Each month in Horror Queers, Joe and Trace tackle a horror film with LGBTQ+ themes, a high camp quotient or both. For lifelong queer horror fans like us, there’s as much value in serious discussions about representation as there is in reading a ridiculously silly/fun horror film with a YAS KWEEN mentality. Just know that at no point will we be getting Babashook.
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***SPOILERS for The Fan to follow.***
Synopsis: Douglas (Michael Biehn), a record salesman, is an obsessive fan of actress Sally Ross (Lauren Bacall). When his letters are rejected, he strikes out at her and her loved ones.
Queer Aspect: Douglas picks up a man (Terence Marinan) in a gay bar, takes him to the roof and allows the man to perform fellatio on him before Douglas slits his throat and sets him on fire.
Fuck me gently with a meat cleaver! Another month, another queer horror film, and boy oh boy is this movie queer (both in the literal sense and the sexual one). The Fan (no, not the Wesley Snipes/Robert De Niro film) is a confused little movie that doesn’t quite know if it wants to be a character study or a slasher film. It seems to want to be both, but isn’t wholly successful at either. Still, it’s a fascinating little slice of ‘80s cinema with a stellar score and a potentially harmful queer aspect.
Released on May 15, 1981, The Fan was a box office bomb, earning just $3.1 million against its $9 million budget. The film was the directorial debut of Edward Bianchi, whose only other film-directing credit is the 1991 Cyndi Lauper feature Off and Running. Critical reception was mixed, but leaned negative, with many critics praising the film’s style while denouncing its thinly-drawn characters and its graphic (at the time) violence. Hell, even Bacall told People Magazine that she was disappointed with the film, stating:
“The Fan is much more graphic and violent than when I read the script. The movie I wanted to make had more to do with what happens to the life of the woman–and less blood and gore.”
The criticisms of the violence is fascinating to me, as the film really isn’t that gory, especially when compared to other slasher films that had just come out (Friday the 13th Part 2 was released just two weeks prior to The Fan). This could be due to the controversy surrounding it being released just five months after John Lennon was shot and killed by crazed fan Mark David Chapman. The storyline undoubtedly hit too close to home for some viewers, which makes our coverage of The Fan especially timely considering all of the drama surrounding Universal Pictures’ decision not to release The Hunt later this month in the wake of two mass shootings. And to think we only decided to cover it this month because The Fanatic just got released a few weeks ago!
Stylistically, the film bears a striking resemblance to the works of Brian De Palma, right down to Douglas’ choice of weapon: a straight razor (to put it in perspective: Dressed to Kill was released in July of 1980). From a narrative standpoint, the first act is the film’s strongest as it plays up the mystery aspects and Sally’s friendship with her secretary Belle (Maureen Stapleton, who would go on to win the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award just 10 months later for her turn in Warren Beatty’s Reds). Unfortunately, once Belle is slashed in the face while walking to the subway, the film loses its focus, becoming less about Douglas’ effect on Sally and more about Sally’s reconciliation with her ex-husband Jake (James Garner). It really drags down the proceedings until the third act fully commits to being a slasher movie, with Douglas slicing his way through anyone standing between him and Sally (except Jake for some reason).
Now about that gay stuff: Douglas’ late-night rendezvous with a nameless man on the rooftop of his apartment comes completely out of nowhere and is never addressed again. That begs the question: why is this scene in the film? Is it meant to imply that Douglas’ obsession is a direct result of his inability to come to terms with his sexuality? Is he even gay? He writes to Sally (on more than one occasion) that he wants to be lovers and that he has “all the necessary equipment to make [her] very, very happy.” Of course, then he threatens to fuck her with a meat cleaver, so we’re back at square one.
I’m loathe to use the word “problematic” because I know it gets tossed around a little too easily nowadays, but we must call a spade a spade. The implication of this scene is problematic. Remove the gay hookup scene and you’ve simply got a film about an obsessed fan whose obsession turns deadly. With it, however, you’ve got a film about a queer man who is so ashamed of his sexuality that it not only leads him to obsess, but also kill. When he gives in to his natural desires, he is so consumed with guilt (or rage, or both) that he kills the man and sets his corpse on fire, giving new meaning to the term “flamer.”
