If you haven’t seen Vernon Zimmerman’s film Fade to Black, I recommend you watch it immediately. It is a criminally underrated gem that can only be appreciated by a certain portion of the movie-loving population. Released in 1980, Fade to Black is a film made for horror cinephiles ripped down the middle between dark character study and oddball slasher. It is one of my all-time favorite horror films to come out of the 1980s and a lot of that has to do with the film’s lead character, Eric Binford (Dennis Christopher), a unique kind of serial killer.
There are two ways to look at a character like Eric. You either sympathize with him or you think he’s a weasel. He’s an awkward loner obsessed with movies. They are his only source of comfort, and the characters his only friends. He’s so frightened of the world and uncomfortable in his own skin that he begins to impersonate these characters in his everyday life, merging them with his own personality. These new personas enable him to take revenge on his bullies.
His attachment to film is framed like an addiction. The late-night movie sessions he obsessively engages in are very suggestive of drug use. Sitting in a little ball in a ratty t-shirt in the dark as he stares at the projecting images with a dazed expression, the drug has consumed his life. He’s only alive when he’s pretending to be someone else.
Eric’s behavior can easily be written off as the behavior of someone struggling with a mental illness, someone who’s just “crazy,” but if you’re able to understand what’s going on inside his head, then his odd behavior seems reasonable, even rationale. Fade to Black is not the only film to show a movie-inspired killer but most take a satirical approach while Fade to Black takes a slightly more clinical approach. Eric Binford may be a product of fiction but the cinephilic killer is very real.
In 1995, the owner of a chain of movie theaters named Peter Moore was accused of killing four men in North Wales. Also referred to as The Man in Black, Moore targeted members of the LGBTQ community, stabbing, and mutilating their bodies for “fun.” At the time of his arrest, it was widely believed that he had been obsessed with the Friday the 13th franchise and even blamed the murders on a fictitious male lover named Jason.
Moore wasn’t like most prolific serial killers. He had a good life growing up with a mother who doted on him. He had no prior violent behavior that anyone could see and his murder spree seemingly came out of nowhere but his actions during his own trial were that of a narcissistic psychopath in complete control. Not of a delusional movie fan. I’m not 100% sure where the Friday the 13th excuse came from but it was likely something the press made up or an excuse Moore tried to use at the last minute.
According to Alex Carlile, the lead prosecutor at Moore’s trial, Moore was a monster of a human who lived to be the center of attention. A master manipulator who was incredibly vane, he enjoyed being on trial.
Does anyone remember the man from 2015 who bit his friend after marathoning The Walking Dead? This is very much like that, only worse. In November of 1994, a man named Daniel Sterling reportedly stabbed his girlfriend Lisa Stellwagen and drank her blood because he just loved Interview with the Vampire too much. The morning after seeing the film together, Stellwagen woke up to find Sterling staring at her in bed. When she asked what was wrong, he responded with these words straight from the Edward Cullen handbook: “I’m going to kill you and drink your blood.” And he attempted to do just that, stabbing her a total of seven times in both the back and chest. Thankfully, she survived the attack and was able to stop him.
“I was influenced by the movie. I enjoyed the movie,” Sterling said. “But I cannot sit here and blame the movie.” He also said that he believed in vampires but didn’t want to be one, which is an odd thing to say after you had just gotten finished acting like a vampire.
More about the case came to light a few years later where it was revealed that Sterling originally tried to blame the attack on a black man. His actions were later believed to have been a crime of passion brought on by a jealous rage when he discovered that Stellwagon had gone out with another man shortly before the attack. During Sterling’s trial, psychiatric experts testified that he’d suffered from psychological issues his entire life after his mother committed suicide when he was 10. He was believed to have had Type 1 Bipolar Disorder and at the time of the attack, had been suffering from a manic episode.
In a murder spree that lasted for two days, Daniel Gonzalez claimed to have been inspired by the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, and to a lesser extent Friday the 13th, when he went on a drug-fueled rampage that left four people dead and two injured. He wrote about his experiences in letters that described how much he enjoyed the murders and how similar he thought he was to dream demon, Freddy Krueger.
