Film Review: Fade to Black (1980)

Release Date: October 14th, 1980
Directed by: Vernon Zimmerman
Written by: Vernon Zimmerman
Music by: Craig Safan
Cast: Dennis Christopher, Tim Thomerson, Gwynne Gilford, Norman Burton, Linda Kerridge, Morgan Paull, Eve Brent, Mickey Rourke

Compass International, American Cinema Releasing, 102 Minutes


This was a movie that I was pleasantly surprised by. I honestly didn’t expect much. I thought it would be a typical early 80s slasher picture, which were a dime a dozen. It was a lot more than that though and it also had a lot of character and charm.

Additionally, this has Irwin Yablans name on it as a producer and while he did produce some good stuff, he also gave us those shit sandwiches Laserblast and Parasite. It is hard to forgive films as bad as those two.

The real highlight of this film was the performance by Dennis Christopher. He was really likable, even up to the end, regardless of the fact that he did go on a bit of a killing spree. He seemed like a nice and genuine kid that lost his mind because his mother was horrible and people treated him like dirt. Plus, he was a bit of a social recluse and lived vicariously through movies.

Christopher just did great and put in a strong performance. As the lead character, he stepped out in front of a fairly mediocre script and gave this picture some life that it otherwise wouldn’t have had with a lesser actor or someone not truly embracing the role.

It was actually cool to see a young Mickey Rourke in this too. While he didn’t have a lot of screen time, he made the most out of what he did have.

Linda Kerridge was mesmerizing as the Marilyn Monroe lookalike Marilyn O’Connor. She was the apple of Dennis Christopher’s eye and she did well with the part and the tough task of living up to the iconic comparison.

The premise to Fade to Black is pretty unique for a slasher flick. Our killer, the nice but awkward Eric Binford (Dennis Christopher), gets tired of those who treat him like garbage and loses his mind. He starts picking people off and does so as characters from his favorite movies. At one point he is Dracula, then The Mummy, then Hopalong Cassidy, then James Cagney’s Cody Jarrett from White Heat. His first kill was a reenactment of a scene from the film noir classic Kiss of Death.

Ultimately, this leads to a fantastic showdown between Binford and the Los Angeles Police Department as he stands atop Grauman’s Chinese Theatre wielding a machine gun, quoting James Cagney’s lines from the finale of White Heat.

When Binford is killing or mentally recalling a moment in film, the movie cuts in those famous scenes for reference. The transitions are clunky, surreal and strangely edited but it is effective because of its oddness and disjointed presentation.

Fade to Black is thoroughly enjoyable and it stands out in a subgenre of horror that is incredibly formulaic and cookie cutter. It greatly benefits from the performance of Dennis Christopher and its originality. It is definitely a slasher flick worth its weight in blood.

Rating: 7/10