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©1998–2019
Dustin Putman




The Fan  (1981)

Reviewed for TheBluFile.com by Dustin Putman

The Film
3 Stars
(Release Date: November 19, 2019) – 1981's "The Fan" crisscrosses between that of a sophisticated adult thriller and a decidedly seedier horror picture inspired by the early-'80s slasher boom. It is this latter element which star Lauren Bacall reportedly was none too happy with, the script by Priscilla Chapman and John Hartwell (adapted from Bob Randall's 1977 novel) reportedly retooled by the time production began. The legendary actor may have felt she was above such material, but one would never guess there were any trepidations at all based on her sterling, committed performance. Save for a few iffy moments where she is asked to sing beyond her means (more on this later), Bacall adds class and gravity to a role that feels lived-in and engagingly dimensional. Director Edward Bianchi, making his helming debut, is joined by a top-notch ensemble and behind-the-scenes crew, all of them doing work of which they should be proud.

Sally Ross (Lauren Bacall) is a highly lauded film and theater star, turning the big 5-0 as she prepares to begin rehearsals on her very first Broadway musical, an irresistibly gaudy show called "Never Say Never." Struggling with bouts of loneliness—she still gently pines for her still-close ex-husband Jake Berman (James Garner)—Sally throws herself into her work as dedicated, oft-harried assistant Belle Goodman (Maureen Stapleton) struggles to keep up with the increasingly demanding fan letters of one Douglas Breen (Michael Biehn). Sally doesn't pay much mind to these correspondences until Douglas' actions turn dangerous, even deadly. Soon, no one in Sally's circle is safe from the wrath of a mentally disturbed stalker moving ever closer to the object of his twisted obsession.

"The Fan" features a somewhat standard thriller plot, albeit one that likely strikes as more familiar for modern-day audiences in a world where the "...from Hell" subgenre is altogether more prolific than it was in 1981. Director Edward Bianchi treats the material with a welcome seriousness, molding the slice-of-life observations of a famous New York actress with the increasingly disturbing actions of a record-store employee who shuts out his family and acquaintances as he builds a fantasy in his mind of being with Sally Ross. Say what one will about its violence and one particularly notorious threat involving a meat cleaver, this is a beautifully made work with an undeniably handsome polish. The cinematography by Dick Bush (who would go on the following year to shoot "Victor/Victoria") is impressively evocative; an aerial shot casting downward on Michael Biehn (equal parts alluring and chilling as the title fan) amid a sea of park benches is mesmerizing; had the picture been more successful, this might have become an iconic moment cinephiles applaud to this day. The music score by Pino Donaggio (coming off of Brian De Palma's similarly slick and bloody grown-up thriller "Dressed to Kill") is terrific as well, at once layered, eerie and operatic.

Indeed, as dramatic as things get, there is also a certain camp quality to the proceedings. The behind-the-scenes Broadway portrayals, the overblown climactic musical numbers, a plot point reminding of 1980's controversial William Friedkin thriller "Cruising," not to mention the very glamour of Lauren Bacall—it's no surprise this film has built a certain fond cult following within the gay community over the decades. The picture's most amusing set-piece is arguably entertaining for the wrong reasons: "Hearts, Not Diamonds," a Marvin Hamlisch/Tim Rice original song meant to be Sally Ross's eleventh-hour showstopper in new Broadway musical "Never Say Never," features Bacall delivering such cringe-inducing low notes even her unhinged number-one fan sitting in the audience cursorily appears to be reassessing his obsession for the star. What follows post-performance affectingly grounds "The Fan" back to its thrilling, sobering roots, leading to a riveting confrontation between an entitled, albeit psychologically ill, killer and an accomplished woman who's had it with white privileged males who think the world somehow owes them anything and everything they demand. In 1981, these final moments may not have had the same impact they now do in 2019, in a post-"Time's Up"/"Me Too" climate. Today, "The Fan" is stirringly timely, just as it was uncannily—and unknowingly—prescient 38 years ago.

Blu-ray Picture/Sound
 B+/A-

At long last, "The Fan" has arrived on Blu-ray courtesy of Scream Factory's solid release. The 1080p transfer is certainly several steps above all previous home-video versions, even as it is pretty apparent from the start that it hasn't been restored in any significant way. There are age-related specks throughout, but most prominently during the opening credits. At least one scene involving a Michael Biehn close-up appears to have a glaring ghosting effect, but this may very well be inherent to source, or a result of the film stock/cameras used during filming in 1980. Short of a full-blown restoration, there is little else to criticize here. Colors pop beautifully, while the uptick in detail and clarity HD brings to the image is sometimes eye-opening. Darker scenes can be noisier, but black levels and shadow detail appear on point and well-resolved. The DTS-HD Master Audio Mono brings Biehn's frequent letter-writing narrations and Pino Donaggio's exquisite score to full, active life. Dialogue is always clear and situated confidently within the audio mix.

Blu-ray Features
  • Audio Commentary with Cult Film Director David DeCoteau and Film Historian David Del Valle, Moderated by Scream Factory Marketing Director Jeff Nelson
  • "Number One Fan – Interview with Actor Michael Biehn" Featurette (25:52, HD)
  • "Fan Service – Interview with Director Edward Bianchi" Featurette (38:15, HD)
  • "Fanning the Flames – Interview with Editor Alan Heim" Featurette (18:13, HD)
  • Theatrical Trailer (2:04, HD)
  • TV Spots (1:33, HD)
  • Still Gallery (4:19, HD)
Bottom Line
"The Fan" makes its welcome, long-awaited introduction to the Blu-ray format with Scream Factory's winning disc. A star-packed big-budget thriller with tense and brutal slasher undertones, the film came and went with little box-office fanfare back in 1981 but is primed and ready for a necessary reevaluation nearly forty years later. Bonus content has been lovingly curated, from a highly entertaining audio commentary to a refreshingly honest interview from star Michael Biehn, clearly proud of what was his first leading film role while spilling plenty of juicy tea about working with co-stars Lauren Bacall and Maureen Stapleton. All told, "The Fan" is one of the season's most exciting Blu-ray releases. Highly recommended.

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© 2019 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

[Blu-ray Review] Prophecy (1979)
[Blu-ray Review] The Fan (1981)
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