I don’t see a world in which this film is made today (unless The Fanatic is as truly bad as you say it is, Joe), especially since we gays are notorious for our extreme fandoms when it comes to pop stars (Beyoncé’s Beyhive, The Britney Army, Mariah Carey’s Lambs, Lady Gaga’s Little Monsters, Taylor Swift’s Swifties, Ke$ha’s Animals…the list goes on). Although hopefully none of us would actually murder for the women we stan.
Joe, what were your thoughts on your first-time-viewing of The Fan? What possible reason do you think they had for including a scene of queer fellatio? And how in the Hell has Pino Donaggio not won an Academy Award for Best Original Score yet? I ask this because I know you don’t pay attention to music, but come on! The title track with those insane strings is glorious. What isn’t glorious, however, is the song “Hearts, Not Diamonds”, which was rightfully nominated for a Golden Raspberry Award the following year.
Dear Mr. Thurman,
To be honest, I had a lot of Eyes of Laura Mars flashbacks when I was watching The Fan, not just because the two films were made only a few years apart, but also because they feature a bankable female star (Faye Dunaway / Lauren Bacall) partnered with a hot, young up-and-comer (Tommy Lee Jones / Michael Biehn) who gives off a whiff of homosexuality. They’re also films of a bygone era: a “classy” psychosexual that has nearly as much time dedicated to romantic and dramatic subplots as it does to more conventional horror tropes. They don’t make ‘em like they used to, folks!
Maybe that’s for the best considering how much the finished result drags. I won’t lie: The Fan struggled to keep my attention. It’s likely more of a testament to my shortened attention span than the film itself, but at times The Fan feels like a downright slog, particularly the saggy middle section that seems interminably dedicated to Sally’s rehearsals and her reunion with Jake at her beach house (Sidebar: I don’t know if you used to watch MadTV, but I couldn’t help but hum the “Lowered Expectations” theme song during the scene where Sally and Jake walk down the beach).
Anyways…let’s talk about the queer stuff!
So there is undeniable gay content in this film (the musical costumes! the chorus boys! that poor gay boy who gets sliced and diced in the pool!), but yes, people do tend to fixate on the gay bar scene.
I tried to do some interwebs sleuthing to find out if this scene is in the original source material because the film is based on a 1977 epistolary (like us!) novel of the same name by author Bob Randall, but I couldn’t turn up anything (if anyone has read the book, or is more adept than me, let us know in the comments!).
Looking at the “flaming” blowjob, as you so eloquently put it above (rude!), I see two interpretations:
Douglas is an opportunist: by this point in the film, the police are firmly on the lookout for Sally’s stalker, so Douglas is looking for an opportunity to shift attention off of himself. In order to lure Sally back from her House Hunters sojourn at the beach, he needs her to believe that the coast is clear and he uses this poor gay man, who was just looking to get busy with a Biehn-pole (callback to Brennan Klein in our Cherry Falls podcast episode) and winds up with a different kind of gaping wound. In this reading, Douglas is worse than a queer stalker; he becomes a predator who devalues gay lives to the point that this unnamed man is little more than a body to be killed and burned on a rooftop as a police distraction.
Douglas is a repressed closet-case: This is the common interpretation of this scene, which finds a closeted gay man finally indulging in a forbidden – be it of his own volition or societal pressures – sexual encounter only to have a bad reaction and murder his partner in retaliation. If you subscribe to this reading (as you do above, Trace), then suddenly The Fan becomes a whole different film: it’s about a young queer who is unable to reconcile his sexuality and misplaces his obsession onto a non-threatening starlet.
If you’re being pragmatic from a storytelling perspective, the first option is more likely. In the late 70s and early 80s, being queer was still an underground, deviant lifestyle that was unusual and subject to derision in Hollywood films. If you subscribe to the second option, however, then The Fan becomes another in a long string of horror films about a man who kills because he can’t be himself (it’s here that your Dressed To Kill reference comes into play, or – if you’re Vito Russo, author of The Celluloid Closet – The Fan is comparable to Cruising).
