Horror Movie A Day: Quint KNOWS YOU’RE ALONE (1980) Most people like to be scared. It’s something primal.
Published at: Oct. 18, 2008, 11:54 p.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[The regular A Movie A Day list has been frozen in order for me to do an all-horror line-up for October. I’ve pulled many horror titles from my regular “to see” stack and have ordered many more horror and thriller titles to make sure we have some good stuff. Like the regular AMAD column all the movies I’m covering are films I have never seen, but unlike the regular AMAD column I will not connect each film to the one before it. Instead I will pull a title at random every day and watch whatever the movie Gods determine for me.]
Today’s move is HE KNOWS YOU’RE ALONE, a 1980 tale about a killer stalking engaged women in the weeks leading up to their marriage.
What’s interesting is tracking the influence of this film. It hit months after FRIDAY THE 13TH locked in the formula for ‘80s slasher flicks.
Now, without a doubt Bob Clark’s BLACK CHRISTMAS influenced HALLOWEEN, which cemented the exact slasher formula. Virginal girl stalked by an unseen, almost super-human, person, etc, etc, etc. Killer POV, sex and death, you know the drill.
But I think when FRIDAY THE 13th hit and came out with a sequel every year on the year it spawned a thousand ripoffs, literally taking over the slasher genre.
When you watch HE KNOWS YOU’RE ALONE it’s clear this wasn’t a rip-off of anything besides HALLOWEEN. They recreate moments… our innocent lead girl sees her stalker when looking out the window, standing next to a hedge. She looks away and looks back and he’s gone. Another shot has her walking down a suburban street that could be Laurie Strode’s neighborhood.
And then there’s the made-at-home soundtrack consisting of mostly electronic piano.
The real question isn’t if this is a ripoff. It totally is, inarguably. The real question is does it have anything interesting to add to the genre or, barring that, at least offer a twisted little tale.
I would say, unfortunately, that it does not.
Ripoffs are my cup of tea, as I’ve stated in a previous AMAD column. One of my all-time favorite ‘80s horror movies is SLEEPAWAY CAMP which couldn’t be any more of a FRIDAY THE 13TH ripoff than it is, but the genius of that movie is to put the focus not on the counselors, but the kids. They utilize real kids, non-actors, to tell one of the most disturbingly fucked up twisted tales ever committed to celluloid. The movie is incredibly cheap, bordering on ridiculous, but if that final shot of that movie doesn’t scare you then you’re already dead, as the PHANTASM ads proclaimed.
With HE KNOWS YOU’RE ALONE we get a very by the numbers slasher, which is isn’t unenjoyable, but hardly memorable or worth anything more than a room-temperature recommendation.
The opening tries something fun, playing with a particular favorite film gimmick of mine… the movie within the movie mind-fuck. The first scene is a horribly overacted moment between a boyfriend and girlfriend making out. They hear a noise, the boyfriend goes to investigate and it turns into a filmed version of the everybody-knows-it ghost story where the sound that drives the girlfriend out of the car turns out to be her boyfriend, hanging from a tree, swaying and thumping the car.
Then the real movie is shown as we pull back and see two girls sitting in a theater watching it. One is happily munching popcorn, the other is squirming in her seat. She leaves to hit the toilet and gets the feeling someone is following her. She goes back into the theater, tells her friend who doesn’t believe her, of course, as someone sits behind her.
We see him pull a knife out and at the next scare moment he stabs this girl in the back through the seat. She lets out a scream, but no one takes it as a genuine cry. She’s screaming along with half the audience. By the time the popcorn muching friend notices she’s dead, the guy is long gone.
This brings us the investigative team, led by Paul Gleason… yeah, the principal from THE BREAKFAST CLUB, a pleasant surprise. I love seeing character actors pop up unexpectedly in flicks. It’s one of the joys of moviewatching for me.
Another unfortunate for this movie. Gleason is there essentially just to call in a guy obsessed with this killer. Yeah, it’s a veiled Dr. Loomis, but not anywhere near as interesting. But that’s all in the execution, to be fair. I think he is an interesting character. His bride-to-be was the first killed by this man, who we discover is her ex-boyfriend in a flashback.
So, ignoring Gleason. There’s one good character actor wasted. This film also marks the screen debut of one Mr. Tom Hanks, playing a throwaway love interest for one of the lead girl’s friends.
I don’t know how much of my enjoyment of Hanks’s work in this movie is me looking back with the baggage of his filmography and the personal nostalgia I get seeing him in this era (thanks to a healthy diet of SPLASH, THE MONEY PIT, THE ‘BURBS, DRAGNET and JOE VS. THE VOLCANO as a kid), but I’d like to think he stands out here.
Hanks has relatively little to do, but his comic timing and personality are on full force. He’s always fucking with something if he’s in the background, always moving, always alive.
Hanks has one big scene where he goes off on the importance of being scared, what it means to society. He frames it as an explanation of why people pay to scare themselves silly at amusement parks and carnivals, but does include horror films. Basically, a rollercoaster or horror movie allows us the illusion of cheating death, acting as a cathartic release of pressure.
If you’ve ever heard a horror filmmaker defending his or her work against those who decry it as mindless violence and porn-like gratuitousness then you’ve heard this argument, but it’s interesting to hear it voiced actually in a horror movie, especially one from 1980 because I don’t remember that argument really hitting big until the ‘90s and more recent horror.
But that’s it for Hanks. He has a few scenes, but doesn’t really play a part either way and, no, we don’t get to see him fall victim to our stalker (who shares a striking resemblence to SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE’s killer, by the way).
One of the saving graces of the film is her laugh-a-minute mortician ex-boyfriend who tries to convince her throughout to break up with her jerk fiancée (off on his bachelor trip). Don Scardino plays this character and he brings a lot of life into this movie that needed it badly. Scardino now seems to direct a lot of TV, including 30 ROCK, so good for him. But once again, he’s a very, very secondary character.
The lead, Amy Jensen (Caitlin O’Heaney) is serviceable, but ultimately bland. She doesn’t have Jamie Lee’s accessibility or Heather Langenkamp’s strength, but is solid enough to not be bad in the movie.
Final Thoughts: Very forgettable, but not too hard to sit through. It’s worth it for early Hanks and a couple moments of okay gore, the best of which involves a fishtank. You can also distract yourself with a game of “point out the now famous character actor” with Gleason and James Rebhorn (the asshole Veep in INDEPENDENCE DAY) as the horny professor. But no need to rush to this one if you haven’t seen it yet.