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CampBlood Reviews: Senseless Rants from a Picky Sissy

 

The Fan Edward Bianchi 1981

Bacall Me Irresponsible

You know, things weren't always as they are today, saplings. Even I, still in my midday-to-dusk years, can remember a time when gay subject matter was so taboo that it would appear only occasionally as a fleeting controversial subplot on L.A. Law. Sure, we had camp, wink-wink gay entertainment like Designing Women and Paul Lynde to fill the void of actual, in-your-face queer content, but for the most part the whole messy same-sex subject was left to art films and the French. It's hard to believe these days, when everything from must-see-t.v. to car advertisements seems perfectly happy to foist homos on the unassuming public. But just think: less than 10 years ago it was not even thinkable to have a gay lead character in a television show, much less a feature film or major miniseries. One Rupert Everett and several Will and Graces later, and we're in a full-blown Cosby decade for homos.

But the queers had their ways of creeping into the mainstream. Sometimes it was played for "cosmopolitan" effect, like in Eyes of Laura Mars, Theatre of Blood, or Day of the Locust, which suggested that homosexuals were an accepted feature of New York, London, and Los Angeles. Often associated with fashion or theatre, fags were bandied about like so much maribou and glitter, simply flashy set-pieces installed to add a little color. At least this contribution (glamour, eccentricity) was a step up from the stereotypical "killer homo" that had populated horror and thriller pictures since the beginnings of the movie industry; gays were no longer monstrous, they were merely amusing and at times useful when a throw pillow needed placing or a dog needed its nails painted.

But the killer queer wasn't silenced entirely. Usually at the mercy of titanically misguided filmmakers and in what would ultimately become some of the most ridiculous thrillers in history, the "out" killer queer made a brief and unfortunate name for himself. Now that "the gays" were able to snake their way into mainstream entertainment, it seemed that the shroud of mystery that generally held the killer homo from being fully realized could be dropped: instead of shy, introverted momma's boys (the Norman Bateses of the old times) and chilly disciplinarians (the Dracula's Daughters of days gone by) who rightly seemed a bit queer, we now had full-on, card carrying fags and dykes running around hanging rainbow flags and breaking sodomy laws in between beheadings. At the time, remember, Hollywood was very new to the whole gay thing, and less-than-masterful in dealing with queers in a competent way. So the effect of putting axes and straight-razors into the hands of these newly "liberated" men and women was, in a word, hilarious.

Enter The Fan. The centerpiece of one of the most ridiculous and embarrassing films I have ever seen, Michael Biehn's Douglas Breen tops the list of Fags Hollywood Didn't Know What to Do With. Imagine a cold-blooded, manipulative, calculating killer. Imagine him tracking his prey for months or even years, picking off her network of friends one by one as he infiltrates her inner sanctum. Imagine him brutally murdering people with a straight-razor and beating his victim bloody with a riding crop.

Now imagine all of this madness as committed by Wayland Flowers.

I'm sure that at the time all of this was considered shocking and irresponsible and what-have-you. I imagine that as a self-professed film buff and manager of a website seeking to document queer imagery in horror films I should seriously consider how damaging this imagery could have been to the gay population upon its release. But that would mean forfeiting the intense pleasure that I get from watching this atrocious piece of crap, which is so clumsy and scattered that it falls over its own feet in trying to even simply make sense, much less be scary, or compelling, or offensive. It's the filmic equivalent of a retarded person who breaks something valuable: there's really no way to stay angry at them for long.

Speaking of retarded people, Lauren Bacall is Sally Ross, a wizened, tobacco-stained Hollywood has-been who looks like she's been ridden hard for 40 years and put away wet. Try though the cinematographer (the unfortunately named Dick Bush) might, Ms. Bacall looks about the worst she ever has, despite his employment of every fog filter on the East Coast and one scene in which I insist he actually shot her through a bowl of milk. Between drinks and 120's (or as we used to say, "bitch-sticks"), Sally is mounting a Broadway show the likes of which no one who didn't see Legs Diamond has ever seen. She'll sing (croak)! She'll dance (waddle)! She'll charm the pants off every tonedeaf and nearsighted person in the audience, dammit! The development of this musical is deserving of a film of its own, but we've got other fish to fry.

