Prime Cuts dives head-first into Amazon Prime’s surprisingly replete genre catalog to unearth some tried-and-true classics, forgotten sleepers, and hidden gems, all in the name of giving you something to watch this weekend. Catch ’em before they’re gone.
Thanks to social media and the Internet as a whole, there’s never been a better time to be a nerdy film freak than now. These days, celebrity obsession is customary, oversharing is a societal requirement, and movie and entertainment blogs rule the world. No matter which platform you choose, one look and you’ll see everyone is sick with the disease of entertainment: people are out-trivia-ing each other on message boards, sharing photos of their extensive VHS and DVD collections on Instagram, and having heated debates on Twitter over the merits of a film that hasn’t even been released yet and won’t be for another year.
With all of that in front of us every day, it’s hard to imagine there was ever a time when being a movie-obsessed geek could be considered anything else than totally necessary. However, Vernon Zimmerman’s Fade to Black reminds us that not only were foamy-mouthed cinephiles once on the fringe of society, but that their fervent obsessions could be viewed as borderline dangerous.
When we’re first introduced to the film’s troubled anti-hero, Eric Binford (Dennis Christopher), he’s sprawled out in bed, the curtains drawn tight to block out the morning sun. He’s nursing a hangover after an all-night binge on his drug of choice: pre-Hayes Code-era movies. The gangsters in Little Caesar argue while Eric sleeps; their noir-heavy lingo a proxy white noise machine.
We soon find out what fuels Eric’s escapist behavior: he lives with his paraplegic Aunt Stella (Eve Brent), a one-time dancer robbed of her abilities in a car wreck which also killed Eric’s father and mother, an actress who was being courted by Hollywood at the time. His aunt resents everything about him; from having to be his ward to the fact that she thinks he’s squandering his life with this movie obsession she doesn’t understand.
The interactions at his job aren’t any better. He works as a delivery boy for a film distribution company and, despite having only worked there for a few weeks, has managed to earn the ire of his boss and his co-workers—his boss wants to fire him; his co-workers want to beat him to a pulp.
Thankfully, Eric has a great defense mechanism: total movie immersion. Using the films he loves as a shield, he never has to be himself or deal with any of life’s consequences. The second he opens his eyes in the morning, it’s “action!”, and throughout the day he gets as many takes as he likes to get his own story right. Instead of normal chit-chat, his verbal interactions with others consist of pertinent movie quotes. And when he’s feeling belittled, he proves his superiority by using trivia on old films as a conversational weapon; he knows the answers that no one else does, which gives him the upper hand. But even when he practices his best Cagney sneer in the bedroom mirror, both Eric and the viewer know this is the closest he’ll ever get to being intimidating—by pretending.
Through a series of disastrous circumstances—including a failed romance with a Marilyn Monroe lookalike and a deal-gone-bad with a shady Hollywood producer—Eric finally snaps. He exacts his revenge on all those who’ve wronged him by recreating scenes from some of his favorite films, using them as a backdrop for the murders he intends to commit.
In the annals of horror’s most memorable killers, Eric makes for an interesting psycho: he’s not interested in the slasher craze, which was in full force at the time Fade to Black was made. He cares only about the purity of the craft—the acting, the lighting, the direction of old Hollywood; when men were men and women were dames. Sure, he references Dracula and The Mummy in some of his more creative kills, but those films are practically G-rated by today’s standards. All of this makes Fade to Black a fun watch in modern times. Within the world of the film, which takes place in 1980, Binford’s obsession with films from the early 1930s seems quirky and quaint; it earns him the contempt from his family and friends—borne of confusion, really—which propels him into his downward spiral. But had Eric existed today—and been obsessed with the New Hollywood films of the ‘70s—would that be cause for concern? Probably not.
Ultimately, Eric is simply a victim of being born in the wrong time. Nowadays, his obsession with niche cinema would be lauded; hell, he’d probably have a very popular blog, too.
One of Fade to Black’s original tag lines was: “Meet Eric Binford, the ultimate movie buff. If you know someone like him… run!” Take a moment to look at your friend group, and start running.