On September 15, 2004, Gonzalez started randomly stabbing people he encountered on the street, murdering them in events that he described as “orgasmic.” Upon his arrest, Gonzalez was given six life sentences without the possibility of parole only to die by suicide just three years later on August 9, 2007.
Like Sterling, Gonzalez’s early life contained its fair share of red flags. He’d been born into a good family and given a proper education but suffered from serious behavioral problems. When he around 18 years old, he was admitted to Oak Tree Clinic, a mental health hospital where he received treatment for about a year. His claims of being influenced by Freddy Krueger were believed to have started there, which I’m going to assume originated from A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, which takes place in a psychiatric hospital. It’s possible he found comfort in the film, taking on a Freddy persona to better cope with his new surroundings.
The Copycat Criminal
It’s all about the copycats. What these men did has nothing to do with their minds somehow being corrupted by the graphic depravity of horror films. Similar to the actions displayed by Eric Binford in Fade to Black, the films were the medium used to purge whatever turmoil already lived inside of them, while simultaneously serving as their model for adaptability.
Before mass civilization assembled everyone together into large piles, people lived in tribes or small groups where mimicking actions and behavior was a survival technique. Also called “mirroring,” it’s a technique that allows humans to adapt to their surroundings and better relate to their peers. However, as society has evolved and we have become excessively exposed while remaining in total isolation, television and social media have somewhat warped this. We now relate more to fictional characters than to real people.
Copycat crimes seem like a subunit of the “mirroring” effect. Used to take on a new persona other than your own, it’s often used to justify violent behavior. This is also a part of “mob mentality” in which people absorb the anger of those around them. It is a part of a depersonalization process used in culture change, war, and, even group activities. Just like how warriors paint their faces for battle or gang members dress in matching clothes, copycat criminals mimic someone of inspiration to reduce their inhibitions. Even if on a subconscious level.
Another explanation for this behavior centers on the idea that copycats thrive on the attention publicity gained by the original crime, and the subsequent attention that their related acts will receive. They learn that committing a similar action will give them the same attention. Easy fame.
Personally, I see some copycat criminals as adopting new personas of others, either real or fictional, because they have no sense of self. We all know people like this. They seem to have no opinion or personalized tastes. Everything they do, say, or think can be traced back to another person. When they grow out of this persona, they take on a new one until they become a confusing mixture of them all, losing who they originally were in the process, very much like poor Eric in Zimmerman’s Fade to Black.
Movies n TV
The Beach House, a Film Review
The Beach House (2019) is a body horror film directed and written by Jeffrey A. Brown starring Liana Liberato, Noah Le Gros, and Jake Weber.
The Beach House (2020) is a body horror film directed and written by Jeffrey A. Brown. This film stars Liana Liberato, Noah Le Gros, Jake Weber, and Maryann Nagel. As of this review, this film is only available on Shudder.
Desperate to rekindle their strained love, Emily (Liana Liberato) and Randall (Noah Le Gros) escape to a beach getaway. They soon learn to find that family friends of Randall’s father, Mitch (Jake Weber), and Jane (Maryann Nagel), also had a similar idea. After getting used to each other, a mysterious fog engulfs the town. Unfortunately, they realize too late the danger they find themselves in.
What I Like
Body horror gets under my skin, and The Beach House certainly lives up to the standard. There’s something magical about creatures terraforming your body to their preferred environment, turning humans into nothing more than conscious prisoners in their own flesh. While I wouldn’t consider this film the most traumatic or unsettling example, it utilizes wonderfully grotesque scenes.
Aside from the body horror, the film drops a few Cosmic Horror–or Lovecraftian–vibes that go together perfectly. Another favored genre of mine, this combination ensures the odds are overwhelmingly against our human leads.
Beyond the grotesque, visuals might not overwhelm but certainly succeed in their goal. Several scenes provide an intentionally tranquil experience that contrasts with the grotesques and improves their effectiveness.
In terms of performance, each actor hits their mark. While some roles require less effort, each contributes to the plot as intended. The standout performance goes to Liana Liberato’s Emily, who acts as co-lead. She simply has the most to work with and lives up to the part.
