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He Knows You're Alone
[] Buy posters from this movie
by Jack Sommersby

"'Till *Death* Do Us Part'"
2 stars

One of those unfortunate cases where the quality of the theatrical poster outclasses the quality of the movie.

Amy (Caitlin O'Heaney) is just your average college student in a small town who's set to marry in two weeks. Her fiancee is going away for a bachelor's weekend: she's there to see him off, and as he gets in the car we overhear his buddies tell him there will be lots of women there, and he doesn't voice any objection; we assume he's going to cheat on her without his conscience bothering him a whole lot. By the same token, Amy isn't especially sorry to see him go: she's having second thoughts on the marriage, with one reason in particular his wanting her to quit school afterward; she can foretell he's not going to be the most supportive spouse of a liberated woman. With her parents away for the weekend, Amy is kept completely out of the dumps with her looking forward to spending two days alone with a couple of childhood friends who are also attending the college: the libidinous and bubbly Joyce (Patsy Pease) and the lonely Nancy (Elizabeth Kemp); the former is currently having an affair with a married professor, and the latter has been looking forward to her daily jogs as of late because she's been lightly flirting with a cute guy who's been jogging on the same path. The three casually walk around town and gab about all these things going on in their lives, and in one particularly amusing scene they see that cheating professor and his wife coming their way on the sidewalk, and rather than ignore him, Joyce excitedly says hello and proceeds to make him extremely uncomfortable without giving away their indiscretion. After they split up, with Amy on her way to her gown fitting, she runs into another childhood friend, the appealing Marvin (Don Scardino), who works nights at the morgue and used to be Amy's boyfriend; still in love with her, he tries to convince her she's marrying "on the rebound," and she, though still insisting she's making the right decision, doesn't deny it. Thus far, here are four ingratiating, believable characters we're enjoying spending time with; and Scardino (who was the sole saving grace of the calamitous Cruising), Pease (whose effortless sexiness is something to behold), Kemp (who displays lovely shades of shyness), and O'Heaney (who keeps her just-under-the-radar sadness beautifully modulated) are attractive, natural performers who make indelible impressions. The bad news, however, is the movie isn't a personal drama but an incompetent mad-slasher movie instead. True, it's an asset that the actors don't blow their assignments off just because they're starring in a horror movie; truer still, the debuting director, Armand Mastroianni, is practically all-thumbs at making a horror movie.

He Knows You're Alone gets off to a decent-enough start as we watch a teenage boy and girl making out in a car in the middle of the woods, until she hears a strange noise and he goes out to investigate. At first, we think it's cheesy, what with their dumb actions and enough thick San Francisco fog to permanently shroud the Transamerica building, only to discover after both of them are gruesomely slain by an unseen attacker that we've actually been watching a cheesy horror flick in a theatre. We take in a couple of college girls in the audience, with one enjoying it and the other frazzled and really on edge; the latter goes to the restroom for some reprieve but thinks someone's following her. She makes her way back to her seat, a man sits down directly behind her, and right when an on-screen character is stabbed from behind, she's stabbed from behind, too; her friend, thinking she's faking, comes up with a handful of the red stuff and screams bloody murder at the same time another on-screen character starts screaming. Detective Len Gamble (Lewis Arlt) has been summoned to the murder scene by his superior for an interesting reason: the victim was due to be married in a week, which certainly catches the cop's attention because three years earlier his bride was killed one hour before the ceremony (we're shown this in flashback from the killer's point of view -- he was a jealous past beau of hers -- and he's been leaving behind a trail of about-to-be-married victims ever since). Soon thereafter, a bridal-shop tailor who just fitted Amy is murdered (though that priceless character actor Joseph Leon is so touching in the part you hate seeing him get offed), and when news of it gets to Gamble he works the scene, finds a torn piece of Amy's dress in the dead man's hand that he was hanging up right when he bought the farm, and thinks when he finds Amy he can follow her and wait for the killer to show up. In the meantime, Amy is starting to get the uneasy feeling she's being followed; and she is, by the killer, an average-looking middle-aged guy who makes no secret about being seen and then all of a sudden disappears from sight when Amy turns back around for another look. (There's a fine payoff where Amy walks in front of a storefront of televisions, gets a kick out of her face appearing on them via a nearby video camera, and when she walks away we see the face of the killer who's been standing right behind her.) From here, the rest of the proceedings involve Amy and her friends being stalked by this madman, with Gamble not proving the most adept flatfoot in the world at effectively tailing her -- just so the plot can progress, of course.

The movie has its moments, but overall it's too leisurely paced, and lacking in both atmosphere and suspense. Mastroianni and the screenwriter, Scott Parker (making his debut, too), should be commended for trying for something a tad classier than the usual entries in the slasher subgenre. They genuinely like the characters, which is a rarity, to be sure. And midway through we get a discussion started by Nancy's date Elliot (a charismatic Tom Hanks), a Psychology major who theorizes we go to horror movies because we hate fear yet like to get a taste of it because we're safe in the theatre (duh!), which should elicit a laugh in light of the first victim's fate in that theatre, but it isn't pointed up and just hangs there in the air. We never see a knife make actual contact with the victims -- the director either cuts to another angle or cuts away from the scene altogether -- but in a church we see what looks like blood dripping from a Christ crucifixion statue only for a curious Amy to be told by the priest that it's actually rusty water leaking through the roof, and we're brought up short by the vagueness of it. That also goes for an obligatory shower scene with an obvious drain shot from Psycho, which Elliot discussed earlier, and we're meant to sit back in awe at the visual reference? Mastroianni sometimes makes an effort to defy conventions, but, excepting the well-rounded characters and not laying on the gore, he indulges in more than a fair share of them. The daylight-stalker and girlfriends-in-peril scenes are right out of Halloween; they even have a highly-imitative music score. Not running to believable safe places and not locking doors and not waiting for the police to arrive are generic idiotic actions (or non-actions). Mastroianni's staging can be really lackluster. A fish tank in Amy's house is lingered over so many times you know it's just a matter of time before someone's severed head winds up in it accompanying the guppies. (Because it's so blatantly telegraphed, a turd in a punchbowl would have had more shock value.) When Nancy lies on the floor in a bathrobe after her shower with headphones on and fires up a joint for company, not only does this predictably ensure her death for indulging in an illicit drug, but the leading up to her demise is overly prolonged and flat-footed. Joyce being stuck halfway out the professor's bedroom window with the killer outside has the potential for tautness, but the director's timing is way, way off. Gamble displays numbskull instincts that make you wonder why he was ever promoted beyond traffic duty. Finally, the non-menacing villain couldn't be more of a milquetoast. Not much of an effective horror movie, this, when the dastardly fiend merely comes off as a waiter holding a grudge because he got stiffed out of his tip.

For fans of this, the DVD is given very fine video treatment (the anamorphic transfer cuts through a lot of the grain that marred the VHS tape) and the audio commentary by the writer and director is entertaining.

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originally posted: 12/08/11 12:35:54
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  12-Sep-1980 (R)
  DVD: 05-Oct-2004



Directed by
  Armand Mastroianni

Written by
  Scott Parker

  Caitlin O'Heaney
  Lewis Arlt
  Elizabeth Kemp
  Patsy Pease
  Tom Hanks

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