Saturday, 7 July 2012

He Knows You’re Alone (1980) - Foreshadowing ‘Scream’ and Ripping Off ‘Halloween’


‘He Knows You’re Alone’ was one of the very first ‘Halloween’ clones to be released coming out two years after the phenomenal success of John Carpenter’s master class in taut suspense. It also followed just four months after Sean S. Cunningham’s ‘Friday the 13th’ which was almost equally as successful in terms of acquiring massive box office revenue and itself a prototype template for the slasher film leading to the sub-genre’s early 80’s boom in showcasing gory murder set-pieces.


The movie in review here however did not succumb to the blood lust of the teenage crowds turning up in their droves for these geek shows churned out week in week out. Of all the copycat ‘Halloween’ wannabes that came off the cookie cutter this is the one that tried the most to emulate it putting the emphasis on suspenseful tension with a less is more approach rather than just putting  together a plot in order to string together graphic displays of ghastly death scenes. There is the exception of a severed head in a fish tank though. In its opening sequence, it also nods to a post-modern take that would be seen fully utilized sixteen years later.


Foreshadowing ‘Scream’

There are spoilers for the whole of this section.   

As the picture fades in the first shot of the film is of a car parked under a tree late at night. Inside the car, a young couple are making out in the backseat and then the camera goes to a POV of another person outside creeping up to the vehicle very slowly. The teenagers suddenly stop passionately kissing when the woman hears the noise of the stalker approaching over the sound of the car radio. The man played by Russell Todd who you might remember as Scott in 1981’s Friday the 13th Part 2 turns off the music. Despite the woman’s concerns that it might be her boyfriend, they get back to having a kiss and a cuddle. Both hearing a noise this time the man decides he has had enough and get out to investigate. After taking a good while, the woman gets out with a torchlight to see what has happened to him and finds his dead body hanging from a tree and the very moment the killer appears the camera reveals it all to be going on the big screen of a darkened movie theatre and we see an audience. 


From this crowd a woman gets up telling her friend that she cannot take this anymore and that she is going to the bathroom. While she is in one of the cubicles, she hears the footsteps of someone outside along with the sound of a dripping tap. When getting out she does not see anybody and scared she runs back up to the auditorium. Sitting back down next to her friend, she tells her that she thinks that somebody is following her and her friend just dismisses it thinking her imagination is running way with her because she is just frightened of the film they are watching. As they continue watching it, the onscreen female character is hiding out in a barn. In the real world of the movie we are watching, a man sits down behind the two women in the seat directly behind the woman who fears she is being stalked. In the  film they are watching, just as the women gets up we see the killer pop his head up outside of the barn’s window. Just as she is about to open the barn’s doors the man sitting behind the two women in the filmic reality puts his hand inside his coat to reach for something. On close-up, we see that it is a knife and we get an extreme close-up of his mad staring eyes. As the terrified woman looks on at the screen, the knife comes right out and just as the woman in the  movie within this movie is killed so is she as he stabs her in the back through the back of her seat and lets out a scream along with the victim up on the screen.


This opening sequence with the obligatory first kill that comes hand in hand with the sub-genre is also a very smart start to the proceedings with a clever premise that was a head of its time. For a whole first 3-minutes and 30-seconds of footage we are tricked into thinking that this is the actual film we are watching - a generic run of the mill slice n’ dicer with all the clichés. It is very meta with life imitating art self-referencing this style of horror when it was just about to explode in popularity long before Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson came along sixteen years later with their excellent satirical stab at the slasher with ‘Scream’ (1996). But everything else about the movie plays it straight and from this outset with the mock-up of a type of film within it that ‘He Knows You’re Alone’ so belongs to it is telling us that it is not pretending to be anything more than what it is.
 

What with the setting of this movie theatre while a slash em’ up is playing out formulaic conventions of the sub-genre onscreen and the murder inside the auditorium playing out against it simultaneously I cannot help but think of two very distinct possibilities here. Maybe writer Williamson took some inspiration from here in part for his idea for the screenplay of ‘Scream’. More specifically though, I think that it is feasible the beginning of the thoroughly solid 1997 follow-up ‘Scream 2’ also set in a cinema while a slasher is being shown owes a great deal to this scene. They both have very similar elements going on although Williamson and Craven created a far more elaborate sequence with a better composition of ideas. Furthermore, the life imitating art in a cinema idea could have possibly been an influence on Lamberto Bava’s good time beer n’ pizza flick Demons (1985).


End of Spoilers.

Ripping Off ‘Halloween’

As far as the rest of the film is concerned though, I would not have a problem with it playing it straight if director Armand Mastroianni did not shamelessly lift his visuals straight out of John Carpenter’s ‘Halloween’. It is one thing going for implied gruesomeness like Carpenter’s movie did which the director himself took a note or two from Tobe Hooper with his equally genre defining achievement ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ (1974) but it also blatantly rips off many of Carpenter’s stylistic techniques that made his film work so well to the point of being comical. Even Alexander Peskanov and Mark Peskanov’s musical score is a variation of the director/composer’s famous soundtrack...


