Fade To Black (1980)

JANUARY 11, 2009


Horror Movie A Day now has two VHS reviews, and they are both based on the last two VHS tapes I ever bought. One was I Come In Peace (an October Extra 2), which I bought back in 2004 or 5 because I got sick of waiting for it to come on DVD (which it still has yet to do). The other is this one: Fade to Black, which I bought for 99 cents from Suncoast when it was going out of business. The barebones DVD from Anchor Bay is long out of print, and given AB’s love of re-releasing their titles (they actually invented the term “Quintolodip”, I am actually pretty surprised that a special edition hasn’t been released.

I bought the VHS years and years ago, but even with HMAD I never got around to watching it. It’s really hard to bring yourself to watch VHS when you have nice DVDs (and now Blu-rays) sitting there. It’s almost kind of sad to go back to this once beloved format, because unlike hipsters with their vinyls, I really can’t see there being a “VHS sounds/looks better!” movement. The picture is ugly, rewinding the damn things is an exercist in torture (VCRs would break so often due to rewinding that there was actually a market for “rewinders”), and forget about widescreen transfers – though, ironically, AB was one of the few companies who WOULD provide letterboxed movies in the pre-DVD days. Fade To Black, however, is presented in good ol’ full frame.

What inspired me to finally watch it was finding the novelization at Dark Delicacies. I collect horror movie novelizations, and Dark Del always seems to have a fresh supply of oldies every time I go in. The cover of the book shows the main character in his different disguises, a lot better than the single face on the VHS cover. It was a creepy enough image to get me off my ass and actually watch a movie I spent money to own nearly a decade ago.

Luckily, the movie was entertaining enough to ignore VHS’s shortcomings. It’s a bit long (the Mickey Rourke character could have been dropped entirely without any consequence), but being a movie nerd myself, I couldn’t help but root for poor Eric Binford as he desperately sought out a woman who would love movies as much as he did, and kill those who found him annoying because all he ever talked about was movies. At one point he even says “If you’re so smart then how come you don’t know the name of (some movie character)?”, which I am sure is something I myself have said in the past. I never had any murderous tendencies, so the similarities stop there. But I bet had he not been gunned down by the cops, he would be one of my readers.

I just wish the movie was tighter. Binford just does his thing over and over again; the sequences are fun in and of themselves, but they don’t add up to a hell of a lot. Plus there’s no real evolution to his character, he seems just as crazy after his first kill as he does after the last one. Plus, Tim Thomerson is the sort of Dr. Loomis character, a shrink who has inexplicably set up shop in the police station (and is continually reminded that he is not a cop), but him and Binford never really face off until the end, and Thomerson’s investigation consists of yelling at the chief, fucking some broad, and getting shot.

He also appears in one of the best “not the best location to film the scene as written” sequences this side of Dark Fields. Thomerson and his partner (?) are driving around and she says “Can you believe all this traffic?!?” Since the movie is set in Los Angeles, it’s perfectly believable that there is indeed traffic, which wouldn’t really need to be mentioned anyway (sort of like noticing the snow in Alaska). But we can clearly see that not only is there not any traffic, they appear to be in the least populated section of Los Angeles, as only one other car (behind them) can be seen prior to her taking a shortcut, a brief action bit that bafflingly includes a car driving backwards. Nice work.

Other backgrounds make up for it though; Binford’s boss has Halloween and Tourist Trap posters up in his office (Irwin Yablans produced all three films), and Halloween is on in the background during another scene. I was hoping this would be the inspiration for one of the kill scenes, but no dice (strangely, most of them aren’t even horror movie related). Speaking of horror references, Binford should be commended for not killing his would-be bride during their meet-cute; he asks her a trivia question about Creature of the Black Lagoon (his hint: “he’s green and slimy”) and she guesses Frankenstein and The Wolf Man. Stupid GIRL!

I think I should create a new genre tag for movies that I’d only want to watch again at the New Bev or whatever. I’m sure it would all be a blast there (as many hero killer movies tend to be), but at home by yourself it’s a bit overlong and underwhelming. Binford’s a great character, but he’s stuck in a middling movie. Remake?

Oh, obviously I didn’t read the book yet, but I flipped through it a bit, and it seems better written than many (for comparison – I also picked up a book with novelized versions of both Nightmare on Elm St 4 and 5, and that book, which also includes 8 pages of photos and a much larger font size, isn’t even as long as Fade’s), so maybe I’ll get to it someday. It DOES have a sad little epilogue that the movie excluded, where Binford’s blood on the ground in front of the Mann’s Chinese is cleaned up by a couple of un-caring janitors who comment about how the bloodstain will fade from everyone walking over it. Aw.

What say you?


  1. yeah it really does F'in suck when these companies dont put movies out on DVD..even if it sucks.

    I mean..really..how expensive can it be to even crappily put out a dvd. SOMEONE is a fan..its not like they need to make 40 million copies of Troll 3..but atleast keep us from having to transfer the VHS to dvd(if we even care to put that much effort).

    Im still waiting for "Cool as Ice" to hit DVD. Im hanging on to my VHS copy until then. and RAD, and Legend of Billie Jean. All of them I can buy fake dvd versions online..but thats just not cool.


  2. Wow, I remember this one! I haven't seen it in almost 20 years. I recall I liked it; forgot that Mickey Rourke was in it. Dennis Christopher in the lead, fresh from the coming-of-age hit BREAKING AWAY. Alas.


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