Douglas is a devoted fan of Ms. Ross, and writes to her almost daily. Early on we see him sucker-punch a lady to steal a pen that had belonged to Ms. Ross, so we know that he is crafty and not afraid of beating up women in public (like most gay men I know). He becomes increasingly upset that Ms. Ross's secretarey Belle (Maureen Stapleton, who apparently lost a poker game to end up here) is intercepting his letters and treating him like a typical "fan", and decides to do something about it: naturally, stalk the secretary in the subway and slash her face with a razor (I'm sure Ms. Stapleton's agent felt like doing the same thing after she made this hog). This is but the first of many random and needlessly risky attacks that Douglas will bestow upon Ms. Ross's entourage, including her dance-partner-cum-shapely-waisted-escort (whom he stalks and kills in -- get this -- the West Side YMCA) and her disposable maid (who did absolutely nothing to deserve her bloody death other than wear the same outfit in every scene). Between these tacked-on stalk-and-slash scenes (reportedly added in after the film was rolling due to the success of Friday the 13th) we get to see Lauren, in all her octogenerian glory, engaging in such fascinating activities as: smoking; drinking; reading her mail; smoking; walking on the beach; languishing while drinking; languishing while smoking; visiting Belle in the hospital (where, for some ungodly reason, they have nearly mummified her face with the most overreactive bandaging I've ever seen); talking to Hector Elizondo; threatening to expose her breasts to the camera in a series of increasingly hideous purple ensembles. She jokes about being 45 when she's closer to the cumulative age of her entire chorus line. Oh -- and did I mention that James Garner is involved in all this? No? Well, no one mentioned it to him, either -- he spends his 7 on-screen minutes checking his watch and recoiling from Lauren's whiskey breath whenever they share a close-up.

But let's get back to Douglas. Considering his trip to the YMCA and his thousand adoring letters to Sally, it's pretty obvious that this is nothing more than a Broadway queen who's AWOL from the piano bar with a wild hair up his ass and a sharp blade in his hip-pocket. But as this is the New Age of Homo Visibility, the filmmakers decide that we need to actually see Douglas get sucked off on a rooftop to get the point, so we join him at a Lounge for Confirmed Bachelors where he effortlessly picks up a cute guy and gets him home to his rooftop, where he takes his sweet time reaching for his straight-razor as the poor fella works his magic downstairs. Finally satisfied, Douglas slashes the sissy and sets his body on fire, adding a suicide note in his own name to throw the cops off his trail. And you thought you had bad luck on dates...

So Douglas gets to attend the big premiere, but only the last number. Fortunately for us, we get to see a whole lot more, in what ultimately amounts to the most ludicrous musical performance ever staged in a motion picture. Thought Xanadu was humiliating? Uh-uh. Never thought you'd see numbers worse than those in The Apple? Just wait. The musical numbers in The Fan are tantamount to a multi-million dollar restaging of the "Nothing Ever Happens on Mars" piece from Waiting for Guffman. When the crowd leaps to their feet (to clap, not flee the theatre) after Bacall's walrus-inspired rendition of Marvin Hamlisch's "Hearts, Not Diamonds" (hands-down the worst musical performance IN THE HISTORY OF FILM), you half-expect Douglas to scream "CORKY!!! CORKY!!". Instead, he hangs around the theatre and ambushes Lauren, cornering her in the theatre after a chase scene that is as dynamic as continental drift (Lauren's about as fast) and beating her with a riding crop (as her agent probably did after the film opened). Luckily, Lauren's got a few drinks in her and is full of spunk, and lets loose with a monologue of Julia Sugarbakerian proportions, stalling the sissy long enough to get a blade in his throat. The danger quelled, the camera pulls back, leaving Douglas alone in the empty metaphor. I mean, theatre.

This film is just spectacularly bad, no two ways about it. Whether it's Bacall's wretched singing, Biehn's achingly sincere efforts at acting, the gaping plot holes, or the bumper crop of embarrassing cameos (including a young Dana Delaney and a young Griffin Dunne, apparently here to qualify for his SAG card), this one is a must-see for anyone who doesn't take the gay serial killer thing too seriously or mind seeing a classic film actress or two get dragged through the muck of the 80's trash-thriller wave. Makes you wonder... was Faye Dunaway not available?

Rating (out of 5):