Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Summer of Slash: He Knows You're Alone

Released in 1980, He Knows You’re Alone is one of the very first slashers to be released by a major studio (MGM) in response to the success of John Carpenter’s Halloween. That’s about the only similarity it shares with that seminal horror film. It’s not that He Knows You’re Alone is a bad movie – it’s actually got some decent acting, and, for those interested, the tone and pacing of a giallio – it’s just that the film is on a whole pretty damn uninvolving as a thriller. There’s some good framing of the death scenes here. I mean, credit where credit is due: the murder scene where one of the girl’s is listening to music is so well paced and shot that it made me really want to like this movie…as did the subsequent shot of her head in a fish tank. There’s also a nice scene where Amy – our final girl who is being stalked by a killer who is murdering brides on their wedding night – is on an amusement park ride (The Scrambler!) that is pretty well done, too, but it’s cut too short before any tension can really build (and the subsequent haunted house scene is just too cheesy). And therein lays the biggest problem with He Knows You’re Alone: It feels like a TV movie at times. And that’s no surprise considering director Armand Mastroianni worked primarily in television working on shows like “Dark Shadows” and “Nightmare Café.”

But, like I said, there are things to like here. I like how they had no qualms about showing who the killer is in the first scene of the movie (and that’s what makes this film a slsher more than anything, the fact that there is no mystery who the killer is). There’s some good acting (it was a lot of fun watching a young Tom Hanks, not to mention James Rebhorn and Paul Gleason) going on here by its young stars Don Scardino and Caitlin O’ Heaney that definitely rises above the usual slasher film acting, and, finally, there’s a nice Goblin-y musical score to accompany the action in the film. But those elements aren’t enough to save this clunky 90+ minute attempt at a slasher movie. This clunkiness comes out most in the pacing of the film’s procedural moments (the straight horror scenes are pretty good), or in the way it strains too hard to be a meta horror film like when Tom Hanks’ character, a Psych major, talks about why people pay to be scared by horror movies, or when he talks about how when people go see movies like Psycho, they don’t want to take a shower, and then a few scenes later we have a character, for no reason, take a shower with Mastroianni finding a way to get a shot of the drain in there even though it doesn’t really fit. Obviously MGM and its director wanted to ape the success of Halloween with its minimalist take on terror (light gore, good use of widescreen, and minimalist musical score); however, He Knows You’re Alone is nowhere near as tense as Carpenter’s film (and it wasn’t nearly as successful, either). But, if you take the film as more of a suspense/thriller (it reminded me of Visiting Hours in this way) than a slasher, then you’re left with what is a pretty interesting, if wholly uninvolving, look into the strange era that was the post-Halloween and pre-Friday the 13th American horror film.


  1. Spot on review here Kevin. This is a film that does have its moments, and as it is from a studio (as you astutely mention as it's an important designation to make in this subgenre because so many that came after where low-budget indies) it looks pretty good at times, and the acting is pretty professional. It's just not that gripping or inventive which is how you separate the 'OK' from the 'good/great' in this genre.

    I actually just watched this again along with the original 'When a Stranger Calls' (1979) and I came away liking that film slightly more, and it's only really affective for the first 20 to 25 minutes.

  2. Thanks, Jamie! Yeah, I was pretty underwhelmed with this one, but then again, I think My Bloody Valentine is the only slasher to come from a legitimate studio around that time that I actually cared for. I was never a fan of the Friday films, and everything else just seemed like a bad copy of Halloween.

    I haven't seen When a Stranger Calls in ages...and the last time I saw it was on TV, so I really don't remember all that much about it. I'll have to check out those opening minutes.

    Thanks as always for checking this thing out.