The Tomb of Terror – Fade to Black (1980)
Every Saturday night The Tomb of Terror opens, unleashing reviews of the obscure and the classic in horror cinema.
It can be a lonely existence being a film fan. While other people have successful relationships or careers, we spend hours alone with characters that will never exist outside of their filmed story. We obsess over the tiniest of details, but no one thinks you’re great when you whip out a random bit of movie trivia. If you score a touchdown then you’re an athlete, if you know where George Lucas got the title THX-1138 from then you’re a nerd. This is why when we film fans find someone with similar sensibilities we want to spend a lot of time pouring over movies with them. I recently found someone like this. His name is Eric Binford, and he’s the main character of the horror film Fade to Black (1980). He loves films with all his heart and no one understands him. For the first thirty minutes of Fade to Black, I fell in love with Eric’s story, but after that the film loses track of its main character amidst murder set pieces and gonzo logic.
Eric Binford (Dennis Christopher, Chariots of Fire) is a young man with a tough life. Orphaned at a young age, he’s been raised by his abusive and crippled Aunt Stella (Eve Brent, The Green Mile). Work doesn’t offer him much escape. He spends hours in a film delivery warehouse, putting together prints and getting shit on by his boss and co-workers. The only place where Eric truly feels at home is in a movie theater. Eric knows everything about all the Hollywood classics and has spent months at a time watching three movies a day (I’ve been there, every high school summer vacation). He even modeled his room after a movie theater, with his own projector and walls covered in posters, lobby cards, and headshots. With the whole world being down on him, it’s hard not to root for Eric.
Things start to go well for Eric when he meets a Marilyn Monroe lookalike named, of course, Marilyn (Linda Kerridge, Alien from L.The.). He awkwardly asks her out, and she agrees. Unfortunately, when the glorious day finally comes, she forgets about the date and goes out with another guy. This starts Eric on a downward spiral into his own twisted psyche. Following this burn, Eric tries to find solace in the many movie theaters of Westwood. But movies can’t erase the feeling that his life is on the losing track. When he comes home and is accosted once again by his Aunt, he snaps. After she breaks his projector, he mimics Richard Widmark in Kiss of Death (1947) and pushes her down the stairs in her wheelchair. He then begins a reign of terror, getting revenge on those who bullied him while dressed as different classic film characters. He goes for the kill in outfits such as Dracula, the mummy, and Hopalong Cassidy, in addition to his Tommy Udo gangster getup.
Before we get to this point in the film, we are introduced to Jerry Moriarty (Tim Thomerson, Near Dark). Jerry is a weird guy who also happens to be a psychologist and an idiot. I mention his storyline after Eric has snapped because that’s where it makes the most sense for him to be introduced. Instead, we see Jerry within the first few scenes of the film, and we know that he’ll have something to do with Eric eventually. The film is obviously aiming for a Dr. Loomis/Michael Myers style relationship for the two. The only problem is that these two characters have never met before the movie, and the Thomerson character is a complete buffoon. He’s written as an over the top stereotype of the “bleeding heart liberal.” Everything he says is a cliché, and if that isn’t bad enough, he’s also weird for the sake of being weird. During sex he eats Ritz and drinks a bottle of beer, and he snorts coke while working at a police station. There was probably some kind of point that the director was trying to make with this character, but I don’t see anything beyond a conservative ripping into liberals by making them seem idiotic.