Fade to Black 1.0 stars

A lot of knowledge went into the characterization of the movie-buff hero, beginning with his ritual of going through the coming week's TV Guide and circling the movies not to be missed (99 River Street, The Big Sleep, etc.), and continuing through his wardrobe, his bedroom decor, his job, his scriptwriting ambitions, his dialogue, and his physical traits of a pasty complexion and dark circles under the eyes. All of this, or much of it, is frittered away, however, as the psychotic-killer tendencies of plot and character gather steam. What had started out to be a made-to-order cult movie, holding up a mirror to the minuscule buff population, ultimately has to spend too much time trying to appeal to the vast body of mainstream moviegoers, and without really trying to educate them. With Dennis Christopher; written and directed by Vernon Zimmerman. 1980.

Duncan Shepherd

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Comments

Jay Allen Sanford Nov. 1, 2009 @ 1:40 a.m.

A cinema devotee murders via movie scene recreations - rarely has Hollywood portrayed its own audience as potential serial killers who emulate what they see onscreen. The surprise here is that the killer's inspiration isn't always horror movies, but rather gangster flicks and even Hopalong Cassidy westerns, genres whose inherent violence is often overlooked, or at least under acknowledged.

Dennis Christopher - lauded for his geeky role in Breaking Away - found perhaps his greatest role as movie buff Eric Binford, a shy pasty-faced loner and mama’s boy who works on the outskirts of the movie biz and patterns every aspect of his life after the films he adores. When bullies drive him over the edge (one played by young Mickey Rourke!), he retreats into a dream world that allows him to act out his revenge fantasies, at first seeking only to frighten. However, when his first scare tactics result in homicide (his boss has a heart attack, a bully running away from him accidentally impales himself on a fence), Binford takes it to the next lethal step ---

Film buffs will love all the winking references to classic cinema, and the Marilyn Monroe look-a-like lead actress does one of the most convincing impersonations ever. The finale on the roof of Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood echoes several specific movies, in particular James Cagney's White Heat (with snippets of Cagney actually edited into the action), but it manages to be unnervingly unique in its own right, mainly because we've come to sympathize and even care for Eric Binford.

I eagerly await a proper DVD release of this 1980 cult classic!

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