THE FAN was made and released during the massive glut of slashers in the early 1980s. The critics trashed it because they thought it was repellent and a vehicle that was beneath its main star, Lauren Bacall. Of course, the film flopped because it didn't please anyone: fans of slashers (musical numbers in a slasher?) or fans of respectable Hitchcock-like thrillers, or fans of musicals.
Because of this, THE FAN is one of those movies that has fallen into the crack of cinematic oblivion. Personally speaking, the film itself is not great. There are several major problems with it but I, for one, like it for what it is: it's pure camp! The screenplay was based on a novel many say is better than the film. I haven't read the book yet but the film itself is filled with many memorable moments that stick with you long after you watched it. Most of those scenes are unintentionally hilarious ones, like all of the musical numbers, which are priceless. Seeing Lauren being wooed by a throng of dancing studs in bed is too much for words. But the (infamous) musical numbers are not the only campy thing about it. The acting from everyone is set on melodramatic. Well, except for James Garner, who's as dull as can be. Garner's presence is one of the film's many weaknesses. Every time he's on screen the film slows to a crawl. He literally sucks the life out of the film. The other weakness is Michael Biehn's voice-overs. Though a very good actor, I thought his voice-overs weren't menacing enough. A little too flat.
But the (crazy) idea that a closet-case like Michael Biehn is infatuated by Lauren Bacall is one of the movie's many beautifully illogical aspects which makes this forgotten film much more fun than its reputation. The script is totally illogical. Bacall pines for ex husband Garner but halfway into the movie, Bacall starts a relationship with a cop, played by Hector Elizondo, which oddly enough doesn't go anywhere and by the end of the film she still pines for Garner. The screenplay is very muddled over this plot point.
The Fan (Biehn) is very protective of Sally Ross. He even kills one of Bacall's "dates" (David, during the swimming pool scene) and yet he never ever goes after Garner's character or even the flirtatious cop. Had the film actually dealt with this in a logical fashion, the killer should have went after Garner, and quite frankly, should have killed him. This would have added much needed gravitas to the lightweight TV movie-like feel of the film. The subtext of the illogical story is clearly about repressed homosexuality (a crazed fan of a Broadway star) but the handling of it (intentional or not) is not too subtle and almost veers the film in the homophobic category.
The only people The Fan kills are blue-collar or working class folks, which makes it unique: is this the first working-class slasher? The Fan kills a stagehand known as Pops; not one but TWO maids; David, who's one of the dancers; a gay man he meets at a bar, etc. Working for Sally comes at a price (if you're a maid, just don't work for her!). When the end credits roll, all of the main characters are still alive, including Bacall's personal secretary, Belle, played by Maureen Stapleton. Belle handles Sally's fan mail and because of this, she directly experiences The Fan's wrath, who slices her face with his favorite weapon, a razor. Belle survives the attack (because she's an important character) but her face was cut up severely. Without knowing about it, The Fan basically gave her a spontaneous face-lift of sorts but when the bandages come off, Maureen looks exactly the same as before. She should have asked for a refund. This detail makes me giggle nonstop.
Because The Fan only kills secondary characters and few of the main ones are in any direct threat, there's very little tension or suspense going on, which is not good for a horror/slasher flick. The only real tension occurs at the very end and even then, it's never overwhelming. This moment happens right after a successful opening night of the musical, after we see every cast and character of the film personally congratulate Sally in her dressing room, hugging and kissing her for a job well done. Again, this scene is hilarious and reminds me of musicals of the past. One has to be continuously reminded that this is supposed to be a slasher, not a Fred & Ginger musical.
Even with all its weaknesses, THE FAN is excellent camp. The dialogue is often quotable, there's an ultra flowery & shrieking score by Pino Donaggio (which echoes those he made for Brian De Palma) and Bacall is fun to watch. Like I said before, it's not a great film but if you enjoy trashy melodramatic films, THE FAN won't disappoint.