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Night Fever: The World of Obsessive Fan Movies

Night Fever: The World of Obsessive Fan Movies (photo)

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A crowd eagerly watches as a man dressed in a white suit performs an elaborate disco routine to the sounds of the Bee Gees’ “You Should Be Dancing.” Sound familiar? It should; it’s the signature sequence from 1977’s “Saturday Night Fever.” But now the scene belongs to another film as well, “Tony Manero,” named after John Travolta’s Brooklyn disco king character. In this version, a middle-aged “Fever” fanatic named Raúl Peralta (Alfredo Castro) appears on a Chilean TV show and reenacts those famous dance moves as part of a contest to determine the country’s best Tony Manero impersonator. Raúl’s impoverished struggles in late ’70s Chile resemble Tony’s in late ’70s Brooklyn (a reason, no doubt, he responds so strongly to “Saturday Night Fever”) with one crucial difference: where Tony strains against obstacles he encounters, Raúl simply removes them. If that obstacle happens to be a person, he kills him. Raúl’s violent activities and compulsive need to reenact every facet of Travolta’s routine, from the number of buttons on his slacks to the flashing lights of the disco floor beneath him, makes “Tony Manero” the latest and quite possibly the most unsettling entry in the subgenre of creepy movies about obsessive fans. In order to understand why it’s so uniquely scary, we’ve got to first consider its predecessors.

Traditional obsessive fan movies grow out of a subcategory of thrillers involving stalkers, where an innocent invites a seemingly harmless person into their life, never suspecting their new friend or lover is a deranged, homicidal maniac until it’s far too late. One of the earliest archetypal films of the stalker genre is an obsessive fan film as well: 1971’s “Play Misty For Me,” directed by and starring Clint Eastwood. He plays a Dave Garver, a late night disc jockey at a jazz station in Carmel, California, where each night he provides “a little verse, a little talk, and five hours of music to be very, very nice to each other by.” A woman calls Dave every night asking him to “play ‘Misty’ for me,” and one night at a bar, Dave picks up a woman named Evelyn (Jessica Walter) without immediately realizing the two are one and the same. Dave thinks of Evelyn as a one-night stand; Evelyn thinks otherwise. She takes out her frustration on Dave’s cleaning woman, and later on his girlfriend, Tobie (Donna Mills), which leads Dave to race in his car to save her, with Eastwood suggesting the character’s fragile mental state by intercutting the sequence with shots of Evelyn slashing a portrait of Dave’s face with a butcher knife. The terror of the Evelyn character comes from her persistent insinuation and a kind of curdled fake politeness strangers mistake for the real thing.

06302009_PlayMistyforMe.jpgFor fans like Evelyn, it isn’t enough to meet their idol; they need to possess him forever. It’s a truly queasy thought, but this desire to materialize and memorialize is at the core of many real world fan-artist relationships. We’ve all swooned over a film or a book we’ve loved, and a lot of us have tried to recreate that first giddy high by repeatedly rewatching the movie, or collecting the action figures, or completing the set of “Star Trek” collector’s cups from Burger King. In obsessive fan movies, the need to possess is often giving extreme expression via the act of kidnapping. A famous example is 1990’s “Misery,” where James Caan’s novelist Paul Sheldon is rescued from a near-fatal car wreck by his biggest fan, a seemingly cherubic nurse named Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates). As Annie tells it, the roads are blocked by the storm, the telephones lines are down, and anyway, Paul’s legs are too injured from the crash to move to a hospital, so it’s up to Annie to nurse Paul back to health in her spare bedroom. Most of this is malarkey, invented by Annie because of her fixation with Paul’s popular series of romantic historical novels about a character named Misery (her mantle is practically a shrine to them, with a signed picture of the author flanked by two stacks of novels).

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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