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.
The Dead Take the A Train Review: Queer Magic and Monster Mayhem
“Julie crawled onto the table, straddling her intern, both hands around the knife. She torqued it downward, cursing. Brad shrieked harder.” -pg 57, The Dead Take the A Train by Cassandra Khaw & Richard Kadrey
The Dead Take the A Train is the first book in a duology by authors Cassandra Khaw and Richard Kadrey. It was published in 2023 by Tor Nightfire (like the Scourge Between Stars, which I reviewed here). I was not previously familiar with Kadrey’s work, which most notably includes the Sandman Slim series. However, I was introduced to Khaw through The Salt Grows Heavy (review here), which I absolutely adored in all its twisted, gory glory. Therefore, I was thrilled to pick-up The Dead Take the A Train, which promised similar heart in a modern cosmic horror package.
In The Dead Take the A Train, a magical fixer named Julie must hunt down eldritch monstrosities threatening the lives of those around her. To do this, she has to go up against her shitty ex, a questionable angel, finance executives, and her own sobriety. When an old friend shows up, Julie is terrified to find herself making a retirement plan that doesn’t involve getting murdered by a demon.
The Dead Take the A Train is reminiscent of N.K. Jeminsin’s The City We Became, with both featuring queer characters tackling eldritch horror plots in New York City. In the same way, the novel was reminiscent of a gorier version of Dimension 20’s Unsleeping City actual play series. However, it clearly carves out a space for itself among the droves of cosmic-horror inspired love letters to New York City. For one, it is mostly unconcerned with borough beef, which (not to sound like a curmudgeonly Midwesterner), is so refreshing. The book also has a relatively novel way the world works, which helps it stay memorable.
Overall, I really liked The Dead Take the A Train. First off, the characters are fun and easy to root for. Julie is a mess in pretty much every aspect, but her bad decisions are understandable and she is charismatic. Her romance with her friend, Sarah, also serves to make Julie more likable. It helps that the villains are so easy to hate too. What’s not to hate about rich Wall Street assholes engaging in human sacrifice? Speaking of which, I liked the juxtaposition of corporate Wall Street and cosmic cultists. The actions taken were evil, but more importantly, they were just business.
The prose was flowery, but not quite as much as in The Salt Grows Heavy. So, if you struggled with Khaw’s other works for that reason this may be a much easier read. Personally, I enjoyed the prose in both. There is quite a bit of gore in The Dead Take the A Train, but I didn’t find it to be overwhelming. I think you could still enjoy the book if you don’t love gore, though maybe not if you have a weak stomach.
One of the largest issues I have with The Dead Take the A Train, is the lack of clarity in power levels of the various characters. Especially since all their forms of magic work in different ways, it is sometimes unclear the level of danger present. This can also sometimes create room for plot holes. For example, Julie has a friend who is tapped into anything and everything happening online. This is an absurdly powerful ability (and is used as such). But there were moments where the main conflict probably could have been avoided or solved using that power. It also felt odd that no one else in this thriving magic community felt strongly about stopping a world-ending catastrophe. Because of this, the magic underground of NYC could feel smaller than I think was intended.
Having been familiar with Khaw’s work previously, The Dead Take the A Train clearly feels like a mix of Khaw’s style with someone else’s. This could be a boon or a hindrance, depending on your view of Khaw’s distinct prose and storytelling. Either way, if you are interested in learning more about the process or the authors, check out the interview they did for SFF Addicts Podcast!
I recommend The Dead Take the A Train, especially for those who are fans of modern urban eldritch horror. The book is an even bigger steal if you are looking for danger, gore, and queer characters. Check it out! And keep your eyes peeled for the next book in this duology.
Dolores Roach, A Fillet of Left Cheek
The second season of Dolores Roach started with a bang. The first episode was dark, gristly and in a strange way whimsical. It certainly brought to light new elements of the character.
We begin our story with Dolores somewhere, talking to someone. I’d like to be more specific, but that’s all we know right now.
She tells this unknown person about her flight from Empanadas Loco. How Jeremiah killed Luis. How she, whether she meant to or not, killed Jeremiah. How she then set the building on fire by blowing up the fryer in the kitchen.
Scared and alone, Dolores then ran for the underground. Dragging her purple massage table she runs into a hole in a subway track and finds herself in a whole different world.
Almost at once, she finds a place where someone is living. There’s a hot plate, a kettle and several packets of ramen. Even better, everything has Jeremiah’s name on it, literally written on it. Exhausted and alone, Dolores makes herself a cup of ramen and goes to sleep on her massage table.
She’s woken sometime later by a small man named Donald. He knows her because he knew Jeremiah. Dolores proceeds to tell him an abridged version of events that led up to Jeremiah’s death. And by abridged, I mean she blamed Luis for everything, throwing him under the bus so hard I’m surprised she didn’t pull something.
Donald seems inclined to help Dolores. He tells her that if anyone messes with her she should go further down, down a stairwell that he points out for her.
