Warner Bros. // 2004 // 94 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Dennis Prince (Retired) // November 15th, 2004
Every girl is frightened the night before her wedding, but this time...there's good reason!
After the unprecedented success of 1978's Halloween, fast-buck filmmakers, and the many rag-tag studios that often backed them, jumped on the let's-go-on-a-killing-spree bandwagon. From Prom Night to Terror Train to Maniac and beyond, a new genre was born, and those more promiscuous among us were deemed the new "chum" that baited a serial killer's deadly passion. But what about those young women who upheld traditional values, preparing to marry the men of their dreams rather than wildly romp in one-night sexual escapades? Well, in He Knows You're Alone, even women who attempt to take the traditional route to a relationship are summarily sliced and diced.
Ray Carlton (Tom Rolfing) is a disturbed man. Jilted by his one-time girlfriend, Ray shows up before the girl's wedding ceremony and proceeds to perforate her with a butcher knife. Detective Len Gamble (Lewis Arlt) has never forgotten that particular homicide, since it was his bride-to-be that Ray dispatched (she dumped Ray in exchange for the chance to marry the detective). Years later, another budding bride is murdered in a movie theater, cueing Gamble that the hunt is on again. Meanwhile, affable Amy Jenson (Caitlin O'Heaney) is preparing for her own wedding with gal pals in tow as her fiancée heads away for a weekend bachelor party. Amy's own ex-boyfriend, Marvin (Don Scardino, Squirm), still has the hots for her, despite her timid protests. When she realizes the killer is stalking her, having butchered her female friends, she fears she may not live to hear her wedding bells ring.
Halloween redux? Well, this film certainly aspired to garner such regard, but never managed to deliver the goods. Outside of the opening setup that likely inspired a similar sequence in Brian DePalma's Blow Out and Wes Craven's Scream, the film is rather lackluster and laborious as far as horror goes. It commits a major sin almost immediately by plainly revealing the killer, the jilted Ray, during the opening sequence. Soon thereafter, during Det. Gamble's troubling flashback, we learn why Ray is prone to poking holes in unwary brides. Before the first reel is through, there's little suspense or surprise left; the film immediately dashes all hopes of unnerving an audience with the potentially disconcerting premise that such slayings are random and without apparent motive (you might be next!). More to its disservice, such premature revelation also robs armchair sleuths of the opportunity to figure out who's doing the killing and what connection they have to their victims. Instead, we're force-fed all this information from the get-go, left to simply sit by and watch the mindless behavior of the characters on screen as they stumble into the killer's clutches (and, at this point, we really don't care very much).
The acting here is all quite contrived and often painful to endure. Caitlin O'Heaney is only marginally convincing as the frightened female lead, while her various friends who find themselves on the business end of a butcher knife are rather obnoxious and almost deserving of such punishment. Lewis Arlt seems to be nursing some sort of hangover throughout the ordeal, never seeming very competent in his abilities to track down a killer. As for the killer himself -- well, Tom Rolfing pretty much just stands around trying to stare menacingly. He's probably just uptight over his fast-receding hairline. Don Scardino is probably the best actor on hand, but is quite goofy afflicted with an overachieving head of hair. Finally, and the only reason Warner Brothers decided to resurrect this film, the film contains Tom Hanks' first big-screen appearance. He shows up in the throwaway role of a "handsome jogger" who puts the move on one of Amy's friends. He's hardly what you might call "handsome," though, looking rather pasty and unhealthy here, and sporting an inflamed coif that could likely battle Scardino's.
As for "splatter," you won't find much on display here; just many into-the-camera knife thrusts. There is one gore sequence that's relatively startling, but otherwise, the blood just doesn't flow. Recall, however, that Halloween didn't exactly flow with rivers of the sanguine stuff. Instead, director John Carpenter elected to use suspense, intense pacing, and suggestive glimpses of murder to plant his psychological seed, letting audiences' own imaginations determine just how much splatter hit the floor in each kill. Unfortunately, He Knows You're Alone simply can't recapture the mood and dread of the predecessor it so desperately wants to imitate (even after including a ripoff piano-theme). As noted, there's one graphic scene that might give gore hounds a minor titillation, but beyond that, there's just a bunch of knife thrusting with nary a bodily penetration.
