Fade To Black

Released: October 1980

Dir: Vernon Zimmerman

My Rating: 5 Stars

I first found out about Fade to Black through a section in the “VHS Ate My Brain” article of SCREAM magazine, specifically Issue 73 in July last year. The poster of Eric Binford, the films protagonist, in half-Dracula make-up looked pretty cool to me, as well as the review describing the film as “written from a position of bitterness towards Hollywood, as we are invited if not to cheer on Eric, then certainly to empathise with him”. I like morally grey protagonists, I like classic films and I like horror films, so I decided to give this film a watch.

I’m going to give away that this review is going to be incredibly positive, given that Fade to Black is one of my favourite films. The plot centres on Eric Binford, an isolated film-obsessed guy who’s love of films goes a bit too far. Now, I realise that as I’m writing this, sat at my bedroom surrounded by posters of Friday the 13th, Eraserhead, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and A Nightmare on Elm Street, the parallels do hit me a bit, but unlike guys who only watch Fight Club and Drive, I like Fade to Black for more than the main character.

First off, the kills. I don’t think I’m spoiling anything about the film by saying people get murdered, but the kills in this film are great. Most of the people Eric kills are people that he feels have wronged him (Mean coworkers, his overbearing Aunt, a producer who Eric feels “stole his idea”) and he kills them while wearing these costumes of Dracula, The Mummy and Hopalong Cassidy. Most of the kills also have clips from other films interspliced like the Creature From The Black Lagoon or White Heat.

Also, although Eric kills people, him murdering them isn’t viewed as badly as you might expect. Throughout the film, Eric is viewed much more as a kind of anti-hero who’s moreso a victim of his own obsession with films, rather than simply a homicidal maniac. This is especially so as the audience is led to sympathise with Eric with scenes of him being teased and bullied at home and at his work. Think of it as kind of an earlier version of how Scream V was critical of fandom and fan culture by the killers being motivated by “wanting to make a better film”, although in this case it’s basically Eric not seeing the difference between reality and fiction when wanting to make “his films” a reality and that being a critique of Hollywood and fan culture at that point in time.

I could go on for way more about this film because it’s really interesting to me, as well as one of my favourite films but I’m going to stop writing here. I guess you could call Fade to Black a “hidden gem” because it isn’t particularly well-known but if you like horror films with homicidal maniacs, kind of cheesy production design and a ton of classic film references, then watch this!