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30 for 31: “FADE TO BLACK” (1980)

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I was way too young the first time I saw FADE TO BLACK. Just barely a teenager, my film history lexicon was not nearly vast enough to catch all the classic cinema references and homage. It wasn’t until decades later when I revisited this film and found it to be a compelling and severely overlooked horror gem.

Eric Binford lives with his abusive aunt, works for a jerk of a boss, and gets bullied by Mickey Rourke. But Eric Binford loves the movies, so much so that he becomes obsessed with a girl who resembles Marilyn Monroe. After getting stood up by her, he spirals down into a homicidal depression taking on the persona of his favorite classic film characters, all the while going on a murderous rampage.

Eric Binford’s descent into insanity is interlaced with a wide assortment of film history.  Binford not only takes on the guise of iconic characters, but also interwoven into the film are clips from some very essential films.  For his first kill, Binford pulls inspiration from 1947’s KISS OF DEATH as he sends his aunt down the stairs, while clips of it play in what we can assume to be his mind. Binford continues the psychotic parade of characters, pulling up classic film icons like Dracula and Hopalong Cassidy. It’s serial killing, the film buff way!

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When FADE TO BLACK was first released in 1980, the slasher trends of the ’80s had just started. Most films followed the HALLOWEEN and FRIDAY THE 13TH style: a hulking masked man takes down unaware sinful teens. The artsy Binford and his dressing up as somewhat unknown film roles to kill his coworkers didn’t sit well with standard audiences or critics. The film saw a short life on VHS before quickly falling into obscurity.

I include FADE TO BLACK on my best Halloween films list because it embodies one of my favorite traits of Halloween: costumes and dressing up! For one night a year, you can be anything you want to be. It is okay to act goofy, wear spandex, dress sexy or silly, and exemplify a fictional character. It is the one night a year we can evoke one of the most powerful lessons we learn as children- how to play “pretend”. 

Though our raving mad protagonist (and villain) Eric Binford may do this daily as part of his slasher ritual, the longing for a costumed escape still shines through. Obviously made by someone who loves movies, this film creates a deep respect for classic film icons and equally makes me want to assume a costumed persona. So be you a ghost, vampire, sexy devil, or priest, be sure to wear a costume this Halloween. You are never too old to have one day of fun. ‘Tis the season!

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About the author
Rebekah McKendry
Rebekah McKendry is the Director of Marketing for Fangoria Entertainment, and additionally she is a college professor teaching classes focused on film history and horror films. She is also an award-winning filmmaker. She has Bachelor's Degrees in Film and English, a MA in Media Education, a MFA in Film, and she is currently completing her PhD in Media Theory focused on horror and exploitation cinema. She is especially passionate about grindhouse films, video nasties, and rare or lost titles.
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