Tired Tropes and Trigger Warnings
As “body horror” should indicate, this film will hit hard for the more squeamish viewer. While horror by nature has some amount of grotesque, body horror brings that grotesque to the next level. While I don’t particularly find The Beach House hitting harder than its competition, it certainly respects its chosen genre.
What I Dislike or Considerations
A few scenic montages may hit or miss depending on your interpretation. While I have my own theories, that speculation goes beyond the scope of this review. Many of these scenes overlap more philosophical conversations and musings that may annoy or add layers. This strategy seems a common practice in Cosmic Horror, which forces characters to rationalize the irrational.
It’s hard for me to understand how secretive or known this event is supposed to be in the film’s world. Individuals know something outside of the town, with evidence implying governmental knowledge. This information creates a contrivance–perhaps, even a plot hole–because the characters had to reach this isolated town without any opposition.
One of the visuals didn’t exactly grab me. While I won’t go into too much detail, an effect looked too visually similar to a common animal that barely survives rain. It’s hard to be threatened by that. It also doesn’t exactly match up with some of the other visuals. Even the creatures that look similar to it still look different enough to provide a more alien assumption.
There are moments when the infected chase our main characters by crawling at them. While the context works, with injured characters helping to sell them, I can’t help but find these scenes amusing as opposed to frightening. Yes, it’s certainly visually different from the plethora of zombies out there, but it’s also less frightening than zombies that leisurely walk to their targets.
The Beach House combines cosmic and body horror to create an uncomfortable film that tests its characters. For those who enjoy these genres, it will certainly entertain you, but I doubt it will frighten you. I imagine the mood to watch it again might strike me, but I’m not entirely certain it will stand the test of time. (3 / 5)
If this movie suits your fancy and you want more, Honeymoon seems an appropriate recommendation.
Movies n TV
Every Secret Thing, a Film Review
Every Secret Thing (2014) is a crime thriller directed by Amy J. Berg and written by Nicole Holofcener, based on Laura Lippman’s novel.
Every Secret Thing (2014) is a crime thriller directed by Amy J. Berg and written by Nicole Holofcener. This R-rated film stars Diane Lane, Danielle Macdonald, Dakota Fanning, and Elizabeth Banks. Based on Laura Lippman’s novel of the same name, the film adaptation is accessible through MAX and DirecTV.
When a little girl goes missing, Nancy Porter (Elizabeth Banks) spirals into an all too familiar tale. As pressure mounts, Alice Manning (Danielle Macdonald) and Ronnie Fuller (Dakota Fanning) become the leading suspects. The strained frenemies unravel under the attention and reminders of their shared past.
What I Like
The film unravels in a non-chronological structure but makes it easy for the viewer to follow. It helps that the age difference clearly divides the younger actors, who change actors. One casting choice resembles their older counterpart, and the acting reflects a strong direction for their shared role.
Unreliable narration remains expertly communicated with scenes that change perspectives depending on whose perspective we view them from. This choice adds a reason to view the film twice, providing extra ambiguity for some of these events.
The camera gets up close and personal to an uncomfortable degree, which almost certainly presses the actors’ performances. This choice places the viewer in the character’s perspective and limits us from others’ perspectives to add extra credence to these biases.
Every Secret Thing provides a spiraling mystery that unravels with several twists and turns. Assuming the novel provided the outline, this film executes these points and keeps a consistently engaging experience throughout the runtime.
Tired Tropes and Trigger Warnings
Child abuse and neglect remain the central plot points of Every Secret Thing. Little of this abuse appears in scenes, but there is no escaping the danger children are in throughout the film.
Self-harm and suicide are shown throughout the film (once in the case of suicide) through one specific character. It isn’t glorified or romanticized nor addressed with particular sensitivity. For those sensitive to these subjects, it might be triggering.
Racism, the assumed motive for the bi-racial victims, plays a small role in the film’s narrative. However, character motives remain more complex, but going further spoils some elements. This film decision does create the reality that bi-racial children are the victims of child neglect and abuse in the film with little additional context. It does invite uncomfortable speculation, but speculation it would be.
Sexual assault is another concern for viewers, specifically statutory rape. This issue seems particularly mismanaged, considering the survivor remains an antagonist. One can be both survivor of assault and an antagonist of a film without needing to discredit the assault. While little appears of this issue, and the manipulation angle can indicate a perspective shift, it’s hard to refute how the film wants to represent this attack.
