Sally Ross (Lauren Bacall) is a big star, though it could be argued her heyday is well behind her. That doesn't stop her working, of course, and certainly doesn't put a halt to the adulation of her fans who flock to the stage door of her latest performance to get autographs. Tonight, when she produces her own pen to sign them, an obsessive grabs the object and takes to her heels, though is tripped up across the street by another fan who happens to be passing by. However, he doesn't return the pen, he keeps it for himself, for he just might be Sally's biggest fan of all...
Although likely unintentional, The Fan showed up in cinemas at a point where it looked very exploitative: mere months before, John Lennon had been murdered by one of his fans, and around this time a crazed Jodie Foster fan tried to assassinate President Ronald Reagan for her. These were just two examples of celebrity adulation taken too far as the age of the stalker began to make its mark on the culture, so you can see why this movie might have been perceived to be in bad taste. Actually it was based on a Bob Randall novel of a few years before, but unbeknownst to Lauren Bacall and her co-star James Garner new scenes of gore were added later to make the project more commercial.
Although compared to many of the slasher craze this was tame stuff, it was nevertheless a surprise to see golden oldies like Bacall, Garner and Maureen Stapleton showing up for this sort of thing, yet that's not exactly why The Fan gained a cult following. It might have been part of it, but the overriding sense of bad taste running roughshod over some class acts went further than that. This was a production from Robert Stigwood, the man who brought us such megahits as Jesus Christ Superstar, Saturday Night Fever and Grease, but also more pertinently to this Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Moment by Moment and Staying Alive, all cast iron turkeys.
Therefore, apparently to make this worth his while, Stigwood saw to it that Sally was appearing in a Broadway Show of which we see the rehearsals and in the last act, the final result, needless to say the height of 1981 camp. Don't try and work out what the plot of the musical was, just ponder why anyone thought that Bacall would be ideal for this all singing, all dancing show when to be as delicate as possible, she seemed miscast. With a voice that sounded as if she smoked fifty Capstan Full Strength a day, this might have been fine for a Stephen Sondheim role, but they really should have gotten the services of a Liza Minnelli if they wanted to do the Marvin Hamlisch and Tim Rice tunes justice here.
Add to that some none-more-eighties routines courtesy of Hot Gossip's Arlene Phillips, and you had a show apparently designed to appeal to, shall we say, a very specific (male) clientele, and not only that, but Biehn's maniac sets up a rent boy to pose as his corpse when the cops get a little too close to him for comfort by slitting the unfortunate chap's throat with his straight razor mid-blowjob. Now, you could be offended by this, or alternatively you could see it as more evidence of the film's tone deaf approach to what Bacall's fans would want to see her in and the farcical quality to The Fan became all too apparent. As Biehn sliced his way through the supporting cast, he was as symptomatic of the trends of the era as those musical numbers, but they didn't make a very good fit; the only way they might have gotten away with it would be as a slasher All About Eve, which didn't seem to have crossed the filmmakers' minds in spite of them stumbling damn close to it. Lush strings, as ever, by Pino Donaggio.