I actually rented FADE TO BLACK as part of Slasher Search, knowing it wasn’t really gonna fit the FRIDAY THE 13TH slasher formula but thinking it might still count. There is a killer in it but he mostly shoots people and really doesn’t do anything that could be considered a slash at all so I’m gonna leave the logo off here.
This is kind of a horror movie but also a pretty detailed and sympathetic portrait of its weirdo killer Eric Binford (Dennis Christopher, CHARIOTS OF FIRE). He’s an awkward, movie obsessed nerd, old enough to be on his own but living with the disabled lady (Eve Brent) who raised him (and yells at him because she blames him for the accident that paralyzed her, even though he was 4 at the time).
Eric lives in Hollywood. If he was born somewhere else I’m sure he would’ve popped out and crawled straight there, because his whole world is movies. His bedroom looks like an old time projection booth. He has his own projector that he uses to watch movies, even though it’s the era of the VCR. Just sits there smoking cigarettes and watching movies, sometimes with the sound off so he can say the dialogue himself. The walls are completely covered in vintage posters and 8 x 10s, mostly classics from the ’40s through ’60s. He isn’t completely out of date, for example I think the Nosferatu logo on his favorite t-shirt is from the Herzog version. But he’s a shamelessly old timey guy. He wears a fuckin Hopalong Cassidy watch, for chrissakes. When he gets stood up on a date, he talks to it: “Where is she, Hoppy?”
He works at a film distribution plant. When he gets bullied by his co-workers Mickey Rourke and Peter Horton he defends himself by trying to stump them with CASABLANCA trivia. He’s a pain in the ass about quizzing everybody with old movie trivia, even random strangers on the street. Christopher is really good so this seems more like a genuine annoying person than a cartoon version. His references are out of date and alot of them I didn’t really know what he was talking about, but I think this is accurate for the time, film nerds back then had more of an appreciation for history and not just the new shit.
To be fair, one of the movies he’s obsessed with is WHITE HEAT, which was also the favorite movie of Bishop, Tupac’s character in JUICE. So that one would stay in style for a while, I guess.
Eric’s shitty life brightens up briefly when he meets an Australian Marilyn Monroe impersonator (Linda Kerridge) at a diner, and (to the disgust of her friend) she lets him drive her to work on his Vespa, and then agrees to go on a date. But when she doesn’t show up – out of forgetfulness, not cruelty – he goes off the deep end. He kills the adopted mother, makes it seem like an accident instead of an unethical homage to KISS OF DEATH. When his unusually hot and young mail lady tries to make sympathetic conversation with him he lies to her about being someone else and ignores her. You dumb motherfucker, you blew it. But he has other things on his mind, like going on a murder spree dressed as different movie characters.
First it’s Dracula. He puts on full makeup and costume and goes to a crowded screening of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. Nobody seems to give a shit. Maybe they could sense that there would be such a thing as “cosplay” and that he was only playing in his cos and it was okay.
The scene that best captures the movie’s surreal use of movie iconography is when Eric sneaks into Marilyn’s apartment and tries to get her autograph (?). It’s a re-creation of the PSYCHO shower scene, but with Marilyn Monroe in the shower, and Dracula instead of Norman Bates. This was also before “mash ups.” So it was more like pop art or something.
That was wrong but harmless. But there’s some harm coming. The best one is when he goes after Rourke cowboy duel style wearing a realistic Hopalong Cassidy mask. It looks creepy as hell and Rourke is schooled enough in movie history to recognize who he’s supposed to be.
This character reminded me a little bit of Martin from MARTIN – not the TV show, but the George Romero movie about the weirdo who decides he’s a vampire. He’s pathetic and petty and insane but not a total jerk. You kinda feel bad for him, at least at first. They do a great job of editing in little blips of famous movies to show how he’s seeing the world through a cinematic filter.
TIm Thomerson is also in the movie as Jerry Moriarty, a hippie-ish doctor who’s helping the police department with a new program for looking after ex-offenders, but they hate him. It seems like he’s gonna challenge them with his unorthodox methods, instead he snorts coke in the police station and fucks their best looking female officer (Gwynne Gilford – Chris Pine’s mom!).
Actually come to think of it his character isn’t really connected to the story as well as he could be, but I still liked seeing Thomerson in there. He’s generally worth putting in a movie.
As a non-murdering movie buff I loved seeing all the movie shit in this one: the warehouse full of film prints, the HALLOWEEN and TOURIST TRAP ones sheets behind his boss’s desk (because this was produced by Irwin Yablans too), the Chinese Theater, the marquees for KRAMER VS. KRAMER, COAL MINER’S DAUGHTER, HIDE IN PLAIN SIGHT, SERIAL…
And it’s a distinctive movie, well acted, nice gritty look to it, lots of weird shit. But ultimately I think it starts out alot more compelling than it ends up. I was interested to see where all this was going more than I was actually seeing where it went. As a horror movie it’s not all that effective. When he’s Dracula and a girl accidentally gets her neck stabbed and he starts chewing on it, that’s pretty disgusting, that works. But mostly, like I said, he just dressed up and shoots people. I think they could’ve done much more elaborate movie-inspired murders, with more dark humor, like Edward Lionheart’s Shakespeare-based murders in THEATER OF BLOOD. Or if not then maybe not make it about murder. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the rest of his activities are more interesting than when he dresses as a mummy and kills somebody.
In one scene that tries to justify the Moriarty character being in the movie he watches the news and complains about how movies are teaching kids to be violent. It’s obviously supposed to apply to Eric – but come on, the guy is like 30 and also obsessed with shit from previous generations. How come they didn’t murder people, then? How could this be a modern phenomenon, but the guy’s dressing up as a character from a movie that’s more than 50 years old? (Okay, so the clip he imagines in the Christopher Lee Dracula, but he’s clearly dressed as Bela Lugosi Dracula.)
The most disturbing scene is not anything violent, it’s this fucking guy jerking off while imagining Marilyn Monroe. Come on man, she died 23 years ago when you were a kid. This is 1985. Get a Christie Brinkley poster or something.
The writer/director is Vernon Zimmerman, who directed several movies but is probly more notable as writer of BOBBIE JO AND THE OUTLAW and TEEN WITCH.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.