Wednesday, July 8, 2015

1980 Week: Fade to Black

          Buried somewhere inside the offbeat horror flick Fade to Black is the sad story of a twisted young man who escapes his demeaning everyday existence by venturing into the fantasy worlds of his favorite movies. Writer-director Vernon Zimmerman periodically conjures a degree of poignancy, and he found an appropriate vessel for his melancholy vision in leading man Dennis Christopher, who gave a standout performance in the coming-of-age saga Breaking Away (1979). Yet Zimmerman seems confused about what sort of movie he’s making.
          Sometimes, the picture is a dark character study depicting the lead character’s inability to relate to normal people—Travis Bickle Lite. And sometimes, the picture is an outright serial-killer saga, because the lead character dresses up in elaborate costumes whenever he’s consumed by murderous rage. Then there’s the odd subplot about an Australian wannabe actress named Marilyn who styles herself to resemble Marilyn Monroe, which suggests that the deranged protagonist is simply one of many broken humans flocking to Hollywood. Even that element would seem on point had Zimmerman not included additional subplots, like the undercooked thread about a bleeding-heart shrink who works with the LAPD. However, listing the tonal issues that plague Fade to Black sidesteps the picture’s biggest problem, which is disjointed storytelling. Zimmerman regularly jumps between scenes without proper narrative transitions, and by the end of the picture, characters behave inexplicably while Zimmerman herds story elements toward a colorful finale.
          Still, Zimmerman presents a number of fun scenes and interesting ideas. Christopher stars as Eric Binford, a twentysomething flunky at a low-level film distributor. He lives with an overbearing aunt, and his head is always in the movies. He challenges coworkers to trivia contests, screens old films on his home projector, and masturbates to the poster of Marilyn Monroe that hangs on the ceiling of his cluttered bedroom. After suffering one too many torments from his aunt and from an abusive coworker (Mickey Rourke), Eric snaps. He creates elaborate costumes—Dracula, Hopalong Cassidy, the Mummy—and wears the costumes while murdering his “enemies” one by one. Meanwhile, Eric romances Marilyn O’Connor (Linda Kerridge), whom he of course believes is the real Marilyn Monroe.
          Some of the “kills” are staged well, especially the creepy Hopalong Cassidy scene, and Fade to Black features enough shots of 1980 movie marquees to make any cinema fan of the proper vintage swoon. Unfortunately, Zimmerman’s inability to stick the landing—his White Heat-inspired climax is downright silly—reflects an overall lack of discipline that prevents this peculiar picture from realizing its considerable potential.

Fade to Black: FUNKY


Will Errickson said...

I haven't seen this one in over 20 years but I recall being underwhelmed and a bit confused by it--too bad, bc the poster had always kinda freaked me out when I was a kid.

Unknown said...

Im 21.From Bangladesh. But I'm Huge Fan of Your Site. I dont Know Why but i feel( everytime) a real connection with 70s era.. I like 70s film,music and made for tv. Im a Wanna be Film Maker and a fan of Quntin Tarantno Who has a briliant influance on me. I think thats why im a fan of 70s. Because my watchlist full of tarantinos favrouite film, Tarantinos film festival.

keep it Up man.

Fade to Black-- Im going to watch it. today

Unknown said...

Fade to Black strikes me as something of a low-rent (or lower-rent) version of George Romero's Martin. Both films feature troubled protagonists who escape into fantasy to avoid the painful control of an over-bearing, abusive parental figure. And each one was filmed vividly in a post-industrial neighborhood on the economic decline (blue collars Pittsburgh and Los Angeles).

The major difference is that George Romero's film is a smart, sophisticated examination of reoccurring themes in his work (fantasy versus reality, media manipulation, the nature of horror, a toxic environment damaging the young, etc.), with a strong vision.

Whereas Fade to Black is... really just a simple-minded slasher with a gimmick (albeit a good one). Which is my way of saying that I wanted this film to be better than it is, especially given my love of Martin. That being said, it is scary in places, and Christopher is terrific.