“Come on. Let’s do it on the table.”
He Knows You’re Alone (1980) is a straight-forward slasher that tries really, really hard to be Halloween. So hard that everything from the set pieces to the steady-walking killer seem pulled from Carpenter’s classic. Don’t automatically label He Knows You’re Alone as a copycat hack.
Directed by Armand Mastroianni, He Knows You’re Alone follows follows a tried-and-true slasher formula and manages to generate a few chills.
Here’s the gist: a psychopath with a fixation for murdering brides-to-be is back in town. The murderer has long eluded Detective Len Gamble, this movie’s version of Dr. Loomis. Just like Loomis, Gamble flounders in his inability to convince anyone else of the psychopath’s return.
As Amy (Caitlin O’Heaney) prepares for her wedding day, she begins to think someone is following her. The stalker appears suddenly, only to disappear into his surroundings before she can get a good look, straight out of the Michael Myers playbook. And much the same as Laurie Strode, Amy is alone in her belief that a danger lurks in the shadows.
Everything about He Knows You’re Alone seems blase – the somewhat-inspired acting, the copycat screenplay and direction, the predictable story line.
And yet the end result is a decent little movie, punctuated by a tense stalk-and-chase climax scene.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that this was Tom Hanks’ first movie. Yes, that Tom Hanks. Although only in a few scenes, Hanks steals every scene he is in as a supporting role.
Big surprise? Not at all.
It would also be unfair if I didn’t acknowledge the brilliance of the opening scene. Two girls are watching a scary movie inside a theater when one girl heads to the bathroom, only to feel a presence watching her. The killer follows the girl back to her seat inside the theater and sits directly behind the couple, concealed by the darkness. This scene strongly inspired a similar murder in Wes Craven’s Scream 2.
“He Knows You’re Alone” vs. “Halloween”: A Comparison of Originality
Directed by John Carpenter in 1978, “Halloween” is often lauded as the film that kicked off the golden era of slasher horror, presenting a unique blend of suspense, minimal gore, and a relentless antagonist in Michael Myers. Just two years later, in 1980, “He Knows You’re Alone” was released, drawing immediate comparisons to Carpenter’s film. This begs the question: Was “He Knows You’re Alone” an original contribution to the genre, or was it too reminiscent of “Halloween”?
- Halloween: The film revolves around Michael Myers, who escapes from a mental institution and returns to his hometown on Halloween night. He stalks babysitter Laurie Strode and her friends, leading to a night of horror.
- He Knows You’re Alone: This film focuses on a soon-to-be bride named Amy, who is stalked by a killer with an obsession for murdering brides. As her wedding day approaches, the threat becomes increasingly real.
- Theme of Stalking: Both movies centralize the theme of an unrelenting stalker hunting down young women.
- The Omnipresent Threat: Much like Michael Myers, the killer in “He Knows You’re Alone” has an ever-present, looming threat, popping up unexpectedly to instill fear in viewers.
- Minimal Gore: Similar to “Halloween”, “He Knows You’re Alone” doesn’t rely heavily on gore but rather on suspense to drive fear.
- Final Girl Trope: Both movies employ the “Final Girl” trope, where one girl is left to confront the killer in the climax.
- Motive: Michael Myers’ motive for his killing spree is largely ambiguous, which adds to the eeriness of his character. In contrast, the killer in “He Knows You’re Alone” has a more straightforward motive rooted in a traumatic past event.
- Setting: While “Halloween” largely occurs during a single night and is entrenched in the Halloween holiday, “He Knows You’re Alone” spans multiple days and integrates a wedding theme.
- Backstory: “He Knows You’re Alone” delves more into the backstory of its antagonist, offering a more defined reason for his actions, while “Halloween” leaves much of Michael Myers’ past and motives as a mystery.
While there are undeniable similarities between “Halloween” and “He Knows You’re Alone,” largely due to the inherent nature of the slasher genre, there are also significant differences in the storyline, setting, and characterization of the antagonist. It’s essential to remember that by the time “He Knows You’re Alone” was released, the slasher genre was beginning to establish specific conventions and tropes, making some overlap in themes and presentation inevitable.
While “He Knows You’re Alone” might have drawn inspiration from “Halloween” and other precursors in the genre, it presents enough original elements to stand on its own. However, whether one views it as too derivative or as a fresh take on familiar themes is subjective and varies from viewer to viewer.
A clear line is drawn between those who like and dislike He Knows You’re Alone. The movie’s fans point at the eerie, creepy mood, the stoic killer, and the acting, which is above average for a slasher. The critics lambaste He Knows You’re Alone for being unoriginal, even a copycat.
Which brings me to a philosophical question. Once a great piece of art is created, should nobody attempt to create another piece of art like it? Should no future bands bother to write songs like Tool? Should no singer attempt to replicate Adele? Stephen King alone has written the majority of horror writers into a creative corner. Would it be so horrible if another writer forged a story which replicated Children of the Corn or It?
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and there are some pretty damn good rock bands who did their best to sound like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin and still generated a well deserved following of fans.
We’re quickly running out of unique ideas.
I’d rather watch a good movie than watch a flick which is too focused on being “original.” Yes, He Knows You’re Alone is essentially Halloween-lite. It’s still popcorn munching fun. That’s good enough for me on a quiet Saturday night.
He Knows You’re Alone is still available on DVD on Amazon. Grab a copy while you can.