Color, 1982, 93m.
Directed by Eckhart Schmidt
Starring Désirée Nosbusch, Bodo Steiger, Simone Brahmann
Mondo Macabro (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC), Oracle (DVD) (UK R0 PAL), CMV Laservision (DVD) (Germany R2 PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
Color, 1982, 93m.
It's virtually impossible to explain why The Fan is a horror film without spoiling the entire third act, but let's just say this haunting, deeply creepy slice of German new wave creepiness has been steadily building up a cult following on home video with very good reason for over three decades. Fans of Audition in particular should get a kick out of this one, which is still a riveting experience and bound to catch any unprepared viewer completely off guard.
High school student Simone (Nosbusch) seems to have it all: loving parents, a stable home, and a solid education. Unfortunately she's deeply obsessed with a singer named R (Steiger), to whom she writes numerous letters under the assumption she hasn't received a response only because his secretary wants him all to herself. Simone increasingly skips school and intercepts the mailman for disciplinary letters, and soon her home life is falling apart as well thanks to her single-minded obsession. One afternoon she finally gets to meet her idol face to face among autograph seekers and passes out on the spot, which leads to a studio audience gig for his performance in a bald cap among a group of mannequins. The stage is finally set for Simone to land the object of her desire, but the situation soon takes a very, very dark turn.
You can't say there are too many films out there mixing the Neue Deutsch Welle (German new wave) music movement with unabashed nudity and wince-inducing violence, but somehow The Fan (originally titled Der Fan and better known to VHS collectors as Trance) manages to get it all just right. The soundtrack by short-lived group Rheingold is worth the price of admission alone as it mixes catchy, propulsive songs with eerie instrumentals to weave its spell, and the group's lead singer and guitarist, Steiger, is appropriately cast as the male lead here. However, this is really Nosbusch's show all the way; the former music show host makes for an unforgettable protagonist as she goes from a beautiful but broken teenager to... well, something else entirely by the final minutes. No one can stare through the camera quite like she can, and it's a shame the film's reputation was tainted somewhat in its native country by a lawsuit over a couple of shots she wanted removed. (It was ultimately settled out of court with the film left intact when it turned out everything shot had been storyboarded and approved in advance.) A short film and documentary filmmaker, Eckhart Schmidt had been absent from narrative filmmaking for almost a decade when he made this, an adaptation of a creepy short story (written as a diary) published in an underground German punk magazine. His precise control of framing and unusual sense for integrating music into filmmaking really pays off here, particularly in the final 30 minutes when the film enters a zone entirely unto itself filled with unnatural colors and an escalating sense of dread.
The Fan was mostly discovered by English-speaking viewers courtesy of English-dubbed VHS releases, which earned the film enthusiastic coverage in a handful of horror fanzines in the '80s. Various international releases became prized collectibles including a Japanese laserdisc and a UK DVD from Oracle, which contained a widescreen presentation of the mediocre dubbed version and, for some reason, the German track without subtitle options. Fortunately you can ignore all of those in favor of the 2015 release from Mondo Macabro, a dual-format edition with Blu-ray and DVD options containing identical extras. The HD transfer is a knockout, not surprisingly, with the label thankfully moving up to DTS-HD MA audio for both the German and English mono versions (with optional English subs, which contain a few minor typos here and there). The prints have always carried a Dolby Stereo logo, though it doesn't appear any home video versions or circulating prints have been presented in with stereo audio channels; if anyone has any additional info on that, please write in. The Blu-ray in particular looks gorgeous with those vivid '80s colors popping beautifully, especially those unsettling reds during the pivotal tryst after the one-hour mark. While the general release comes in standard Amaray packaging, there's also a very limited red case limited edition on their site containing just the Blu-ray disc.
Apart from the much-needed option to finally watch this film in German with subtitles, the biggest feature here is a new 20-minute video interview with Schmidt, who gives a candid account of the film's inception and his much-publicized legal issues with Nosbusch, whom he still regards as the best actress he ever had in a film. He also talks about his affinity for writing from a female perspective, his hands-on methods with cinematography and film editing that drove his colleagues crazy, the National Socialism parallels in the story (which somehow flew over critics' heads at the time), and his relationship with the punk and new wave scenes of the early '80s. The Nosbusch section closing out the interview is definitely the highlight and ends things on a wistful note; it's essential viewing for anyone interested in the main feature. Also included are the usual Mondo Macabro promo reel and very thorough text essays about the film, the German New Wave music scene and Rheingold in particular, and bios for the writer/director and both stars, all of which give some great additional context. Easily a contender for one of the year's most essential releases.