Release Date(s)1981 (November 19, 2019)
Studio(s)Paramount Pictures (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: B+
The slasher boom of the 1980s had barely gotten its foot through the door by the time that The Fan made its way to theaters in 1981. While films like Halloween, Friday the 13th, and Prom Night were stabbing teenagers to death, The Fan was more of a classy, grown-up affair with respected actors like Lauren Bacall, James Garner, and Maureen Stapleton headlining a story about a crazed movie fan who will do anything to get closer to his favorite leading lady.
Douglas Breen (Michael Biehn) is completely obsessed with movie star Sally Ross (Lauren Bacall), writing her a series of letters that become increasingly erratic. Intercepting them is her secretary Belle (Maureen Stapleton), who continues to warn Sally that this fan is different than the rest and should be taken seriously. Meanwhile, Sally is dealing with the pressures of starting a new stage show, as well as an on again, off again relationship with her recently divorced husband Jake (James Garner). However, Douglas won’t be ignored and it isn’t long before he starts moving in on Sally, dispatching those around her while getting closer and closer to her.
Based on the novel of the same name by Bob Spalding, The Fan is not a very adaptable book as its story is all told through correspondence, and Douglas’ letters are used in the film more as build-up than plot progression. Though The Fan falls squarely into the slasher genre, it’s also an odd hybrid of an “Old Hollywood” type of film, a musical, and a suspense thriller, coming off as more of a TV movie of the week. It never really gels, but most of the performances are either good or campy, lending to the movie’s status as a so-called good/bad movie. It’s also treasured by the gay community for a number of obvious and not-so-obvious reasons, falling in line with a number of other “gay” related suspense films like The Eyes of Laura Mars and Cruising.
As a slasher, it’s not totally effective, though there are a couple of genuine scares. The story and tone of the film also morphed into something different during pre-production due to the producer’s (Robert Stigwood) exposure to the recently-released Dressed to Kill. It was always a bone of contention for its cast, specifically Bacall who dismissed it in interviews. It was also criticized for its use of bloodletting, which in all fairness, is fairly tame compared to the other, more gore-soaked horror films of the day.
As such, The Fan offers an unorthodox, compelling, and sometimes laugh-inducing experience. Director Ed Bianchi (who went on to direct memorable episodes of Deadwood and Boardwalk Empire) does a fine job with the material. It’s shot well by cinematographer Dick Bush (Tommy, Sorcerer) and scored effectively by Pino Donaggio (Carrie), so it’s more than worth the effort. It’s also worth mentioning that there is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-her appearance by Dana Delaney, who is practically unrecognizable, making this a pre-Tombstone reunion of sorts.
Scream Factory dips into the Paramount Pictures catalogue for the first time, debuting The Fan on Blu-ray with a dated but healthy transfer. The source is in great shape, though the opening and closing titles, as well as transitions and fades, are much softer comparatively (which are inherent). Delineation is also a tad off, most noticeably during brighter moments, but fine detail is often strong, particularly in close-ups as even stray hairs on clothing and facial bumps and stubble are fully visible. Colors are potent, particularly in the big dance number at the end where a variety of hues are utilized that really pop off the screen. Grain levels are heavy, though lighter in a few places, and black levels are slightly affected by this, but still occasionally deep. Brightness and contrast levels are satisfactory as well. Aside from the opening and closing titles, it’s also a stable presentation, but mild speckling and occasional scratches here and there remain.
The audio is included in English 2.0 mono DTS-HD with optional subtitles in English SDH. It’s a mostly unremarkable track, but solid enough, serving the film’s limited sound design well. Dialogue is always discernable but sound effects are a tad weak. However, Pino Donaggio’s score comes through with the most vibrancy. The overall track is also relatively clean and clear with no dropouts, distortion, or other major issues.
This release also features a great extras package, which includes a new audio commentary with Blu-ray producer Jeff Nelson, film director David DeCoteau, and author David Del Valle. It’s a delightful discussion between the three as they are big fans of the film, quoting it and laughing along with it, but also providing plenty of interesting factoids along the way. There are also three new interviews, including Number One Fan, a 26-minute interview with actor Michael Biehn—who reveals that Waris Hussein was originally meant to direct, recalls an uncomfortable moment with Lauren Bacall, and tells a memorable story about the scene between he and Maureen Stapleton in the elevator; Fan Service, a 38-minute interview with director Ed Bianchi—who confirms many of the things that Michael Biehn says about Bacall and Stapleton, talks about his work on the film, mentions that Michael Biehn was hypnotized for the last shot of the film to keep him from blinking, and discusses the Dressed to Kill-inspired reshoots; and Fanning the Flames, an 18-minute interview with editor Alan Heim—who mentions that he didn’t approve of the script changes but couldn’t back out due to contractual obligations, talks about early or alternate versions of scenes, and what it was like to work with Pino Donaggio. In addition there’s the original theatrical trailer; 3 TV spots; and an animated still gallery featuring 57 images of publicity materials, posters, lobby cards, book covers, and newspaper clippings.
Sorely underappreciated beyond the confines of its initial theatrical release, the cult status of The Fan is firmly established and this excellent Blu-ray release from Scream Factory gives the film much more appreciable viewing value. Clearly put together with a labor of love, it’s certainly worthy of any horror fan’s film collection.
– Tim Salmons