Fade to Black (1980)
Eric Binford (Dennis Christopher) is a movie geek who lives with his wheelchair-bound Aunt. After a series of set-backs, Eric starts to lose his sanity and begins stalking those who have wronged him, in the guises of well-known characters from his favourite movies….
This is a strange picture built on an interesting idea and a jazzy script.
Eric’s isolation from the real-world is the subject for the bulk of the first half of the film. In this first act, we are introduced to a somewhat loveable loner who spends his days working at a film advertising company and his nights staying-up-til-all-hours watching old movies. His disabled aunt (and landlady) is a nasty caricature – a bitter, twisted and repressed woman who respectively spends her days shouting-her-mouth-off at her lethargic nephew.
The second half involves Eric dressing up as Dracula, the Mummy and a Gunfighter in order to fulfil his murderous fantasies. These set-piece murder sequences are the highlight of the film for me. The ‘ hoppalong Cassidy’ Gunfighter scene on the pier is very creepy indeed – the shadows in this shot are just fantastic. There’s also a quietly disturbing sequence in which Eric paints half his face in a Bela Lugosi Dracula mask whilst rotating his head in the mirror; a stylish if hardly subtle reference to his splitting personality.
The script is absolutely littered with references and trivia snippets related to a wide-range of movies which makes for great entertainment for the film buffs amongst us. The soundtrack is pulsating and the final song at the end credits, “Heroes” is a nice touch.
I think “Fade to Black” is a pleasantly different take on the slasher genre in that the villain is perhaps the most ‘human’ person in the film. Although clearly mentally unstable, Christopher does enough to ensure that audience sympathy lies with our loveable Eric by the time the end credits role.
All that said, the movie loses direction between the two very different halves and seems to lurch back and forth without really knowing where it’s going. You also can’t help thinking that the film could have been quite a bit better and some of the supporting cast really let the film down; the cops in this picture are stereotypical cardboard-types whereas Eric’s ‘love-interest’ is nothing more than a marilyn monroe doll with all the personality of a dead cat. This movie is not for gore-hounds either: we feel sympathy for Eric precisely because the picture does not dwell on the violence of the murders – the exception could be the barber-shop shooting – which has the unfortunate side-effect of making Eric seeming less like a monster, and what is a horror movie without a monster?
Overall, “Fade to Black” is a stalk’-n-‘slash picture with a difference. It turns out to be an intelligent little horror thriller which draws the audience into the pitiful world of a man losing his mind. Despite this, the film doesn’t really work on all levels – partly due to the fact that Christopher himself cannot carry the rest of the cast through to the conclusion – and also seems a little ill-at-ease with itself and our main protagonist at times.
Flawed, but worth-watching.
hotdog rating: 6/10