The Fan Blu-ray Review
Written by Robert Gold
Blu-ray released by Scream Factory
Directed by Edward Bianchi
Written by Priscilla Chapman and John Hartwell (novel by Bob Randall)
1981, 95 minutes, Rated R
Released on November 19th, 2019
Lauren Bacall as Sally Ross
Michael Biehn as Douglas Breen
James Garner as Jake Berman
Maureen Stapleton as Belle Goldman
Hector Elizondo as Inspector Raphael Andrews
Kurt Johnson as David Branum
Famed actress Sally Ross has enjoyed a lengthy career in the public eye as a leading lady of both stage and screen and is preparing for her next big musical production. She has an adoring fan base, most of who are satisfied with a picture or autograph. Douglas Breen, however, is not the typical devotee and sees himself as a special part of her life. He writes passionate letters every day, but is getting frustrated at her lack of response. Although they have never met, he knows they are meant to be together since only he can truly love her. When his advances are rebuffed, his feelings begin to sour and soon he believes that if he cannot have Sally, no one can.
Back in 1981, before the internet and the rise of social media and the paparazzi, most celebrities could claim a reasonable amount of personal privacy. They met enthusiasts during scheduled public appearances and made contact via snail mail through their fan clubs. Bob Randall’s 1977 novel The Fan is a harrowing tale of obsession and murder pitting a beloved actress against a deranged admirer. Director Edward Bianchi’s cinematic adaptation, written by Priscilla Chapman and John Hartwell, succeeds at generating plenty of suspenseful moments as our antagonist steadily closes the distance between himself and his acclaimed muse.
Hollywood legend Lauren Bacall (Misery) stars as Sally Ross, the aging performer living a busy but somewhat empty life. Her work keeps her away from most problems while her dedicated secretary Belle (Maureen Stapleton, Reds) handles the daily responsibilities and keeps out the riff-raff. Sally regrets the breakup of her marriage to Jake Berman (James Garner, The Great Escape), a popular movie star who has since moved on with a young new girlfriend. He remains a part of her life and it isn’t out of the question that they can still work things out. Bacall, Garner and Stapleton are all in top form and shine with easygoing performances lending the film a touch of class.
Michael Biehn (Cherry Falls) co-stars as Douglas Breen, the titular fan who will kill to be a part of this woman’s life. This is one of his early film appearances and he displays all of the charisma and intensity that made him a star in the 1980s. Much of Biehn’s performance is delivered through voiceover narration as he is writing his letters, leaving him with little onscreen dialogue until the finale, but his physical presence is strong. Breen is a complicated character driven by a desire for love and acceptance, but his outlook is twisted and delusional and when rejected he is prone to physical violence.
The Fan arrived early in the celebrity-stalker cycle that populated the decade and while it contains many familiar elements, it manages to avoid some of the more obvious clichés. It is a little bizarre watching Bacall in a genre picture, but apparently the slasher aspects were bumped up against her wishes in the wake of Dressed to Kill and Friday the 13th. Cinematographer Dick Bush (The Legacy) delivers a striking visual style with his creative camera angles and lighting design. Further elevating the material is the lush score by composer Pino Donaggio (Two Evil Eyes), which is another knockout. Film buffs will want to keep an eye out for a quick appearance by Griffin Dunne (An American Werewolf in London) as a production assistant at the theatre and Dana Delaney (Tombstone) as a record store clerk.
The Fan was not a huge success in 1981, but has developed a cult following within the gay community. The film aspires to be a strong statement on stalking and obsession, but frequently falls into the category of camp. Casting a Hollywood icon not known for her singing and dancing abilities and making her the star of a Broadway musical is a recipe for disaster. Bacall gives it a noble attempt, but fails to connect with this side of the character. There is also a scene in a gay bar late in the picture that provides a peek into the villain’s personal life. Fans will rejoice that the picture is once again available for viewing after a long absence from the home video market. If you enjoy stalker movies like The Seduction and The Last Horror Film (both 1982), I can easily recommend adding this title to your collection.
Video and Audio:
Presented in a dated but respectable transfer, the 1.85:1 image is full of color and detail. Darker scenes are occasionally noisy, but close-ups fare very well.
A DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono track preserves the original audio and it is pleasing. The music cues are particularly impressive without stepping on dialogue levels.
Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.
Filmmaker David DeCoteau (Creepozoids), historian David Del Valle and moderator Jeff Nelson are huge fans of this movie and provide a fast-paced and frequently rowdy audio commentary. They share plenty of Lauren Bacall stories and love for Michael Biehn, and embrace the campiness of the film. They recite dialogue as it plays out and talk divas and the film’s gay following. There is discussion about the timing of the release in the wake of John Lennon’s murder and they take great pleasure in skewering the big musical number. This is a really fun track that is definitely worth checking out.
Michael Biehn remembers his work on the picture in Number One Fan (26 minutes) and has a lot to say. He confirms that the tone changed before shooting began to promote more of a slasher vibe to much of the cast’s disapproval. He tells some great stories about co-stars Bacall and Stapleton and talks about the film’s gay fan base. Biehn discusses the dismal press junket he was briefly a part of and reflects on his career as a whole.
In Fan Service (38 minutes), director Edward Bianchi reveals how he got the job following a successful string of commercials. He talks about his incredible cast and shares some interesting production stories. Other topics include shooting in New York, praise for his crew and his experiences directing the musical numbers.
Oscar winning editor Alan Heim (All That Jazz) is the subject in Fanning the Flames (18 minutes). He tells of the changes in the script to add more blood, shares Bacall stories and praises Pino Donaggio’s score. He talks about his editing style and re-working the opening credit sequence. This is a fascinating interview and a welcome addition to this release.
A spoiler-heavy trailer provides a look at the curious marketing campaign, but should be watched only after viewing the movie. Three TV spots are also included.
A still gallery plays as a silent slideshow (4 minutes) featuring lobby cards, international poster art and pages from the original press kit.
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