Dolores thanks him, then tries to go back to sleep. She’s soon woken again by a young woman collecting Jeremiah’s things.
While Dolores has an issue with this, she’s willing to let it go. Until that is, this woman tries to take her table. Then, Dolores does what she does best. Because one thing is for sure. Dolores is going to take care of herself.
One thing I love about this series so far is that our main character, Dolores, is crazy. And hearing her rationalize her crazy is both terrifying and fascinating. I hate/love how sweet and soothing she can be. Even with the rat that she killed in this episode. She cooed at it, encouraging it to come to her, even calling it a subway raccoon.
Then she killed it and started crying.
I also love the underground community. It’s both horrific and whimsical. It reminds me of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, which is full of worlds most people don’t see but are all around us. It’s also horrific because there are so many people that our society has failed, that they’ve gathered underground and made their own little society. That’s not great. There just shouldn’t be that many people who need homes.
What didn’t work
Unfortunately, this episode did have two major flaws. And the first one is a personal pet peeve of mine.
In the last episode of season one, certain things were established. Dolores said she was carefully rationing her weed. She said she didn’t have anything to eat since coming down to the tunnels. She still had her massage table. This episode rewrote a lot of that.
Frankly, I hate when stories do that. It may or not make a difference to the story. It just strikes me as poor planning and lazy writing. This show has proven it’s capable of doing better.
All things considered, I thought this was a great start to the season. I’m invested in the story, curious about the new characters, and worried about the well-being of everyone Dolores comes in contact with. And that’s all as it should be.(3.5 / 5)
By the way, if you like my writing, you might want to check out my latest sci-fi horror story, Nova. It’ll be released episodically on my site, Paper Beats World, starting February 5th.
The Golem (2019), a Film Review
The Golem (2019) is a folk horror film directed by Doron and Yoav Paz, starring Hani Furstenberg and Ishai Golan.
The Golem (2019) is a folk horror film directed by Doron and Yoav Paz. The cast includes Hani Furstenberg, Ishai Golan, Kirill Cernyakov, and Brynie Furstenberg. As of this review, the film remains available to Amazon Prime and fuboTV subscribers with additional purchase options on other platforms.
Set in 1673, a small Jewish community faces hardships from others as the Black Plague spreads. When these hardships reach a boiling point, Hanna takes matters into her own hands. Having secretly learned to read, she seeks to perform a ritual that would create a protector for her people. Yet, this act brings about a steep cost.
What I Like about The Golem
The film received three nominations in 2019. These nominations include Best Actress, Best Sound, and Best Cinematography from the Award of the Israeli Film Academy. While The Golem wouldn’t win these awards, the nominations indicate a strong film.
I won’t claim to know the accuracy and intricacies of the golem in relation to its religious origin, but the film certainly brings to life its concept. The effort to create such a creature and the toll it takes from the summoner create an emotional throughline for viewers to follow.
Hani Furstenberg’s Hanna and Ishai Golan’s Benjamin bring a complicated but realistic relationship to the film. Viewers see the love between them, even as their own society attempts to cast them from each other. They feel like a couple who understand the other’s wants and needs. However, we begin to witness the decaying of this relationship.
Hanna, specifically, provides a complex character that incentivizes the viewers to root for and against her at different points in the movie. Though she navigates blatant sexism and discrimination, she remains far from flawless. These flaws and ambitions establish Hanna as an interesting character.
The Golem can be brutal. This film provides a period-accurate look into antisemitism and systemic oppression, which certainly evokes a different form of horror. However, the golem itself brings brutality through its smiting.
Tired Tropes and Triggers
As the film deals directly with systemic issues of 1673, understand that antisemitism, sexism, and hate crimes remain important elements within the film.
An assault leads to a miscarriage, which seems a point worth mentioning for potential viewers who are sensitive to such points. Fertility and bodily autonomy, generally, also play roles within the provided film.
If any of these are potential issues for your viewing experience, perhaps skip The Golem.
What I Dislike about The Golem
Aleksey Tritenko delivers a wonderful performance for an interesting antagonist, but the role of Vladimir serves limited purposes. In many ways, he’s the representation of his societal antisemitism. While this remains perfectly valid, he somewhat disappears from the narrative until he becomes relevant. His marauders should be an oppressive threat within the society, looming over it with malice.
I can’t deny the lack of intimidation the golem’s aesthetic brings. While some films evoke an eeriness through silent children to horrific effect, this didn’t sit well with me. It should be eerie, but something was missing in execution.
The Golem focuses on a more human horror than the supernatural elements might suggest. While not a direct critique, prepare your viewing expectations accordingly. The Golem remains a folk horror film, using the folk story to represent human evil and flaws. It won’t particularly haunt you with the gore.
The Golem brings the old legend of the golem folk story to life. If you thirst for a human horror that shines a light on the flaws of the people within, The Golem might satisfy you. However, it’s not a particularly frightening film, choosing instead to tell a story of loss and overcoming suffering. (3 / 5)