The Fan (1981 film)

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The Fan
Promotional poster
Directed byEdward Bianchi
Produced byRobert Stigwood
Screenplay by
  • Priscilla Chapman
  • John Hartwell
Based onThe Fan
by Bob Randall
Music byPino Donaggio
CinematographyDick Bush
Edited byAlan Heim
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • May 15, 1981 (1981-05-15)
Running time
94 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$9 million[2]
Box office$3.1 million[3]

The Fan is a 1981 American horror film directed by Edward Bianchi, and starring Lauren Bacall, Michael Biehn, James Garner and Maureen Stapleton. It was written by Priscilla Chapman and John Hartwell, based on a novel of the same name by Bob Randall. The plot follows a famous stage and film actress named Sally Ross (Bacall) who is stalked by a violent, deranged fan (Biehn), who begins killing those around her.


Douglas Breen, a deranged young New York City record salesman, writes a rambling letter to stage and film star Sally Ross. Sally's assistant, Belle Goldman, has been intercepting Douglas's numerous disturbed letters, responding herself and asking him to stop. Douglas feels ignored, and becomes determined to meet with Sally and consummate "his love" for her.

Sally has recently taken a job in a musical stage production, and has been reconnecting with her ex-husband, Jake Berman, who is in town filming a movie. After Belle receives another explicit sexual letter from Douglas, she brings it to Sally's attention; Sally scolds her for being rude to the fan, and brushes it off, saying she's had to deal with many fans who have had extensive "fantasies" about her. Meanwhile, Douglas begins stalking Sally, sitting outside of her apartment building, and following her to her stage rehearsals. He decides to hand-deliver a letter to her while she is rehearsing for the musical, but he watches the man at the studio give the letter to Belle, whom he realizes is the assistant who has been writing the nasty responses to him.

After the rehearsal ends, Douglas follows Belle into the subway, where he slashes her face open with a razor. She survives the attack, but is hospitalized. When police press her for information, Belle cannot recall the return addresses written on the obsessive letters to Sally, and Sally informs them that she does not keep the fanmail she receives. Increasingly enraged by his lack of contact with Sally, Douglas manages to break into her apartment, and murders her maid, Elsa, in the bathroom. Sally returns home with a private investigator, and finds Elsa's body in a pool of blood, and her apartment in shambles. A letter is left behind, reading:

Dearest bitch, I've exhausted myself trying to think of the perfect way to kill you. See how accessible you are? How would you like to be fucked with a meat cleaver?

Sally, distraught, flees New York City and retreats to a secluded house in the country, where she is visited by Jake. Meanwhile at a bar, Douglas meets a man who cruises him for sex. The two go to the rooftop of Douglas's building, where the man begins to perform oral sex on him, but Douglas stabs him to death and lights his body on fire.

The opening night of the musical arrives, and Sally reluctantly returns to the city to perform in the production. Douglas sits in the audience, watching her. After the show, Sally sits in her dressing room with the costume designer, Hilda. Hilda is killed backstage while Sally removes her makeup, and Douglas also kills the nightwatchman. Douglas confronts Sally in her dressing room, covered in blood. He chases her through the empty theater, and she strikes him in the face with a riding crop. Douglas slaps her across the face, throwing her to the floor, and beats her with the crop. As he tries to kiss her, Sally tells him he is pathetic. His rage subsides, and he embraces Sally, begging her to love him. As he holds her, she plunges his knife into his neck. He collapses, landing in one of the theatre's chairs, the knife still in his neck. Sally leaves the theatre, and a voiceover of Douglas's first letter to her plays. In it, he says:

Dear Miss Ross, I have finally worked up enough courage to write you. You do not know me, but who I am does not matter. If there is such a thing as a soul, which is the basis of all life...then you are my soul. And your life is my life. This is the first letter of what I hope will be an everlasting correspondence. Your greatest fan, Douglas Breen.



The Fan was shot in New York City from April 1 to June 1980. Producer Stigwood initially considered Shirley MacLaine and Anne Bancroft for the title role before Lauren Bacall agreed to take the part.[4]


The film received a great deal of media attention due to being released a few months after the murder of John Lennon, who was shot to death by Mark David Chapman, a former fan, outside his apartment building The Dakota, a building where Bacall had been living for many years. However, it was a critical and commercial failure.

