Eckhart Schmidt’s 1982 West German thriller DER FAN (THE FAN) would have to rate as one of the unsung European genre masterpieces from the eighties. The film does have it supporters, and it has recently received a lovely Blu-ray/DVD release from Mondo Macabro, so it is not a total obscurity, but nor is it as anywhere near as well-known as it deserves to be. I myself was pretty much unaware of the movie until I read a compelling review of it by Michelle Alexander, who was kind enough to lend me the Mondo Macabro disc, which I sat down to watch last night and was instantly drawn into and mesmerized by.
Starring Désirée Nosbusch in a compelling and beautifully detached performance, DER FAN tells the story of Simone, a teenage girl obsessed by the idea of meeting and falling in love with her idol, a mysterious and somber experimental new wave/pop singer known only as R (played by Bodo Steiger). Failing at school because her thoughts are dominated completely by R, when her continual stream of love letters to R go unanswered, Simone’s intense fan-ish obsession begins to tilt over into stalker territory, as she leaves home and hitches to Munich, where R is scheduled to appear on a pop music television show. When Simone finally comes face to face with her true love, she is brought into R’s inner circle but soon learns the old lesson that it’s sometimes better to keep your idols at arm’s length, as things take an unexpectedly dark and very twisted turn in the final act.
From the moment the opening credits appear against bright red background, the first two acts of DER FAN pops with a beautifully slick early-eighties style that clearly reflects the burgeoning music video landscape of the day, and the soundtrack (provided by German group Rheingold) makes for some excellent Euro new wave listening. As the themes of the film turn darker in it’s final third, so too does the colour palette diminish and things become more stark and shadowy, and the music more unnerving. On paper the sudden tonal shift would sound jarring but under Schmidt’s assured direction the transition works beautifully, making the climax of the film a true surprise.
DER FAN works on so many levels – as a thriller, a horror film, a musical document and a compelling look at the dangerous extremes of fandom. It’s an ultimately sick but oddly moving gem, and one which is absolutely worth unearthing and admiring.