Fade to Black, directed by Vernon Zimmerman and released in 1980, tells the story of young movie buff Eric Binford (no relation to Home Improvement), played wonderfully by Dennis Christopher, as he begins to spiral out of control committing murders based on movies that he loves. The movie appears to be a slasher on the surface but is much more of a psychological horror film with a dash of dark comedy.
Eric lives with his Aunt Stella in a cramped house. Stella is confined to a wheelchair and blames all of her woes on Eric, upset that she had to raise him. She despises Eric’s movie obsession and constantly reminds him of what a failure and disappointment he is. Not only does Eric have to deal with a controlling and abusive Aunt, but he is not treated much better at work where he is constantly berated by his boss, and harassed by two other employees Richie (played by a young Mickey Rourke) and Joey (played by Peter Horton). While out running errands for work, Eric meets a young girl named Marilyn who bears a striking resemblance to Marilyn Monroe, Marilyn is played by Linda Kerridge who looks as close to Marilyn Monroe as you can get and gives a great performance to top it off. Eric wins a date with Marilyn and then is stood up by her after he forgets about their plans. After Eric returns home, he kills his Aunt Stella by pushing her wheelchair down the stairs recreating a scene from Kiss of Death, released in 1947. A subplot in the movie features a Doctor named Jerry Moriarty (Tim Thomerson) investigating youth violence and sees a link between movie violence and adolescent violence.
One of the best things about Fade to Black is the callbacks to the classic movies that Eric is inspired by during his murder spree. Scenes from classic films are spliced into the movie to show the audience what is being referenced. Usually, I would dislike the spoon-fed scenes showing you what is being referenced but Vernon Zimmerman makes it work here using the references to let us get a glimpse into the mind of Eric as he goes insane.
The movie, at first glance, seems to be reinforcing the idea that movies cause violence, and at first glance that is what people would think about Eric. Eric is a loner who devours movies constantly and uses what he sees to inspire his foul acts, but the audience sees that his violent tendencies come not only from the movies he watched but from the psychological abuse that he has experienced at the hands of his aunt over the years–there is even some evidence that she is sexually abusive, requesting a back massage from him after she lends him money and requesting it grotesquely. Eric also comes across as misogynistic and entitled. He uses his movie knowledge as a way to hold power over people, thinking of them as idiotic if they don’t understand what he is talking about. His misogyny shows in his violence towards women and his objectification of Marilyn, who he obsesses over due to her resemblance to Marilyn Monroe.
Fade to Black is one of those movies that you know will only improve on multiple rewatches due to its more complex psychological slasher tendencies. This movie takes inspiration not only from the slashers that were being made at the time but also movies like Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and the many characters of James Cagney, whose movies make multiple appearances. Fade to Black is a complex semi-slasher that deals with themes of escapism, violence, and loneliness. Fade to Black was a much more complex movie than I was anticipating and what worth the watch.