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Fade to Black (1980) Review: A clever psychological slasher movie.

Fade to Black. Released in 1980. Directed by Vernon Zimmerman and starring Dennis Christopher

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.

Rating 3.5/5

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Movies Spooktober

Classic Slasher Review: The Slumber Party Massacre

The Slumber Party Massacre, released in 1982, is a slasher movie written by author and feminist Rita Mae Brown and directed by Amy Holden Jones. On the surface it looks like a typical Roger Corman produced slasher flick; it includes slightly gory kills and copious amounts of gratuitous nudity, but there is more to this slasher than what we get on the surface.

The movie follows four friends, Trish, Kim, Jackie, and Diane, who are spending their night having a slumber party, and two sisters, Valerie and Courtney. Valerie is a new girl at school who lives next door to Trish. She is invited to Trish’s slumber party but opts out because she overhears Diane bad mouthing her in the school locker room. This all acts as a set-up for the killer to attack. The killer, Russ Thorn, played by actor Michael Villella, is sufficiently creepy as the near-silent slasher who without motivation begins killing these poor girls off.

What makes this movie refreshing, despite its cliched plot, are the characters who populate the film. They make stupid decisions but personality-wise they all seem like real teenagers dealing with issues of sexuality and who scored the runs in last night’s baseball game. Amy Holden Jones has spoken about how the movie is a metaphor for a female losing her virginity, and that is obvious in a scene where one of the girls sits helpless in front of the killer as he uses his phallic-like drill to kill her. The scene is even framed with the drill bit between his legs symbolizing this. The movie is often not subtle about this symbolism but that is works to the movie’s advantage steering it away from being a typical slasher and elevating it to something new and original. The ending, without giving to much away, is also something of note showing the surviving girls traumatized by the horror they have experienced.

This is an excellent early 80s slasher that was way ahead of its time. It offers an interesting deconstruction of slasher movie characters and tropes. If you are looking for a fun, cheap, and unique slasher film definitely check this movie out.

Rating 3.5/5

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Movies Spooktober streaming

WNUF Halloween Special Review

The WNUF Halloween Special is a great retro throwback to older local tv specials. Set in 1987 at the height of Satanic panic and the war on drugs, this movie parodies the state of local news during that time. What helps make this movie so authentic is the way it is filmed and shot. Shot on old VHS stock this movie looks like a worn VHS tape that has been sitting on your shelf for too long.

The main portion of the movie is a local TV special exploring the mythical Amityville-like house where a boy named Donald Webber murdered and mutilated his family’s body. Webber apparently claimed to be possessed by demonic spirits. We follow Frank Stewart, a local news reporter, a husband and wife duo, Louis and Claire Berger, who along with their alleged clairvoyant cat Shadow investigate paranormal incidents; the cast is rounded out with a priest, Father Joseph Matheson, and Frank’s producer Veronica.

Preceding the special is a local WNUF newscast that features stories about a dentist offering $1 deals to kids to bring in their candy and prevent cavities, political rivals going at it, a cheesy weather report, and a report about a local Christian organization who wants to ban Halloween for being demonic. This helps add to the authenticity of the special by creating believably old local newscasts.

The big highlight of this movie is the wonderfully authentic commercials. We get political attack ads, law office ads, an advertisement for a store that sells rugs and carpet, tv show commercials which include shows such as Chicago Lightning, and my personal favorite ad for a breakfast buffet strip club.

This movie is an excellent throwback to old tv specials and is a great movie to watch for the Halloween season-I know it is now required viewing for me. I would highly recommend this movie. Check it out on Shudder.

