(US - 1981)
Directed by Edward Bianchi. Written by Priscilla Chapman and John Hartwell. Cast: Lauren Bacall, James Garner, Maureen Stapleton, Hector Elizondo, Michael Biehn, Anna Maria Horsford, Kurt Johnson, Feiga Martinez, Dwight Schultz, Reed Jones, Charles Blackwell, Dana Delany, Griffin Dunne, Terence Marinan, Lesley Rogers, Robert Weil. (R, 95 mins)
"Can there be more than one 'worst-picture-I-ever-made?'" - James Garner on 1981's THE FAN in his memoir The Garner Files, two pages after declaring 1966's MISTER BUDDWING the worst picture he ever made.
It's a pretty safe bet that during the glory days of the Golden Age of Hollywood, Lauren Bacall never envisioned herself decades later starring in a trashy slasher movie where the killer says "How would you like to be fucked with a meat cleaver?" That line is one of the more memorable elements of THE FAN, which opened in the spring of 1981 to almost unanimous pans from critics before making a quick exit from theaters. It didn't help that Bacall openly trashed it during the press junket, saying that the end result bore little resemblance to the original script she was given, but it was also plagued by bad timing, with its story of a legendary movie star being stalked by a crazed fan maybe not sounding like a fun night at the movies and coming off as a little too queasily exploitative just six months after the December 1980 murder of John Lennon by deranged fan Mark David Chapman. History would repeat itself to a certain extent in 1982 when both THE SEDUCTION (news anchor Morgan Fairchild is stalked by psycho fan Andrew Stevens) and VISITING HOURS (news anchor Lee Grant is stalked by psycho fan Michael Ironside) both underperformed at the box office around the same time that RAGING BULL co-star Theresa Saldana miraculously survived being stabbed nearly a dozen times in broad daylight by an obsessed fan. THE FAN does allow Bacall to indulge her passion at the time--she was only sporadically acting on the big screen by this point, with her primary focus being Broadway and live theater, which earned her a Tony for APPLAUSE in 1970 and would win her another for WOMAN OF THE YEAR later in 1981--but it's also a product of its era. And with the success of slasher films like HALLOWEEN and FRIDAY THE 13TH, and the controversial buzz around Brian De Palma's DRESSED TO KILL (the latter two hitting theaters while THE FAN was in production), concessions had to made to the trends of the day. Producer Robert Stigwood, then riding high on SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER and GREASE, wasn't seeing eye-to-eye with director Waris Hussein (THE POSSESSION OF JOEL DELANEY), the latter wanting the more traditional psychological thriller approach that drew Bacall to the project.
Bogie in the 1940s, those who liked Garner on TV, or those who wanted an old-fashioned Hitchcockian thriller, but it wasn't over-the-top enough to appease the young gorehounds looking for the next FRIDAY THE 13TH. THE FAN was eventually embraced as a cult movie by the gay community for its camp value, particularly all the time devoted to the truly bizarre Broadway production, which at times makes it feel like what might've happened if Bob Fosse made a slasher movie.