In an interview with People magazine at the time of the film's release, Bacall expressed disappointment over the film's violent content, saying:

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.[5]

Box office[edit]

The film grossed $3,082,096 in the United States box office.[3] Based on a $9 million budget,[2] the film was a box office bomb.

Critical response[edit]

The film received mixed to negative reviews from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 38% rating based on 13 reviews.[6]

Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote, "With the help of some funny lines in the screenplay by Priscilla Chapman and John Hartwell, Miss Bacall transforms an essentially creaky, lady-in-distress thriller into something approaching a cinematic event ... 'The Fan' is a far from perfect movie, but it's an entertaining one."[7] Variety stated, "While unavoidably predictable, The Fan is a pretty fair thriller, certainly better by far than most of the junk in the marketplace."[8] Gene Siskel gave the film zero stars out of four and called it "nothing more than a cruel shock show" that "reveals nothing about human nature other than the money-grubbing nature of all those who have and will profit from its creation."[9] Sheila Benson of the Los Angeles Times declared the film "a triumph of visual style over thin emotional content" and "a terror-filled but hollow effort."[10] Gilbert Adair of The Monthly Film Bulletin dismissed it as a "mindless thriller."[11]

Ron Cowan of the Statesman Journal praised Bacall's performance and deemed the film a "stylish and strongly atmospheric production," though he criticized it for being an ultimately "sludgy mixture of slow-moving events and shallowly conceived characters."[12] Jacqi Tully of the Arizona Daily Star felt the film was exploitative ad "lack[ed] substance," noting: "It seems Bianchi opted for the gruesome side of this tale. He spends far too much time showing us grisly knife attacks rather than explaining why these people act as they do. Psychosis and idolatry demand more than a superficial treatment."[13]


The film was nominated for a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Original Song for "Hearts, Not Diamonds."[14] The song lost to "Baby Talk" from the film Paternity.

Home media[edit]

The Fan was released on DVD in Region 1 by Paramount Pictures on September 24, 2002 and has long been out of print. On November 11, 2014, the film was available to purchase as a "burn-on-demand" DVD-R through the online Warner Bros. Archive Collection.


  1. ^ "THE FAN (X)". British Board of Film Classification. March 25, 1981. Retrieved June 6, 2015.
  2. ^ a b Wall Street Wary of Filmways' Foray Into Big-Budget Pictures Baron, Martin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] June 24, 1980: e1.
  3. ^ a b "The Fan (1981)". Box Office Mojo. Internet Movie Database.
  4. ^ "The Fan". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Los Angeles: American Film Institute. Archived from the original on April 1, 2019.
  5. ^ "Bacall's Broadway Beau" by Andrea Chambers: People magazine (June 8, 1981), retrieved February 23, 2015.
  6. ^ "The Fan". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster.
  7. ^ Canby, Vincent (May 22, 1981). "Film: 'Fan,' a Lauren Bacall Thriller". The New York Times. C8.
  8. ^ "Film Reviews: The Fan". Variety May 20, 1981. 24.
  9. ^ Siskel, Gene (May 18, 1981). "'The Fan': Depressing, disgusting, irresponsible, awful, etc.". Chicago Tribune. Section 3, p. 4.
  10. ^ Benson, Sheila (May 18, 1981) "'The Fan': Triumph of Style over Emotion". Los Angeles Times. Part VI, p. 1.
  11. ^ Adair, Gilbert (June 1981). "The Fan". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 48 (569): 113.
  12. ^ Cowan, Ron (May 20, 1981). "'The Fan', starring Lauren Bacall, at Lancaster". Statesman Journal. Salem, Oregon. p. 26 – via open access
  13. ^ Tully, Jacqi (May 21, 1981). "'Fan' fails to address real issue". Arizona Daily Star. Tucson, Arizona. p. 27 – via open access
  14. ^ Wilson, John (2005). The Official Razzie Movie Guide: Enjoying the Best of Hollywood's Worst. Grand Central Publishing. ISBN 0-446-69334-0.

External links[edit]