That’s right, HE KNOWS YOU’RE ALONE gets its own day.
Sure, it’s a HALLOWEEN clone, but it’s the best damned HALLOWEEN clone out there. It also surpasses its predecessor in many ways. What I’m going to do, likely tomorrow, is sit down and do a scene-by-scene breakdown of this movie so I can eventually provide you with a deeper analysis of the plot as well as call attention to the many striking images, hidden symbolism, and self-conscious, clever references within this film. An abbreviated summary: lots of brown; fabulous sweaters; beautiful evocation of autumn weather; wood panelling in a variety of tones; critique of Christian intervention in interpersonal relationships; underlying theme of heterosexual relationship dynamics with feminist leanings; underlying existentialist theme that equates an act of will with dying…you get the idea.
I also believe the opening scene (in the movie theater) is supposed to be a present for all the girls in the audience who identified with Jan Brady and hated Marcia Brady with her damned perfect hair. Watch it and see if you don’t agree. The hair combing is the dead giveaway…
What’s most important, however, are two things. One is the unbelievable amount of charming, surprising details that create a sense of atmosphere and empathy for the characters in an extremely efficient manner. The other is how well HE KNOWS YOU’RE ALONE sticks to my ideal model for the slasher horror film: walking, talking, revelation, rabbit hole. I explained my Jungian mandala of horror in a short essay last year, but I’ll copy it (typos and all) below the movie link as a refresher. HE KNOWS YOU’RE ALONE follows the pattern quite well considering my description is of the “ideal” slasher film, rather than a realized model. Hell, HE KNOW’S YOU’RE ALONE even has the rabbit hole sequence that was missing from HALLOWEEN and it’s a very good rabbit hole indeed…
HE KNOWS YOU’RE ALONE (1980):
THE HORROR IDEAL aka THE SLASHER MANDALA:
The ideal horror film should be four hours long – each part blending into the next with featherlight master strokes of hack job editing. The first hour would be comprised of getting to know inane young people as they play pranks on each other, have sex, do drugs, and otherwise demonstrate that they are just like people in every other horror movie – except with heart. FINAL EXAM is likely the ideal version of this.
The second hour would be comprised of walking through long hallways, long walks home while the sun sets, long drives taken in 70s cars while the setting sun flares on the windshield, etc. The point of walking is to make the viewer completely familiar with the space in which the actors live. Familiarity is important. The film should create a map in the viewer’s mind. Even if there is no comprehensive survey of the film’s set and setting via walking or driving, there should be a sense that the viewer exists with the protagonist in a real time, in a real place, with the same limitations and boundaries.
Boredom plays a special role in the horror film. It tells you that “cinema reality” offers no escape. You can’t cut away a horror film with fancy editing. The ideal boredom of horror, however, should also be hypnotic. At his best, Jean Rollin epitomizes the ritualisticpurification of “the walk” in films like THE DEMONIACS or THE FIANCE OF DRACULA. I would imagine more than two thirds of these films consist of walking slowly somewhere…usually nowhere…until suddenly: something, maybe nothing.
Did I mention that slowly walking down hallways in horror movies serves the same trance inducing function as a ritual dance in pagan worship? Well, it does…
Another helpful and more modern comparison is the phenomena of the cliche techno rave party. It may bore you to watch a young person dance repetitively to repetitive music, but that’s because you haven’t let yourself go into the trance of it. It is completely different once you are on the inside.
The third hour is when the murders happen. This part is almost inconsequential really, and is only there to support the other acts. However, if it is going to be done, it should follow the correct formula. The murders should be performed as set pieces, each a separate world unto itself with its own rules and logic: like paintings in a museum. Murders are dream logic, and there should be no attempt to integrate them into the rest of the film. They should ALWAY be in contradiction to everything else in the movie.
The fourth hour is the rabbit hole sequence. It begins with our hero’s discovery of dead bodies, a secret lair, the identity of the murderer, the murderer’s malformed child, what have you. It doesn’t matter WHAT the hero discovers, as long as it has been a secret and there is a shocking reveal. (There are secret reasons for why this is the case, but they are secret). I remember when I saw THE SIXTH SENSE in the theater. I was outraged! The secret was revealed and then it ENDED. No! This is sacrilege for which Shamalayan has rightfully been punished (in a manner which shall remain secret).
The revelation is only the opening of the rabbit hole. The final hour of the perfect horror film should consist of our hero falling THROUGH the rabbit hole. This is usually depicted in the form of the murderer (or monster) chasing the hero through a series of rooms, chambers, woods, underwater caves, or what have you, into more-and-more alien or disorienting circumstances. This is a perfect opportunity for artiness as otherwise normal environments are transformed by the chase into surreal Rube Goldberg contraptions or, on the other hand, subtly altered with the slightest scent of off-ness). THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE is the most famous example of this. Dario Argento’s finale for THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE is likely the masterpiece of subtle rabbit-holing – with THE STENDHAL SYNDROME showing he still has it…
Rabbit Holing is the most important sequence of the ideal horror film, and it can be easily botched. Rob Zombie clearly understands all the concepts behind the ideal horror film, but lacks execution. He attempted the ideal Rabbit Hole in THE HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES, but his sensibilities have been tainted by aesthetically incongruous 60s California underground comic art.
The ending of the ideal horror film can be anything. The murderer could be killed, the hero could be killed, it could just end – who really cares? It isn’t important.