6/9/10

Who the F@&k is Vernon Zimmerman?: Fade to Black (1980)

I’ve been toying around with some ideas for new segments, and I’m proud to introduce the first of these groundbreaking innovations in blogging science. Everyone talks plenty about the big names, the directors and actors that get their name in lights… or at least largest on the poster, but there are so many unsung heroes in the wide world of cult cinema. So that’s how I arrived at ‘Who the F@&k is…’ which will feature the career of one these less celebrated, but no less worthy, film folks on a rotating basis each month. This month the focus will fall on Vernon Zimmerman and his collection of offbeat titles.
Here’s a guy who started his career with a short film starring Warhol buddy Taylor Mead, turned out one of the most imaginative slashers, a weird Western biker horror flick, a roller derby movie, and fit in getting Linda Carter in the buff. Any one of those reasons would be enough for Zimmerman to deserve a mention, but the combination makes me have to find out more.

I thought I’d kick it off with his 1980 film Fade to Black. I’ve had the VHS of this flick hanging around for a couple of years on the ‘to watch’ pile, but I’ve never got around to looking at it. When I picked it up today and was giving it a perusal on IMDB, I was astonished I had so many of writer/director Vernon Zimmerman’s films, but I hadn‘t seen a one of them. I’d always heard of Fade to Black being referred to as a slasher film, and to a degree, it is, but the identity of the killer is no mystery. In fact, Fade to Black is his story. Eric Binford (Dennis Christopher) is a geeky young man obsessed with classic films, and when life finally pushes him too far, he strikes back in the guise of his cinematic idols. So what caused his snap? The same thing that is at the core of so many of Eric’s favorite films, a girl, a Marilyn Monroe look-a-like, who stands him up for what would have been their first date.

Eric snaps and gets started on his killing spree by offing his Aunt Stella (Eve Brent Ashe) followed by anyone else he sees as holding his life back.  The funny thing is that Eric is no longer living his life. He takes on a new name, Cody Jarrett, the same as James Cagney’s character in the 1949 film White Heat, and as he commits the murders, he dons the guise of Dracula, Hopalong Cassidy, and The Mummy. Fade to Black is much more a character study than a slasher film really. As a dude who grew up as a geeky film fan, I could sympathize with Eric’s feelings of marginalization and the impenetrable silence he would receive when he started rattling off trivia. Now no amount of isolation due to excessive movie watching could drive me to murder. Well, at least it hasn’t so far. So I can’t say that I agree that the world had so punished Eric that he should have started taking out folks.

The kills are pretty special, and I really can’t think of another film that contains anything comparable. A lot of the credit for the entertainment value of the Fade to Black has to go to Dennis Christopher for his portrayal of Eric. Christopher had gotten his big breakthrough the year before when he starred in the lead role of the 1979 film Breaking Away, but here he reminded me quite a bit of Jason Schwartzman starring in a Wes Anderson directed slasher. He really carries the film on his shoulders. The only other role that gets significant screen time is Trancers’ Tim Thomerson as a shrink who gets ignored when he tries to help the police track down the cinematically inspired killer. Australian actress Linda Kerridge is very cute in her small role as “Marilyn”, Eve Brent Ashe channels every overbearing silver screen mother for her role as Aunt Stella, and the short eye will find a young, fresh faced Mickey Rourke as Eric’s bullying co-worker Ritchie.

Now to get around to the man who brought me here tonight Vernon Zimmerman, Clearly Fade to Black was a labor of love for the writer/director. Working with cinematographer Alex Phillips Jr., who had worked extensively in his native Mexico, Zimmerman created a world that seamlessly combined the feelings of the classic film renaissance as well as the late 70’s era that spawned it. Zimmerman’s script and imagery fit together perfectly with the only unnecessary moments coming from Tim Thomerson’s sleuthing shrink. Fade to Black will probably not fulfill the desires of hardcore slasher fans, but it is a very interesting take on the idea. In the end, the film is much more of a character study that ends in tragedy as these things often do, but for fans of both ‘80’s oddities and classic movie monsters, it is well worth checking out.

Bugg Rating




So that’s going to wrap it up for ‘Who the F@&k is..’ for this week, and I hope you join me back here next week for the second film from the catalog of Vernon Zimmerman. This one’s going to have bank robbery, ex-charismatic preacher Marjoe Gortner, and Wonder Woman showing off some skin so join me next week when I try once more to find out Who the F@&k Vernon Zimmerman is when I look at film he wrote called Bobby Jo and the Outlaw.

3 comments:

  1. Really enjoyed your new feature: "Who the F@&k is..." Really looking forward to next week's edition, since for some odd reason I don't think I've ever seen "Bobbie Jo and The Outlaw".

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  2. Had no idea about Vernon Zimmerman! Good to know. I haven't seen Fade to Black in, like, 20 years. Need to rewatch...

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  3. B- I'm surprised you haven't seen Bobbie Jo either, it's an AIP release! The review is coming soon so check it out.

    Will- vernon is a pretty interesting guy. He has a short resume, but full of a few choice interesting titles.

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