Monday, October 20, 2008
Fade To Black
Last week's episode of Supernatural, featuring a shape-shifter who copes with the loneliness of being a freak by adopting the guise of classic Universal monsters, inspired me to dig out my copy of 1980's slasher thriller Fade to Black, in which a movie buff uses his expertise in make-ups and disguises to become the characters he loves when he proves unable to cope with his everyday troubles.
Played by Dennis Christopher, Eric Binford was the quintessential movie nerd of the pre-internet, pre-DVD, pre-VCR era, a friendless nebbish spending his nights projecting old films on the walls of his bedroom.
In time, pressure from his disabled but loud-mouthed aunt, his abrasive boss, his bullying co-workers (including a young Mickey Rourke) and a romantic misunderstanding (with his dream girl, a Marilyn Monroe look-alike) push wimpy Eric over the edge and he starts to slay his enemies in the guise of movie icons like the Mummy and Hopalong Cassidy. But as I actually started to watch Fade to Black again for the first time in many years, I realized to my surprise that I found that Eric Binford wasn't the sympathetic soul that I remembered. Christopher gives a good performance but man, what an unlikeable character!
I didn't even get through half the movie before shutting it off and moving onto something worthwhile, like Leviathan. This reaction made me realize that what used to be considered sympathetic traits in characters are now qualities that we have much less patience for. During the '60s and '70s, it used to be common to see nervous, neurotic types portrayed as put-upon protagonists. But today you can only be so much of an introvert without turning off an audience.
To present a character like Eric Binford with no aptitude for social skills would be a hard sell now. Today giving attitude is second nature, being a geek is hip, and to be exposed to pop culture in the last twenty years is to be extra-fluent in irony so there's less tolerance for modern characters - even ones that are meant to be 'different' - to be sketchy weirdos. If you can't find a way to make your individuality work for you, then you must be doing something wrong.
If you're a true social misfit it's no good being sensitive and insecure about it. That's weak. You have to declare your outsider status by being a hardcore serial killer. The Eric Binfords of the world are too soft and easily pushed around to look at with anything but exasperation. Hell, you wouldn't even want to talk movies with them.