"He Knows You're Alone" was released two years after "Halloween" and four months after "Friday the 13th." Produced in 1980, it was among the first wave of "Halloween" clones that glutted the market in the eighties. As such, it is no better or worse than most of them. However, since the "Scream" and "Scary Movie" series have so well spoofed the whole slasher scene since then, it's hard to take any of these early examples of the genre seriously.
There is one thing this film has going for it, though. It marks the film debut of Tom Hanks, just before he appeared in his "Bosom Buddies" TV show. Unfortunately, young Hanks is only in a brief scene or two and has little to do with much of the rest of the picture; but his demeanor stands out. Indeed, in hindsight we can see a screen presence about him and a deft delivery that would serve him well for the rest of his career. Well, everybody's got to start somewhere.
Anyway, back to "He Knows You're Alone." It's a great title, no? If only the script by Scott Parker or the direction by Armand Mastroianni, both of them fledglings in the movie business at the time, had been up to the task. But, alas, what we get is mostly imitative, purposely, mind you, not only of "Halloween" but of "Psycho." At least the filmmakers copied from the best.
First, the set up. The gimmick is that a killer is on the loose murdering brides-to-be. We learn early on that the killer is a jilted lover who knifed to death his former girlfriend an hour before her wedding. Then he went on a rampage killing more brides-to-be. Not just any brides-to-be, but young, beautiful brides-to-be. And the occasional friends of the brides-to-be. And anyone else unlucky enough to get in his way. His preferred weapon is a knife, but he is not above using a pair of scissors when the need arises.
The movie gives us healthy doses of what its filmmakers think its mostly male, teenage target audience wants: Sex and nudity and violence toward women. Sex and nudity for obvious reasons; violence toward women for darker, more deep-seated reasons that have psychologists working overtime to this day.
On the commentary track, the filmmakers tell us that they were not going for gore but trying to make the film scary. I'm sure they were trying, to be sure, but I found little of it scary. By and large, we never get to know the victims well enough to allow any real suspense to develop about their deaths. If she's young and pretty, expect her to die. That's about it.
Except for the star. Unless you're a Hitchcock, directors never want to kill off their stars. The star of "He Knows You're Alone" is Caitlin O'Heaney, who plays a young, beautiful bride-to-be named Amy Jensen. You can see there may be some reason for the audience to fear for her safety, and, in fact, the last ten minutes or so of the film do generate a modicum of tension. But she a bride-to-be with second thoughts about getting married, so maybe she doesn't count. Her ex-boyfriend, Marvin (Don Scardino), still likes her, and, well, he's such a nice guy and all. He works in a mortuary that looks like something out of an Edgar Allan Poe nightmare, so it all makes for a neat tie-in at the end.
Following desperately and doggedly on the heels of the murderer is Lt. Len Gamble (Lewis Arlt), whose own bride was the first of the killer's victims. He's out for revenge and taking on the case single-handedly, as a sort of lone wolf. It's too bad he didn't call in Dirty Harry.
Red herrings abound, a false lead or a misleading clue turning up about every two minutes. This becomes frustrating, disappointing, and counterproductive, as we aren't so much concerned about every mysterious incident after the first few potential thrills don't pan out.
So, just how much is this film like "Halloween"? Not only is there a mad killer on the loose, a piano plays behind many of the scenes, the music by Alexander and Mark Peskanov reminiscent of John Carpenter's piano solos in the earlier film. And at one point Marvin even announces himself to Amy as "the bogeyman." You DO remember the climax of "Halloween," don't you?
And how much is this film like "Psycho"? Well, not only is there a mad killer on the loose, there are scenes with the killer wielding a knife as in "Psycho," framed in similar camera angles, with Bernard Herrmann "Psycho"-like music shrieking behind them. Hanks's character mentions the movie "Psycho," just to be sure we get the connection, and there's even a shower scene with some of the same shots from "Psycho"! At least the filmmakers knew what they were doing with their references here, though, and hoping to be playful.
"He Knows You're Alone" may not live up to the promise of its title in terms of frights, but at least it doesn't insult our intelligence the way any number of other slasher flicks do. It's another wannabe that just misses the mark.
The picture quality represents a pretty decent transfer of a print that was probably in good condition to begin with. The photography in the film is not perhaps the widest or most glorious, but it comes off looking a lot better than we might imagine in an older, low-budget horror flick. The screen size measures an anamorphic ratio about 1.74:1 across my standard-screen HD television, and with a reasonably good bit rate the picture's colors look solid. Any minor grain associated with the image was probably inherent to the original print, but it's not much and adds a degree of texture to the proceedings. Moreover, there are no egregious scratches, ticks, or lines to be seen. Facial tones seem a tad more pinkish than is natural, but, overall, it's fairly nice video reproduction.
There's little to be said about the audio. It's a commonplace monaural, here done up via Dolby Digital 1.0 to clarify it further. I found it a touch bright, especially in the strings, but the all-important midrange renders voices clearly. Needless to say, the frequency and dynamic ranges are limited, there is no deep bass to speak of, and because it's mono no surround activity.
Hey, it's a small movie with a small potential audience. The Warner Bros. studio was not about to spend more than the film's original cost in order to provide DVD extras. So, all we get are an audio commentary with director Armand Mastroianni and screenwriter Scott Parker, twenty-six scene selections, and a widescreen theatrical trailer. English and French are the spoken languages involved, with English, French, and Spanish subtitles. As I became bored with certain parts of the movie, I clicked into the audio commentary and found it more interesting than most of the story line. Mastroianni and Parker provide a reliable amount of information on not just this film but on filmmaking in general. I can't say I was particularly entertained by their comments, but I was most definitely enlightened.
Looking back on a film like "He Knows You're Alone," it's easy to laugh or smile or mock. In fairness to the movie, though, it is really only in retrospect that it looks bad. Having seen a hundred of these things over the years, viewers might be excused for finding this 1980 entry in the slasher field a shade less ingenious or inventive than many others that came after it. But as the filmmakers say, the movie doesn't capitalize on blood and gore for blood-and-gore's sake. It takes its shots, so to speak, in all earnestness, just coming up short.