Rating 5/5

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Movies Spooktober

The Mortuary Collection Review

“Dark, twisted, and awesome,” that is the kind of tale that Sam, played by newcomer Caitlin Custer, asks from Montgomery Dark, the old decrepit undertaker who works at Raven’s End Mortuary, played excellently by veteran actor Clancy Brown. The movie is set in the fictional Lovecraftian and Stephen King-esque town of Raven’s End, that is where the mortuary gets its name. Raven’s End is a gothic coastal town and from the looks of it houses many haunted and spooky tales. There is a meta aspect to this movie; the young Sam constantly critiques and nitpicks the stories that Dark tells her. She works here as the audience surrogate picking apart the familiar morality fables that we tend to see in many anthology films. I feel like the best way to rate this movie is to review each tale and use that as a way to talk about the frame story.

Tale 1: 2.5/5

The first tale shows a woman going into a bathroom while at a party. While in there we see that she has pickpocketed some of the men at the party. She gets curious about what is behind a locked medicine cabinet and gets more than she bargains for when the cabinet is open and finds a squid-like monster lurking behind. This a short and brisk tale to set up the movie. It is a tale about the evils of theft and the repercussion. The tale serves as an entry point into the meta-commentary of the movie. Sam breaks apart the story, critiquing it and wanting more from Dark’s tale.

Tale 2: 4/5

This tale offers more of what Sam wants from the undertaker; this story is the tale of a young man who likes to manipulate and play women so they will sleep with him. He pretends to be interested in social justice and feminism but uses that to exploit and take advantage of the young freshmen at the college he attends. While giving one of his lectures Jake, the male student, meets a beautiful girl named Sandra. Later on, they meet up at a party at his frat house and proceed to bang the night away. I don’t want to give away too much of each story twist but needless to say Jake is the “victim,” experiencing what it feels like to be taken advantage of and left behind. The story offers some substance in the form of body horror and gore, both of which are incredibly effective, and the actors here, especially Jacob Elordi who plays the manipulative and ultimate victim Jake, do an excellent job. Sam is still “glib,” as Mr. Dark puts it, about this tale to arguing that its predictability drags it down.

Tale 3: 3/5

This tale is far more depressing than the preceding two. Here we see a man, Wendell, taking care of his ill and catatonic wife, Carol; he is plagued by mounting bills and the stress of taking care of someone who seemingly will never get better. He is offered an easy way out by a doctor who gives him some untraceable pills that will put his wife to “sleep.” This story has some excellent shots, the beginning of the story starts with a dream from Wendell in which he is remembering his marriage to his ill wife. It starts sunny and blissful until he has to say “til death do us part” and then the sky turns dark and the lights in the church go out, in place of his wife is a ghostly apparition. This story isn’t nearly as short as the first or as fun as the second story but it has the most substance to its narrative. You truly feel bad for Wendell’s plight and the struggles he is going through. It is horrific due to some of its visuals as well as the narrative content of losing a loved one.

Tale 4 and Frame story: The Babysitter Murders 5/5

This is by far the best story in the movie. It involves Sam, the critical and inquisitive girl who claims she is seeking employment from Montgomery Dark. This time she gets to tell the story and it offers a new twist on an old formula, the slasher movie. We get a babysitter and an escaped mental patient from the local asylum, but the story is new and offers up new blood for the genre. That takes us back to the frame story of the movie. I waited to mention it until now because it wraps everything up like it is supposed to. Honestly, some of the stories are a bit lackluster in this movie but the frame story helps make up for it because of the meta-commentary that Sam is giving. The Babysitter Murder’s tale seems to bring up the idea that Dark’s stories are old and predictable and Sam’s story is fresh and new. This meta take helps elevate the lackluster nature of some of the other stories because it directly fuels the main story of the movie, which comes from the interactions between Sam and Montgomery Dark. I also want to take special note of the soundtrack in this story that draws influence from John Carpenter’s scores from the 80s.

Conclusion:

This is an excellent meta anthology film that offers up some fun and violent stories that aim to deconstruct the predictable nature of horror films and morality tales. I would highly recommend this movie to fans of anthology films and horror films in general. It is a fun take with some excellent performances and a wonderful score from Mondo Boys. “Dark, twisted, and awesome,” that is what Sam asks for and that is what the movie gives.

Rating: 4/5