Fade to Black is a really fun semi-slasher film centred on Eric Binford (Dennis Christopher), an obsessive film fan whose life revolves around watching old movies. He lives with his aunt, works at a film distribution warehouse in L.A., and is constantly bullied. Eric is specifically obsessed with film noir, with White Heat and Kiss of Death being favourites of his (Kiss of Death connects him to Joker, which is a very similar story). He meets a young woman who is a dead ringer for Marilyn Monroe, and naturally becomes a bit infatuated. And as you might expect, things soon turn murderous,
When Eric commits his murders, he is basically in cosplay as different characters from films, including Dracula and The Mummy, among others, with the odd one out being Hopalong Cassidy, which was pretty obscure by the time this film came out (most modern viewers will have no idea who he is). He lures the Marilyn lookalike into doing a photoshoot based on The Prince and the Showgirl, an odd choice as it’s not one of her most well-regarded movies. At a funeral, he dresses up as Tommy Udo, Richard Widmark’s character from Kiss of Death.
The Marilyn type is played by actual Monroe lookalike Linda Kerridge—she is the only person who shows any kindness to Eric, but unfortunately she accidentally misses a planned date with him, sending him off in a spiral of revenge. This film also sees Mickey Rourke in his first role of any size—he’s in 1941 for about a minute, here he plays one of the bullies at Eric’s workplace.
Fade to Black is really uneven, but it’s fine, and has a certain charm. Christopher did not end up having a big career, but at this point he was having a moment in the sun, coming off of appearing in Breaking Away. He has worked steadily since, mainly in TV but with occasional film appearances (he was recently in Django Unchained). He’s a proper little creepazoid in Fade to Black, and nails obsessive types quite well. You very much see a version of film fandom that doesn’t really exist anymore because of the Internet: the fan who goes through stills in a shop and buys a stack of them. You can see a lineage between Fade to Black and another film that I kind of liked, because it really got under my skin, The Fanatic with John Travolta, as well as Joker and even Misery. Joker is a better movie with more to say, but Fade to Black has its moments. It also has a great finale at Graumann’s Chinese Theatre.
The extras on this region free Vinegar Syndrome release include three commentary tracks (with Christopher, with The Hysteria Continues!, and with film historians Amanda Reyes and Bill Ackerman); interviews with Christopher, executive producer Irwin Yablans, composer Craig Safan, actress Marcie Barkin, editor Barbara Pokras and stylist Patricia Bunch; an audio interview with Kerridge; stills gallery, and original trailer.