Movie buffs are often portrayed as cloistered introverts whose only prism through life is a silver screen. I, for one, can occasionally become fixated upon an era or filmography of an auteur to the point of insalubrious mania. Fade to Black is a pathologically brackish, remarkably egalitarian thriller that tackles the sun-starved isolation of Eric Binford (Dennis Christopher), a malcontent cinephile who can quote and collate listless trivia about James Cagney in White Heat and his other idols.
Christopher is exquisitely mousy as Binford yet he doesn’t cower and shrink away like most wallflowers. Most of his hepcat quirks and lionized mannerisms might be remnants from the stars he worships. For instance, he chain-smokes like James Dean. When he quizzes Richie (Mickey Rourke) about Casablanca, he postures with an inside-baseball arrogance.
Vernon Zimmerman’s film is firmly ensconced in the 80’s (Australian model Marilyn O’Connor’s (Linda Kerridge) jog on the beach is so leisurely it couldn’t even be construed as Jazzercise) but he never topples the movie into meta-reference overload. With excerpts from Creature from the Black Lagoon, Christopher’s encyclopedic knowledge is so vast that he is borderline elitist towards commoners who bungle the test.
Unlike Willard, Christopher is not a sniveling milksop. In fact, during a Vespa romp with Kerridge, he could be a coltish playboy. In other words, the movie is not a condescending caricature of the unhinged profile. It is Christopher’s riveting, skin-crawling performance that transcends stereotypes. In some ways, Christopher is a misanthropic precursor to Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker but he is much more understated and less twitchy.
It’s not a quintessential, formulaic slasher insomuch as Binford’s reenactment of the ‘Psycho’ shower scene is more heart-pulsating since he trespasses into her bathroom for an autograph and quickly dashes after he startles her. Fade to Black is a lurid, fatalistic horror-comedy with a memorably fan-boy exhibition from Christopher whose fantasies bleed into his diurnal sociopathy.