Fade to Black (1980)

A movie about a socially awkward, totally obsessed film fan whose love of old films borders on the obsessive, with nights filled with movie after movie after movie? This one hits a little too close to home.

Eric Binford (Dennis Christopher, Breaking Away) works in a Los Angeles film distributor warehouse by day and watches movies by night. He’s the guy I was referring to earlier — someone so into movies he gets bullied by his family and co-workers. And when he meets Marilyn O’Connor, who looks like Marilyn Monroe, he finally finds someone whose looks are similar to the movie ideal that life does not always achieve. Or maybe he’s just so crazy that when he sees her, he goes into a fantasy fugue state and only sees what his brain will allow him to see.

Somehow, Eric is able to ask her out, but she stands him up by accident. This makes him go completely out of his mind, transforming himself into various film icons to destroy his enemies.

First, he re-enacts Kiss of Death by pushing his Aunt Stella (who is really his mother) down the steps, showing up to her funeral as Tommy Udo, the role Richard Widmark played in the film. No one gets it. No one has seen the movies that Eric loves. There is no one to discuss them with. They can’t even put her grave next to Marilyn Monroe’s grave in Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery.

Eric then becomes Count Dracula, attending a midnight showing of Night of the Living Dead. Eric then goes to Marilyn’s house in a scene that’s taken from Psycho. She screams, he drops his pen into the water and the ink becomes the blood. “I only wanted your autograph,” he yells as he runs.

Eric then goes back to find a hooker who had been rude to him. He chases her, she falls and dies, then he drinks her blood. Obviously, Eric has not seen MartinActually, the way this scene is intercut with scenes from old black and white horror films, I am certain that the makers of this film have seen Romero’s vampire film.

Now that Eric has gone this far, why not dress up as Hopalong Cassidy and kill off Richie (Mickey Rourke in an early role), a co-worker who bullies him.

Oh yeah — Tim Thomerson is a criminal psychologist who is working with a policewoman (they’re having sex, because 1980 and all) to find what he believes is a serial killer. The big problem is that his captain wants all the glory for himself.

Eric talks to his aunt as if she were still alive, then after watching Halloween (producer Irwin Yablans also produced that film), he pleasures himself to a photo of Marilyn Monroe.

Eric’s dream has been to own his own movie theater and to make his own movie. He tells a sleazeball named Gary Bially his idea, Alabama and the Forty Thieves and you get the feeling not much good can come of it.

Eric’s boss fires him and won’t allow him back into work to get his posters. As his everyday self, even when trying to talk like a movie character, Eric is impotent. But when he’s dressed as The Mummy, he can frighten his boss into a heart attack.

After seeing Gary Bially on a talk show, talking up the movie Eric created as his own, Eric shows up to the producer’s birthday party. Dressed as James Cagney’s character from White Heat, he fires a submachine gun at everyone in the room before killing the man who stole from him.

The cops are on to Eric, but he’s hired Marilyn for a photo shoot and is all set to re-enact The Prince and the Showgirl when Thomerson’s character arrives. Eric runs to Mann’s Chinese Theater and makes it to the roof before dying just like Cagney in White Heat, yelling, “Made it, ma! Top of the world!”

Writer and director Vernon Zimmerman also created Unholy Rollers, but this movie is way beyond that. It shows how only seeing the world as the movies can be a danger to yourself and everyone else. Eric goes from shy and withdraw to dark and mean by the end of the movie, as he slowly becomes a new character. I wonder what he would have thought about the movie that they made his life into?

You can catch this on Amazon Prime. You should do so right now.

8 thoughts on “Fade to Black (1980)

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