The Fan (1981)

Today, Ed Bianchi is famous for his work on TV series like Deadwood and Boardwalk Empire, but he also has two movies to his credit. This one and the bizarre 1991 movie Off and Running, where Cyndi Lauper plays a mermaid-themed lounge singer whose boyfriend is murdered in front of her before she hooks up with a professional golfer.

It’s produced by Robert Stigwood, who in addition to managing the Bee Gees and Cream, produced the films Jesus Christ Superstar, GreaseTommySaturday Night Fever, Bugsy MaloneMoment by MomentGrease 2 and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. As you can tell, the success of these films gradually declined as time moved on.

The Fan received plenty of negative media attention, due to being released a few months after the murder of John Lennon, who lived in The Dakota, the same building where legendary actress and star of this film Lauren Bacall had been living for many years. She wasn’t pleased with the final film, however.

The Fan is much more graphic and violent than when I read the script. The movie I wanted to make had more to do with what happens to the life of the woman–and less blood and gore.”

You have to admire the audacity of people who will take a legend like Lauren Bacall — someone who had only made one Robert Altman movie since last appearing in the Duke’s last movie, The Shootist — and put her in a slasher.

Douglas Breen (Michael Biehn!) is obsessed — and that’s putting it mildly — with star of stage and film Sally Ross (Bacall). No matter how many autographs he gets or curt replies or even outright silence, it’s never enough. He must have her, he must own her, he must consume her.

Sally doesn’t even know he exists. She’s acting in a Bob Fosse-like musical and reconnecting with her ex-husband Jake Berman (James Garner!). But after the letters become more carnal — yes, this is how we sexted in the 1980s, I was 9 when this was made, so I know — her assistant Belle (Maureen Stapleton!) starts to worry. She should — Douglas is stalking her every single move. And when he figures out that Belle is the reason why his letter didn’t get through, he slices her up with a straight razor.

She survives, but Elsa the maid doesn’t. Soon, Sally is under protection courtesy of Inspector Raphael Andrews (Hector Elizondo) and being asked if she’s like to have conjugal relations with a meat cleaver. Of note, the 2002 Paramount DVD release of this film re-edited this line to be much less profane.

Our heroine leaves town but that’s when Douglas gets smart. He gets cruised in a gay bar and when in the midst of some oral delight, murders the man and sets him ablaze, faking that the body was his. Oh, the 1980’s, when DNA didn’t exist and these things happened all the time.

Finally, Sally comes back for opening night, but despite how amazing her performance is and even getting to reconcile with her ex, Douglas is waiting. He kills her costume designer and a guard before coming after her. But finally, he offers her an embrace and she responds by stabbing him in the neck before presumably leaving for the cast party at Sardi’s.

Look for Anna Maria Horsford from the Friday films as a female cop, Reed Jones (the original Skimbleshanks in Cats), a young Dana Delaney working in the record store alongside Douglas, Dwight Schultz as the director, Griffin Dunne as his production assistant and Liz Smith as herself.

The Golden Raspberry Awards nominated the song “Hearts, Not Diamonds” for Worst Song the year this came out. My ire for these awards and the wonderful films that they deride knows no bounds. Who are they to scoff at the abilities of Marvin Hamlisch and Tim Rice? How dare you insult Ms. Bacall! Why, why, why — I should write a letter just like Douglas did! That turned out alright!

There’s a rumor that this film was originally intended to be a straightforward thriller starring Elizabeth Taylor and directed by Jeff Lieberman. Yes, America’s favorite actress in the twilight of her career, being directed by the maker of Blue Sunshine. How did this not happen? How can we get to the parallel Earth where it did?

Much respect to Shout! Factory for finally releasing this insane blast of end of the last century star power-driven slasher on blu ray. It’s going to sit in a place of honor, right next to the other movies that I’m so happy they finally released, like The Lonely Lady.

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