The rich have different housekeepers than you or me. You’ll notice how long and dull the stalkings are. The word on the street is that since Friday the 13th came out while this was filming, that the producers went back and added a bunch of “gore,” if the equivalent of one 6-ounce tube of fake blood is what you call “gore.” Apparently Lauren saw it and was appalled and refused to promote the movie. Anyway, for my money, not much blood, which by this time could have livened things up.

Also better-sounding than it actually is would be the much-vaunted trip to the GAY BAR [the “Haymarket”] in which almost no one seems to be speaking to each other [I mean, even less than in real bars]. Douglas picks up a young man without a word, and they go up to the roof, where the man blows Doug until Doug slits his throat and sets him on fire. Sounds exciting? It isn’t.

The movie is never clear on Douglas’ sexuality, perhaps based on the brouhaha that greeted Cruising the year before, but he seems pretty much a gay show queen. Plus he calls himself “Douglas” and not “Doug,” which pretty much MEANS gay, and he’s obsessed with a formerly-glamorous actress, he loves showtunes, and he doesn’t seem all that unfamiliar with the locations and protocols of the gay bar. But, you know, I don’t want to stereotype. Of course, the movie would have been much more interesting if it HAD shown the courage to explore Douglas’ sexuality and how it led him to the state he’s in.

I sometimes feel bad when I watch a movie in two parts, because I invariably don’t like the second half as much. In this case, however, I don’t feel so bad, because I was so bored toward the end of the first hour I just couldn’t take it anymore. It’s just stalk stalk, kill kill, Lauren freaks out. Like I said, it would have been better if Douglas hadn’t been fairly bonkers from the get-go, meaning there’s not much of an arc before he’s REALLY bonkers, and it just turns dull. Not to mention all the horrendous “falling in love again” shit we have to sit through with Lauren and James Garner. Sheesh.  SPOILERS > > >  So Lauren’s big musical opens and we get to see a few almost-full numbers which are always a delight, especially these tacky 80s ones. I was curious that Douglas only shows up for the last song, which, if he’s such a big fan… and no one knows what he looks like… but whatever. So the theater backstage EMPTIES out in a flash [as IF they’re going to leave the big star of a Broadway musical alone in a theater but for two people], and Douglas breaks in and kills the other two [in one of those one-knife-jab-to-the-gut-and-they’re-DEAD movie killings], then comes after Lauren. She chooses to arm herself with a RIDING CROP [akin to the scene in Scary Movie where Carmen Electra eyes a table of butcher knives and chooses the banana], and eventually the killer falls.

Now, please note that Lauren stabbed the guy at the very front of the seats, but when we see him later, he is propped up for “chilling” effect in seats a little further back, as though he’s watching a show [so eerie]. Which would mean that Lauren would have had to drag his dead body back to that seat and arrange him just so. But you know drama queens. < < < SPOILERS, AND REVIEW, END

Should you watch it: 

This movie, as I learned, is better to read about than to actually sit through. I’m not so sure it would appeal to the general populous, but if you’re gay and you gathered a few of your friends and had some strong drinks, it could definitely provide an evening’s entertainment.