Oh, and what's with the film's title anyway? It makes absolutely no sense since, throughout the course of the picture, the killer's victims are never alone during the deadly deeds. I riffled through my back issues of Fangoria magazine to find the write-up (issue #9 from 1980 for those of you keeping track), and discovered that the given title was not director Armand Mastroianni initial choice. Rather, it was applied by the distributing studio, M-G-M. Mastroianni's shooting title was "The Uninvited," which was later ditched due to a potential conflict with the 1944 Ray Milland picture of the same name. He then chose "Blood Wedding" and pitched it to M-G-M as such. They liked the picture, hated the title, and instructed the 30-year-old first-time filmmaker of the board's selection of "He Knows You're Alone." No doubt, the suits at the studio hoped to hoodwink filmgoers into believing this would be another home-alone-babysitter outing, again drafting off the success of Halloween. OK. I'll pardon the director on this charge.
This new DVD from Warner Brothers Home Video is a decent treatment of the film, beginning with an anamorphic widescreen transfer framed at 1.85:1. The source print is pretty rough, exhibiting quite a bit of film dirt, surface nicks, and a few vertical scratches. The image quality is rather mediocre, showing quite a bit of grain, uneven contrast, and a rather washed-out color palette. Since it's not one of the studio's most anticipated library titles, it's of little surprise that not much was done to restore or improve the picture. The audio is presented in an expected Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono mix that neither excites nor annoys viewers. In the extras department, there's a moderately engaging audio commentary in which director Mastroianni and screenwriter Scott Parker sit down to discuss their experience making this movie and ruminate on filmmaking in general. You'll also find an original theatrical trailer that includes shock sequences not found in the final film (sad, too, because they certainly would have delivered jolts otherwise absent from the supposedly shock-oriented narrative).
Now, I must admit that I'm being a bit unfair in judging He Knows You're Alone so harshly, comparing it to numerous other (and better) films made since. As a student of splatter myself, I enjoyed the heyday of stalker/gore films between 1978 and 1986 and witnessed the ebbs and flows of the emerging genre. It's difficult to not judge this particular film by comparing and contrasting it with its peers, but I do have to acknowledge it was one of the early entries, being released just three months after the surprise Summer 1980 hit Friday the 13th. Even so, while I didn't see He Knows You're Alone theatrically back then, I nonetheless doubt I would have been very much impressed, adding it to my list of disappointments of the day alongside the likes of Silent Scream and The Boogey Man.
One point of redemption and commendation for Mastroianni's mess is that it served as yet another example of splatter-on-the-rise in mainstream cinema despite the fervent condemnation by film-critic duo Roger Ebert and the late Gene Siskel (those two mounted a nationwide campaign to quell such gore-shockers, which only served to fan the flames that attracted audiences in droves). While I do uphold maintaining traditional values within our culture and keeping elements like "splatter movies" in their rightful place, I never could support outright banning (or attempts thereto) of expression. I never liked Tipper Gore and her PRMC crusade against rock music lyrics. In the end, such attempts to "cleanse" our society of a purported evil usually only succeed in heightening awareness and attraction to those elements being attacked.
He Knows You're Alone is a pretty bad film, all in all. Only the severely uninitiated will experience scares from this one. However, it does serve as something of a time capsule entry that marks the early days of the splatter genre and somehow inspires a bit of nostalgia in we gore-hounds who rode the dark ride in its early days. I can't find much replay value in this one, so I recommend renting it.
While this picture never delivers on its promise to fully shock and thrill, it similarly doesn't outwardly offend connoisseurs of carnage. While the court is disappointed that young Tom Hanks escaped unharmed in this one, it finds no serious crime has been committed and applauds the filmmaker for contributing to the evolution of the splatter genre. Case dismissed.
Review content copyright © 2004 Dennis Prince; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (French)
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Running Commentary