What I Dislike
Loosely tied to the above point, one character seems mentally off and purposely so. This point doesn’t inherently create an issue, but there seems to be a choice to make this character a mastermind. Perhaps this is better addressed in the book, but the execution is far from perfect here.
A newspaper montage reveals essential information which feels oddly misplaced. Practically the entire setup for the film appears through this montage, which creates the necessity to read these headlines in the minimal time given.
As a horror, nothing but the events are haunting. Children being abused or kidnapped always haunts, but the terror of this remains secondary to the mystery. While the mystery is nice, this film won’t particularly scare the seasoned horror fan.
Every Secret Thing unravels a mystery of opportunism, selfishness, and deception. While the movie won’t haunt the viewer, it certainly unravels a mystery that shocks them. The nuanced and deceptive characters add a layer of engagement that creates a unique experience, but I doubt this movie will linger in my mind.
(2.5 / 5)
Movies n TV
Quid Pro Woe
We’ve now reached episode six of Tim Burton’s Wednesday. And after the last episode, this one did not disappoint.
We start with Wednesday attempting to contact Goody Addams. Last episode, if you’ll recall, Morticia explained the difference between a psychic dove and a raven. Since Goody Addams was the last raven psychic in the family line, it’s got to be her that trains Wednesday.
But her seance is a failure, and Wednesday is interrupted by a magazine note shoved under the door. It says to meet someone at a crypt for answers.
When she gets there, it turns out that her friends have put together a surprise birthday party for her. Before she can cut the cake, however, she has a vision.
Goody Addams tells her that she must find a specific gate. After some investigation, Wednesday discovers it’s the gate to the old Gates house.
Wednesday goes to investigate, but she isn’t the only one. She is nearly discovered by Mayor Walker. He is also investigating the Gates family, even though they’re all reported to be dead. He leaves a message for Sheriff Galpin and is almost immediately run over by a car.
This incident is enough to get Wednesday’s town villages revoked. Though this seems like an empty punishment since the whole school is on lockdown. Someone burned Fire Will Rain on their front lawn.
Wednesday isn’t one for believing the rules apply to her. She has it in her head that she’s meant to save Nevermore Academy, probably from whatever descendent of Crackstone who’s still around. So she has no problem lying to Enid and Tyler and convincing them to help her sneak off campus and explore the Gates house further.
This, of course, is an incredibly informative trip. The kids find a hidden altar to Crackstone, as well as the missing body parts from the monster’s victims. They also find evidence that someone’s been staying in the house. Someone who’s staying in what looks like a little girl’s room.
Before they can find anything more, the monster finds them. They barely escape, and go to the sheriff with what they find.
Of course, the house has been cleared out by the time Sheriff Galpin arrives. Furious that his son was almost killed, he tells Wednesday to stay away from him.
Because that always works, right?
Galpin isn’t the only one angry. Enid is fed up with the way Wednesday has been treating her. And so she leaves their room to bunk with someone else, leaving Wednesday alone.
This episode was well done. The discoveries at the house were exciting, and I’m almost sure I know who’s behind the murders at this point. Overall, this was a good ramp-up to the season finale.
Finally, this episode did something I was worried just wasn’t going to happen. And for that alone, it deserves praise.
Wednesday has been incredibly selfish and inconsiderate since the first episode. She’s been rude and demanding towards Thing. She’s ignored her friends’ needs and emotions while insisting they put themselves in danger for her investigation. She has respected no one’s boundaries, even while other people have at least tried to respect hers.
And now, it’s finally come back to bite her. All of the people who have been doing their best to show her kindness and support are finally done with her bullshit.
Yes, this is a good thing! Characters are best when they’re allowed to learn and grow. When they don’t come to us flawless. When they mess up and learn from it. Especially for a show aimed at kids, this is essential.
If you’d asked me at the beginning of the season if this character was going to experience honest character growth, I’d have assured you it would never happen. Much to my surprise, it’s happening. I hope that Wednesday is going to come out of this a better person. With two episodes left in the season, there’s plenty of time for that. (4 / 5)