After the murder of the young woman in the cinema, at the police crime scene we are introduced to one of the protagonists Det. Len Gamble (Lewis Arlt). Requested especially to go down there by the already present Det. Frank Daley (Paul Gleason) who tells Gamble that the victim was going to be married in a week it turns out that Gamble’s fiancée was murdered by her ex-boyfriend Ray Carlton (the very same killer played by Tom Rolfing) on their wedding day. We then cut to a Ray taking a bus journey on the same night and while staring into space we see his flashback shot in his POV at Gamble’s wedding day murdering his bride to be. When the bus arrives at its destination the next day we are introduced to Amy Jensen (Caitlin O'Heaney) who is about to get hitched to her wanker of a fella who is going away with his friends on a bachelor weekend with the plan to cheat on her. Ray is looking on eavesdropping. From there he begins to stalk Amy and her two friends Nancy (Elizabeth Kemp) and Joyce (Patsy Pease) even though Amy’s friends are not engaged to be married not fitting in with Ray’s motive of reliving his crime. Much like how Michael Myers wanted to relive killing his sister Ray wants to kill the bride again. The other male lead here is Amy’s ex-boyfriend Marvin (Don Scardino) who is trying to win her back. While all this is happening, Gamble is obsessively pursuing the case.


From here on out Mastroianni employs the method of having Amy in the Laurie Strode type role in that she constantly sees Ray around following her but nobody else ever sees him thinking it is all Amy’s imagination and she sees him in one instance but is gone the next taking the execution straight out of ‘Halloween’ with its camera trickery. For example, in one scene when Amy is at the counter of an ice cream parlour waiting for her order she suddenly sees something out of the window to her left and leaning back off the counter Ray comes into our viewpoint with the Halloweenesque musical score playing. As she leans back forward, and Ray goes out or our sight when the clerk returns with her ice cream the music disappears and so has Ray.


This distinctively echoes the scene in ‘Halloween’ ‘78 when Annie is on the phone in the kitchen of the Wallace’s house. We can see Michael in the background when she moves to the left of the screen and then going out of sight when she moves back to the right of the frame and suddenly he is gone when she leans back to the left. There are many other scenes sprinkled throughout that completely mimic moments from ‘Halloween’ along with the rip-off soundtrack used as a cheap musical sting that crops up whenever Amy is walking the street alone letting us know she is being stalked by the unseen Ray and appears whenever Ray is on screen. Except it is all done here with far less finesse and pitch-perfect timing. 


The director cast Rolfing as Ray because of his intense look and Armand Mastroianni uses this to good effect with extreme close-ups of the murderous eyes when the killer is stabbing away and he builds the tension in prolonged stalk n' slash set-pieces. Another plus point is that the characterization and the performances are quite decent. This cast of characters are not annoyingly obnoxious and the dialogue written for them is quite believable in the way that young people would actually talk supplemented with dollops of humour much like Debra Hill’s written lines in ‘Halloween’.


Apart from the first screen appearance of Tom Hanks and that the movie’s original working tile was ‘Bloody Wedding’ which was better suited in relation to the premise there is not much else for me to say about ‘He Knows You’re Alone’. After that innovative opening sequence that signifies what the sub-genre would become in the late 90s it is the closest cash-in on the success of John Carpenter’s ‘Halloween’ in that it exploits so much of its techniques that made it the benchmark that it is. All just filmed in fifteen days with all three stages of production clocking in at six months it is easy to see what the filmmakers were aiming for but as far as knockoffs go this is not too bad of a one. Despite the annoyance of the repetition in aping the shit out of Carpenter’s landmark film with its verbatim shots there is a fair bit to enjoy here in a competently shot and edited passable slasher.

** out of ****

Dave J. Wilson

©2012 Cinematic Shocks, Dave J. Wilson - All work is the property of the credited author and may not be reprinted or reproduced elsewhere without permission.

 

6 comments:

  1. Good review. I'm not sure how I missed this movie... I always knew it was there, but somehow I've always managed to avoid it. I might just have to take a look.

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    1. I think the opening sequence is impressive considering the era in which the film was made - at a time when the slasher was just about to ripen. It could have been a decent slasher overall playing it straight afterwards if it wasn't for the constant plagiarizing of 'Halloween' '78. It's really groan inducing stuff. But it's passable entertainment nonetheless - an entertaining rip-off.

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  2. It wasn't so much that it was a Halloween clone which annoyed me as the pacing and the terrible acting. I got it from $3 from Big Lots and I was lucky to sell it again for $1 at a yard sale. I'm sure the only reason that this is on DVD is because Tom Hanks in it for all of 2 minutes.

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    1. It's not THAT bad. The acting isn't stellar but I thought the cast did a passable job with what they had to work with. Let's face it, when is the acting ever really top notch in the majority of slashers? One thing that really bugs me about this sub-genre is the characterization with the writers always creating obnoxious unlikable characters but here they were bearable and the dialogue doesn't grate either. There are some nice touches here and there including the drawn out stalk n' slash set-pieces and that opening sequence is really smart. It's the stylistic robbing of 'Halloween' '78 that really rubs me up the wrong way in what could have been a decent slasher overall.

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  3. I agree with all you've said. I was looking forward to this one too. Such a disappointment.

    I'm liking your page here, good job.

    Swing by my page
    http://grimmreviewz.blogspot.com/

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    1. It's at best a very average slasher.

      I've actually been reading your blog. Interesting reads. Keep up the good work.

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