Regardless of which way you want to look at it, though, this film is queer. A young man stalking an older star who is past her prime? You may have trucked out all of the queer icons in the music industry, but my mind immediately went to how queer men idolize the queens of Classic Hollywood like Joan Crawford, Bette Davis and, my personal fave, Barbara Stanwyck. Throw in a goddamn musical, replete with glittering, sequined costumes and go-go boys and you have a stock recipe for camp, my friend!
And no, I doubt that this film could be made in the same way if it were to get a remake, though ironically there would be far less outrage about the dangers of stalking considering how easy social media has made it to find and track literally anyone nowadays (Also: the less said about The Fanatic the better. That steaming turd traffics in only a slight bit of homo-panic, but it has some explicitly problematic depictions of mental illness).
Trace, what did you make the attack sequences in the film, particularly the queer-as-hell pool attack? Would you rank this above or below Eyes of Laura Mars? And despite you lack of appreciation for “Hearts, Not Diamonds”, would you pay to see the rest of this musical, which I think is called “Never Say Never”? Lol.
No! I would never pay to see the rest of “Never Say Never” (also no: save for the occasional Miss Swan sketch, I have never watched an episode of MadTV). That being said, I am never going to be bored seeing a faux musical rehearsal in a film, even if it is something terrible like “Never Say Never”. I can see why a standard horror fan would be bored to tears by these scenes (much like the extended musical number in the Director’s Cut of Nightbreed), but it brings back memories of (a very poor production of) A Chorus Line, which is my absolute favorite musical.
It’s unclear whether “Never Say Never” is meant to be a satire of or a serious depiction of Broadway musicals. Bacall isn’t good in the rehearsal scenes or the actual production that takes up a good portion of the finale, which is all the more surprising considering she was headlining the Broadway musical Woman of the Year (adapted from the 1941 film of the same name) when The Fan was released. She even won a Tony for it! That leads me to believe that maybe, just maybe, these scenes were meant to spoof Broadway theatre. Or perhaps I am cutting the film too much slack?
Side note: would you hate me if I told you that I actually liked the performance of “A Remarkable Woman”?
What’s all the more shocking is that this was supposed to be a prestige picture on the level of Hitchcock and (probably) the aforementioned Dressed to Kill. In an article from 2015, Ken Anderson mentions three things that drastically changed the film on its journey to a finished product. Two of which I listed above (Bacall’s disappointment with the final product and the real-life events that coincided with the film’s release), but the other was the enormous success of the original Friday the 13th during the film’s production. I mentioned the sequel in my first section, but what I didn’t realize was that Paramount Pictures (who distributed both Friday the 13th and The Fan) ordered reshoots after Friday’s success in order to add more blood and gore. You have to feel bad for producer Robert Stigwood (who managed the original theatrical productions of Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar) because he clearly had an entirely different film in mind when he put his money into this project.
Speaking of Bacall, have we ever seen a lead actress turn against her film as furiously as she did? I’m sure it’s happened before, especially during the Golden Age of Hollywood, but I can’t think of any recent examples in which something like this has happened. She just didn’t give a fuck. Unfortunately, I was unable to find any video footage of the publicity she was doing leading up to The Fan’s release, but holy moly did she seem to want this film to tank. This is just the kind of diva move that us gays love about the stars we idolize. You rightfully referenced Joan Crawfod and Bette Davis, but a more modern example would be someone like Mariah “I Don’t Know Her” Carey. It’s some savage bitchery that we love oh so well.
Circling back to your interpretations of Douglas’ queerness: both are valid. The optimist in me wants to subscribe to your first interpretation, but since it was 1981, I have to believe that the second interpretation is what screenwriters Priscilla Chapman and John Hartwell had in mind. The movie isn’t interested in exploring either one so I suppose we’ll never know the truth, but given that this anti-gay mindset was quite common in Hollywood films at the time (Anderson references William Friedkin’s Cruising and Gordon Willis’ Windows), I think we can assume the film’s intention.
Jake’s presence could even be seen as a reinforcement of conservative American values that Douglas’ internalized homophobia is reacting to. Why does Sally need a man in her life? She’s a hard-working single woman, but she is so preoccupied with Jake for a large part of the film. It almost feels like he was a late addition to the screenplay so that there could be a male hero in the film (remember that Silent Hill “Where are the men?” debacle back in 2006?). His relationship drama with Sally adds absolutely nothing to the story, so I can’t see any other reason to include him. Unfortunately, he is present in the epistolary text (I had to Google that term, so thanks, Joe!) that the film is based on, so there you have it. Surely his presence serves more of a purpose in the novel?
