There are some who have tried to argue over the years that movies, and in the past couple of years video games, are responsible for the rise in violence enacted by impressionable youths. To put it plainly: Those people don't know what the fuck they are talking about. They are using those forms of entertainment as an easy scapegoat and glossing over the fact that the majority of the individuals responsible for those crimes suffer from one mental illness or another. It's the same when people know you listen to metal; they all assume you are a godless heathen that performs animal sacrifices in a quest for fame and power. In case you can't tell, this is something I feel pretty strongly about and will defend it vehemently when someone starts pulling 'facts' out of their asses. All of which is to say that Fade to Black is a film whose main character, Eric Binford, is one such individual but cannot be easily cast off as a 'film nut' who goes on a rampage because he watches too many violent movies. There is a sympathy felt with this guy who has a terrible home life and struggles to fit in to a world that is indifferent to his presence.
In the opening sequence, Eric's bedroom immediately characterizes him as an avid film lover and collector of movie memorabilia, particularly films from Hollywood's Golden Era of the 30's, 40's, and 50's. Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, and Marilyn Monroe are plastered all over his walls, even his ceiling. It appears that he spends most of his nights in his room smoking cigarettes, drinking Tab, and watching movies on his six-inch black and white TV; he even has a projector. He lives with his wheelchair bound Aunt Stella (Brent), who doesn't miss an opportunity to nag Eric about the state of his room or chastise him for watching 'escapist trash'. Eric's responses to her are quotes from movies and there are interesting moments where clips from movies like White Heat serve as a window into his mind and how he processes the world around him. His relationship with his Aunt is not the only person he has trouble dealing with in the real world, all of his interactions with people (this film features Mickey Rourke before plastic surgery and steroids as a coworker who relishes in taunting Eric) are awkward and he can barely hold his job working for an advertising house that delivers ads around L.A. and Hollywood. It is only when he's alone watching movies, that Eric is comfortable.
He meets an Australian woman named Marilyn (Kerridge, who bears a striking resemblance to Monroe) and is immediately infatuated with her and their relationship should have been the thing that saved him from going over the edge (the revelation about the identity of his mother and what is insinuated in the relationship he has with his Aunt shows that Eric never stood a chance at a normal life); instead it just serves as another nail in the coffin of his happiness. What this film is most noted for is what happens once Eric snaps and his grip on reality blurs with the world of movies that he loves so much. As Eric starts to take revenge on the people who wronged him, he wears costumes and assumes the demeanor of various film characters. I am being vague because watching those moments where he changes from Eric to each character is a testament to how well Dennis Christopher embodies not just Eric but Eric as the other characters. Real students of film will notice striking similarities between this film and Taxi Driver; there is no doubt that Scorsese's film had an influence. There is a nod to Hitchcock's shower scene in Psycho as well. The finale occurs at a Hollywood landmark and we are with Eric until the end.
This film is labeled by some as a slasher but I would say it is more of a character study as we see Eric's descent into madness. Being out of print for years (with DVDs going for insane amounts on eBay) and not really having much of a presence on streaming services (I can only assume rights issues with the clips from other films had a hand in keeping this one hard to get the green light) until Shudder came out of the woodwork in this month, which is how I watched it. I cannot recommend this movie enough as I really identified with Eric and saw his end as very tragic. And, I am happy to announce, that boutique restoration house, Vinegar Syndrome, revealed they will be releasing it on Blu-ray this November just in time for its 40th anniversary. The themes on display in this film could actually be addressed today so I wouldn't necessarily be wholly opposed to someone remaking this film. Do yourself a favor and watch this on Shudder now and save up some money to buy the Blu-ray from Vinegar Syndrome.