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  Fade to Black Movie Maniac
Year: 1980
Director: Vernon Zimmerman
Stars: Dennis Christopher, Tim Thomerson, Gwynne Gilford, Norman Burton, Linda Kerridge, Morgan Paull, James Luisi, Eve Brent, John Steadman, Marcie Barkin, Mickey Rourke, Peter Horton, Hennen Chambers, Melinda O. Fee, Anita Converse
Genre: Horror, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 2 votes)
Review: Here are three people whose paths are about to cross. First, there criminal psychologist Jerry Moriarty (Tim Thomerson), who is determined to implement liberal methods in helping law breakers get back on the straight and narrow, but is facing hostility from his new bosses. Then there's Marilyn O'Connor (Linda Kerridge), a Marilyn Monroe lookalike from Australia who is new in Los Angeles and hoping to make progress with an acting career. Finally, Eric Binford (Dennis Christopher), who works in a film canister warehouse, and lives with his wheelchair-bound aunt since his mother died: he's a big movie buff, but how is his passion affecting his fragile mind?

After the career-making turn in Breaking Away, Dennis Christopher went straight to the career destroying Fade to Black, essaying the type of role a young Anthony Perkins might have gotten away with, but not providing the new star with much to prove his worth. The film bombed, and part of the reason for that might have been the premise that tells people who devote their spare time to watching films that their hobby is essentially turning them into antisocial losers, and that accumulation of facts about the silver screen that is building up in their heads is forcing out anything that might have made their personality worthwhile.

Not the kind of thing you want to see on your Saturday night out at the movies, but ironically it might have gained a more receptive audience a few years later when the tabloid idea that watching the wrong kind of films would have such a bad effect on you that you could be transformed into a raving psychopath was at its height. Still, as this was pretty much a horror movie, its natural audience of horror fans wouldn't have left feeling too flattered by the lead character anyway. This has left Fade to Black a sad little orphan in the movie world, with nobody singing its praises to any great visibility, and yet there's something about it that sticks in some people's minds.

It could be that dejected atmosphere that places Binford in a depressing life that he can only alleviate the pain of by watching his movies, and in truth the extreme manner in which he gets out his tensions, by killing his tormentors in the style of cinema characters, is not such a bad idea for a slasher. Except this isn't really a slasher, sure there are a series of killings, but the formula is not strictly adhered to. It hurts that Christopher doesn't play for sympathy - indeed, there's something weasely about him, so we are left with mixed feelings when he begins his spree as his victims aren't all that likeable, but then neither is the man meting out his twisted idea of justice. This leaves us latching onto Jerry and Marilyn.

Or it would if they were in the film a bit more, as writer and director Vernon Zimmerman prefers to concentrate on Binford. Did Zimmerman have a really bad experience with filmmaking that poisoned his mind against the buffs and the business? Because that's the way Fade to Black comes across, and although he continued to work in this field he never directed another feature again. It might have helped if he had cast a better impressionist, too, as Christopher's renditions of James Cagney, Richard Widmark and Laurence Olivier are embarrassingly poor, and the whole idea quickly grows silly, both in concept and execution. Maybe we should have seen more of Thomerson and the engaging Kerridge, what with them providing most of the charm, otherwise this showed up the limitations of a promising talent and was destined to become an answer to one of those trivia questions that Binford might have liked so much. "What was that movie where the killer dressed up as Dracula, Hopalong Cassidy and The Mummy...?" Music by Craig Safan.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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