Joe, what are your lasting thoughts on The Fan? In the words of the Attack of the Queerwolf podcast, does it deserve a Pride Float? Are you going to buy the upcoming Scream Factory Blu-Ray? And why in the Hell does the poster art for this movie look suspiciously like the poster art for The Godfather?
Dear Fruit Cake,
We’ve referenced movie marketing regularly enough to guess that the like-minded poster art is undoubtedly an attempt to cash in on the success of The Godfather. I’ll confess, though, the logic is a little difficult to follow (“if you loved that generational crime saga, come for this run-of-the-mill stalker drama!”). They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so perhaps this poster is simply a love letter from the production team to their real-life cinematic equivalent of Sally Ross.
I must say that I’m surprised that you passed up an opportunity to discuss men in bathing suits, but since you apparently didn’t want to address my baited question, I’ll tackle it myself:
The other super queer aspect of the film, for me, is when Douglas attacks David Branum, the bespectacled, obviously gay man running “Never Say Never”, in the pool. This is Douglas’ second attack, after he dealt with Belle in the all-too-realistic subway attack. Belle’s attack caught my attention because it’s not a murder. It plays out more like a warning: as the primary obstacle standing in Douglas’ way, Belle is merely maimed enough to briefly take her out of commission.
David’s attack is far more brazen, which makes sense if you believe that the unhinged stalker is “escalating”. Picture the attack: Douglas easily follows David into the West Side YMCA pool (no membership? Oh the ’80s!). David emerges in a Speedo and quickly dives in the pool, swimming two lengths (sidebar: he needs to work on his form). Douglas follows, cautiously easing himself over the edge into the water in a pair of baggy boxers. As David swims back towards him, Douglas slips under the water and pulls the straight razor from his underwear – like a penis. He then proceeds to swim underneath David, holding up the knife to cut David as he swims by.
The positioning of the cut is unclear because David never comes out of the water; he simply screams as blood fills the pool and onlookers gawk. The most logical area for David to be cut is down the chest, but Bianci’s framing could just as easily suggest a slice down to – or directly to – the groin, which would be apt if you adhere to the more traditional queer reading for the film: a repressed queer man attacks another gay man while he is in a vulnerable state. In this reading, the rooftop murder is not out of the blue; it is an escalating pattern of violent behaviour against queer men that was foreshadowed by the pool attack.
Tellingly the very next scene shows an emboldened Douglas reading (in voice-over) his next letter to Sally, wherein he explains that his patience is running out. He then leans back against the wall, closing his eyes, in a kind of sexually satisfied way (ie: thinking about how he just used his penis blade to cut up some homo at the Y).
The deeper you get into The Fan, the more harmful it appears. Sure, there’s a Lifetime movie vibe in the story of a faded star being stalked by a crazed fan, and a camp appeal in the terrible Broadway stuff (though to be honest, there’s no way Sally Ross escapes that performance unscathed if Meryl’s Madeline Ashton lost half of her audience to walkouts in Death Becomes Her. At least Ashton moves and emotes like she gives a damn!).
Jokes aside, the reality is that The Fan is either actively using its queer characters as cheap knife fodder (which is reprehensible) or it is suggesting that gay men are dangerously unhinged (which is hardly better). Neither option is great, so when you throw in a fair amount of snooze-worthy romance with Garner, it doesn’t offer up too much. So no to the Pride float; in the spirit of the Queerwolves, I’m going to give this bad boy community service instead.
It’s still better than The Fanatic though!
Next time on Horror Queers: We’re celebrating the art of camp in October, so we’ll be taking a look at the much-maligned and totally unnecessary sequel Basic Instinct 2 (if you’ve never seen it, the R-rated version is FREE on Amazon Prime)!
The Fan is available to stream for $2.99 on Amazon.
And don’t forget to catch up on our previous Horror Queers articles here or check out our podcast page here.
Source link : http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/BloodyDisgusting/~3/Beh-Pmz9gMI/
Author : Trace Thurman
Publish date : 2019-09-12 18:14:53