Written by: Scott Parker
Directed by: Armand Mastroianni
Starring: Don Scardino, Caitlin O'Heaney and Elizabeth Kemp
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
“Amy's getting married in a few weeks and she thinks some maniac is following her around."
He Knows You’re Alone has a great opening sequence that shows a bit of ingenuity considering its 1980 release date. At that point, one could hardly say the slasher genre had been carved into a cliché-ridden malaise, but you’d never guess it from the beginning of this one. We open on a couple (the guy is Russell Todd, one year away from being strung up by Jason the same way he is here) making out in a car out in the woods--the girl hears a scary noise, so he goes to investigate. Of course, they’re actually being stalked by a psycho, and all of this feels pretty routine to modern audiences, and, even at the time, it likely felt like a pseudo-spoof of all this stuff. But, suddenly, we pull back and discover that this is just a movie within our actual movie, where a couple of girls are watching this. One of them can’t handle the movie anymore, so she wanders off, only to be stalked herself by a mysterious guy. Quite a bit of cleverness, and what follows probably sounds familiar to anyone whose seen Scream 2.
After the girl returns to her seat, her stalker takes a place directly behind her. As the on-screen carnage climaxes in a scream, she’s suddenly stabbed to death, all while her oblivious friend delights in her scary movie. We later learn that the slain girl was a bride-to-be, which is a big deal since her murder may be connected to the death of another bride who was gutted to death on her wedding day. The town detective is convinced of this, and his suspicions are confirmed when Amy Jensen (Caitlin O’Heaney) begins to be stalked herself; she’s all set to be married in a couple of weeks if she can make it to the altar in one piece.
It’s somewhat unfortunate that the opening scene is pretty much the only bit of creativity here, as the rest of the film is a direct rip-off of Halloween. Maybe that isn’t so surprising--again, it was 1980, so Halloween was the standard-bearer. This was before the likes of Friday the 13th (which bowed only a few months before this one) arrived to bloody up the genre in spectacular fashion. He Knows You’re Alone didn’t take that route, which is probably why it’s pretty much all but forgotten at this point (with the exception of a notable acting debut--we’ll get to that later). In retrospect, it almost feels a bit refreshing, though, as, unlike the splatter films to follow, it attempts to lean on genuine suspense and tension instead of schlock. Basically, it was actually trying to be faithful to Halloween in both content and tone, and it occasionally works since Armand Mastroianni’s direction is pretty deft and finds some creepy images here and there.
Of course, he’s copying from the best template out there in Carpenter’s film, so a lot of the leg work is being done for him. If you’ve strolled down the streets of Haddonfield a few times, then you’ll immediately recognize some shots that have been lifted wholesale from Halloween, and this is not to mention how it pretty much takes the same plot beats and jumbles them up a bit. As such, you’ll feel right at home when you’re treated to the middle section that has you spending time with Amy and her gal pals; one of them is a bit promiscuous and targets their philosophy professor for a one night stand (which is cut short by the killer’s blade). Another one bumps into a guy at a carnival late in the flick who just happens to be Tom Hanks (playing a psychology student espousing some Psych 101 BS to explain Amy’s fear of being stalked--Dr. Loomis he ain’t). So, for those keeping a tab of these things at home, this is “the slasher with Tom Hanks,” who literally pops in and out of the proceedings for no apparent reason. At any rate, they aren’t a bad bunch, with O’Heaney especially being a serviceable stand-in for Jamie Lee Curtis as the virginal lead; she also happens to have a conflict of her own, as her old boyfriend is back in town and wants to keep her from marrying her new beau. All in all, this gal’s wedding is pretty well cursed (all that’s missing is an old guy popping up to tell her it’s doomed).
What is missing, however, is that Dr. Loomis factor, as the lack of a true adversary hinders this one. The lead cop is a boring, milquetoast type; more interesting is his assistant, portrayed by Paul Gleason, who really should be the lead to give our killer the horns, Dick Vernon-style. Instead, Gleason similarly checks in and out with little bearing on the plot. This also misses the atmosphere of Halloween--somehow, Amy bopping down the street to some generic synth beats just doesn’t have the same effect as Carpenter’s haunting score. As for our killer, he’s the typical wide-eyed psychopath; Mastroianni uses Tom Rolfing’s deranged gaze to his advantage, often jamming it into the frame for full effect. One of the film’s better sequences (which, perhaps coincidentally, is not at all lifted from Halloween) involves a trip through haunted funhouse at the aforementioned carnival. The killer has infiltrated it and interjects himself into the typical cardboard spook show, which is kind of neat, and certainly more inventive than the rest of the routine stalking sequences (one of which involves an obligatory set of boobs in a shower).
The body count here is somewhat impressive, if not a little dry (again, this is really going the Halloween route--in fact, it might be less bloody than that movie). I particularly enjoyed that many of them were actually set up and drawn out, with some working on that basic level of dramatic irony--this is one of those films where audiences should find themselves imploring victims to turn around. They don’t, of course, at least not until it’s too late since this one is eventually every bit as rote as the movie found within the opening sequence. It’s a brisk and nippy one, though--if anything, you can also distinguish this one as a winterbound one, though it mostly just affects the casts’ wardrobe. Though it was released theatrically by MGM, it wound up in WB’s home video library; they released it to DVD back in 2004 with a nice, anamorphic transfer and a crisp mono soundtrack. Supplementing the fine presentation are a trailer and a commentary by Mastroianni and screenwriter Scott Parker; also, you can bet your ass that Tom Hanks is pretty prominent despite his incidental role. But, hey, that’s pretty much all this one will ever be known for, so one can hardly blame Warner’s. Rent it!
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