There’s a reason Lauren Bacall’s not a name most people associate with slashers — she didn’t want to be in one. And when she signed up to star in 1981’s The Fan, the movie was presented to her as a psychological thriller. What changed (besides the director, Waris Hussein, who didn’t want to go along with the new direction) was Dressed to Kill came out and Robert Stigwood, the producer, thought the film would do better if it had more violence. Edward Bianchi replaced Hussein and The Fan would be his first feature (he was known for Dr. Pepper commercials and has since directed episodes of great TV shows like Deadwood and Boardwalk Empire) but, as gets brought up in the commentary track for Shout! Factory’s new Blu-Ray release of the film, it wasn’t an obvious sell for Bacall or slasher fans.
The good news for Bacall fans is that this is a substantial role for her. Slasher films aren’t always kind to big name actresses but, if you do give this film a shot, Bacall is the star. She does more than make an appearance.
She also does some singing and dancing in a role that doesn’t feel far removed from her own life at the time. She’d recently performed in two Broadway musicals, Applause and Woman of the Year, and all of the photos in her character’s apartment are real. While the show her character, Sally Ross, is rehearsing for (Never Say Never) doesn’t exist, it should (the best part of the commentary is when cult film director David DeCoteau, film historian David Del Valle, and Scream Factory marketing director Jeff Nelson sing-along to the songs). Marvin Hamlisch composed a few songs for the fictional musical with lyrics by Tim Rice, and you get to see them performed with choreography by Arlene Phillips.
Michael Biehn is Douglas Breen, the fan who’s been sending Ms. Ross dirty letters that grow increasingly raunchy as the film goes on. As Bianchi points out in a new interview, Biehn had to act without much dialogue (you forget that since he’s always reading the letters in voiceover) and Bianchi would film him in close-up so that viewers would pay attention to what was being said, and not get distracted by what was going on elsewhere in the frame.
Due to the timing of the film’s release it drew a lot of controversy for coming out shortly after John Lennon’s assassination, but it’s managed to accrue some cult status today and the cast is tremendous. James Garner plays Ross’ ex-husband and Maureen Stapleton plays her secretary. It’s a film that’s amassed some memorable behind the scenes stories as well — though, for Bacall fans, it’s not always what you want to hear. Biehn’s publicity tour for the film got kiboshed after one interview. He’s no less forthcoming in a new interview. There’s also a new interview with Alan Heim, who tried to get out of editing the film after it moved away from being a thriller.
If you’re watching The Fan purely as a slasher there’s a good chance it won’t make a good impression (though there is one scene in a pool that’s quite terrifying, even if the commentary is right in noting there’s no way Douglas should’ve been able to get away). Fans of hagsploitation films, however, and people who find The Fan’s Bacall’s unusual appearance in a slasher part of its appeal, should consider giving this film a try.
The Fan is available now on Blu-Ray from Shout! Factory.