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Anchor Bay presents
"Why don't you live in the real world with the rest of us?"
DVD ReviewFade to Black tells the dark, sad story of one Eric Binford (Dennis Christopher), an intense young Hollywood film buff with a fringe film-industry job who lives with his "Aunt" Stella (Eve Brent), a bitter, crippled former dancer who blames him for the accident that destroyed her career and constantly puts him down. He finds a small measure of self-confidence imitating his movie idols (primarily Jimmy Cagney), and nearly finds romance with a Marilyn Monroe look-alike (Linda Kerridge). When she accidentally stands him up for their date, he begins to break down, killing his Aunt and other "enemies" while fully costumed as Hopalong Cassidy, Dracula, the Mummy and others.
Dennis Christopher delivers a nicely nuanced performance as Binford, keeping him out of stereotypical "nerd" territory and transitioning nicely between "Eric" and his Hollywood personae. His celebrity "impressions" are only fair, but they seem perfectly appropriate to the character and capture personality and energy well even when the voices don't sound right at all. The supporting cast is decent, though most of them overact shamelessly, and Linda Kerridge does look remarkably like Marilyn Monroe.
Director Vernon Zimmerman comes up with a few inspired shots, including one of Binford in half-Eric, half-Dracula makeup, but the script never quite lives up to its intriguing premise. Once the setup is established, the movie degenerates into a series of predictable (albeit colorful) murders with the inevitable tragic ending. The "film vs. reality" concept is strong, but the script doesn't go far enough to be a "black comedy" nor does it develop as a serious drama. The film also has a disturbingly conservative underpinning—it implies that violent films plant violent images and create violent behavior (although Eric Binford obviously has other problems), and a police psychologist (Tim Thomerson) who tries to understand Eric's motives is portrayed as a "soft-on-crime" doofus.
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: C+
Image Transfer Review: Anchor Bay's Fade to Black DVD is nicely mastered, presenting the film in its original 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio with an anamorphic transfer. Detail is excellent—the film has some dirt flecking, but color and black level are solid and this 1980 film looks more recent than it is. Especially impressive are the clips from older Hollywood films seen within the context of the movie—they almost look like transfers from the original prints. A clean, very filmlike transfer.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: Fade to Black retains its original monophonic soundtrack, mastered in 2.0 Dolby Digital to decode through the center speaker. There are a few vintage "pops" in the soundtrack and some low-level hiss, but the DVD transfer is generally solid with clear dialogue, though bass is very limited. An accurate rendition of an older soundtrack.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Extras Review: The film's nearly-three-minute trailer is the only extra here, presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio from a decent print. The trailer plays up the "horror" aspects of the film and actually gives away several of the murders, so it's best to watch it AFTER seeing the film. No other information is provided, making for a disappointing showing in this department, especially considering that Fade to Black co-producer George Braunstein did participate in a commentary for Anchor Bay's Train Ride to Hollywood disc.
Extras Grade: D-
Final CommentsFade to Black is an interesting, dark film with a strong lead performance by Dennis Christopher, though the movie as a whole never matches the strength of its concept. Anchor Bay's DVD preserves the film well, though the lack of supplements is disappointing. Worth a purchase for horror completists, and a worthwhile rental.
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