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DENNIS CHRISTOPHER'S TOUR-DE-FORCE OF 'FADE TO BLACK'

Dennis Christopher in FADE TO BLACK Year: 1980
"That was a lot of fun and I got burnt by squibs, they’re called," is not a quote from Dennis Christopher, who does the shooting, but future BLADE RUNNER character-actor Morgan Paull in our interview six months before his untimely death...

Centering on his own particular curtain call in a movie that lives up to its name: If PSYCHO Norman Bates was heavily into cinema, you'd have FADE TO BLACK; but not really since it took until the 1980's (and/or late 70's) where the immense wave of pop culture began to recede, and film buffs and even intellectuals were human movie quiz books, and Dennis Christopher's Eric Binford epitomizes what's called a Cinefile to the point that he makes sure he lives on 99 RIVER STREET...

Hanging at Ma's funeral
This is the most obscure reference, if you don't count the 1950's prison flick BIG HOUSE U.S.A. where Eric, during his narration, mentions the cast including Lon Chaney, Broderick Crawford and Charles Bronson. But, for the most part, Binford does well-known imitations of Richard Widmark but mostlyJames Cagney and, thankfully, without saying the terribly misquoted "You Dirty Rat."

Linda Kerridge as Marilyn in Fade to Black
At one point he tells strangers his name is Cody Jarrett, the psychotic mama's boy in the classic WHITE HEAT...

And the FADE TO BLACK crippled mother... played by Eve Brent with perverse finesse... is a lot like Ann Sothern from a 1973's John Savage flick titled THE KILLING KIND, which holds the most similarities in plot and structure: Mom and son are way too close, and Eric's mom lies that she's really an aunt. And yet, this kind of thing isn't where the sympathy derives for our main character, a protagonist and antagonist both:. A cross between Malcolm McDowell and Tom Courtenay when they were young and intense, Dennis Christopher's performance as a bullied wimp  makes him an anti-hero worth rooting for. The poor kid gets mentally, and sometimes physically, tortured everywhere he turns: and a sort of loner-confidence derives from the anguish...

Dennis Christopher and Mickey Rourke on the right
After all, if he were a complete geek he wouldn't so easily land a date, and ride around town on his scooter with the gorgeous Marilyn Monroe wannabe, Australian actress Linda Kerridge as Marilyn O'Conner.

A Touch of Noir
As for the bullies: they're the kind you see in high school films only a few years older. Mickey Rourke is the most sinister of a duo at Eric's work. And Eric's old and moody boss is no different. Working what seems like a dream job at a film company, he actually does mundane tasks that makes his moonlighting really stand out...

Everyone who ticks him off or even slightly messes with his head, or represents something he doesn't like, or is simply easy picking, turns out a possible victim, all channeled through his cinematic heroes ranging from a machine gun toting Jimmy Cagney gangster, blasting the above-quoted Morgan Paull as a producer who steals Eric's screenplay/plot called ALABAMA AND THE FORTY THIEVES, which is a better title than most bonafide crime flicks.

Morgan Paull getting his inside of a hair salon
"Boy they really drilled me, as you recall," Morgan Paull continues about the sequence where he's shot by fake bullets aka squibs Sonny Corleone style. "He comes in as Cagney and starts shooting away. And these things are popping off and they burn a little bit… They get hot, sometimes, even though you’re wearing a vest over them. But you know, it was fun... The whole movie was fun – a great little movie."

Equally a fan of Universal Monsters as he is Noir and Gangster flicks, Eric also dons The Mummy costume, Dracula and what's surprisingly the most sinister and creepy: Of all things, a Hopalong Cassidy getup including a mask that looks like it was half-melted at a surreal wax museum.. Meanwhile, adding to the classic movie homage are posters that adorn both Eric's dark little bedroom and especially at work: a barrage of supercool paraphernalia combined with a lethal exploitation vibe from the prior decade that's sporadically grounded by Tim Thomerson's b-story as a liberal shrink, reluctantly working for the cops. He too lands a dame real quick (albeit going a lot further), and while his character is too hip and existentially righteous to seem realistic, he makes what could have been a hackneyed cop on Eric's tail an interesting twist.

Christopher's Eric Binford snaps a pic before he snaps for good
So for the hardcore movie fans out there, FADE TO BLACK is a dream come true. A hybrid of drive-in cult and the body count horror that was popular during that time, and something that wasn't that common mixed with ultra-violent terror: Dark humor blankets the story so it never seems real enough to be corny or phony enough to be contrived...

Score: ****1/2
And visually there's a nice combination of shadowy Noir darkness and uninvited sunlight for this particular night owl getting deeper and deeper into the void he created, making for a sublime combination... 

Other than a few scenes that drag too long, like when he reunites with Marilyn, and one particular victim being stalked longer than another character that truly deserved a slow death. Either way, Dennis Christopher, who made a name for himself as a poor yet optimistic college-town bicyclist in BREAKING AWAY, goes all out in another direction that the writer/director should be an icon for creating. Instead, he's a name that only Cinefiles know. His own Eric Binford would be Vernon Zimmerman's biggest fan. 
Great shot of the gorgeous Linda Kerridge in as Marilyn (for a reason) in FADE TO BLACK Linda Kerridge FADE TO BLACK
Morgan Paull, or interviewee, in Fade to Black
Morgan Paull Fade to Black Morgan Paull Interview Fade to Black
Morgan Paull lies "dead" full of squibs
"You got nice pipes pal... Drop by the club some time... Maybe I can do something for ya"
We should all live on this street
Marcie Barkin plays Linda's Marilyn's buddy... here's another of her...
"Working on Fade to Black was an experience: I've always been surprised at its appeal and staying power."
"Dennis was so hyper back then that my memories of him are a blur." Marcie Barkin, Fade to Black

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