The Long Shadow

Fade to Black

Lately I've been going back and watching movies from the 80s with an eye to overlooked gems that I'd somehow managed to miss all these years.

A lot of Gen X and Gen Y folks look back on the 80s as a Silver Age--a George Lucas remake of the Golden Age that was the 1950s. Millennials are more likely to regard 80s culture as problematic. They still allowed jokes at homosexuals' expense in movies back then, don't ya know?

What pops out at you once the veneer of nostalgia wears off is how subversive 80s Hollywood already was. In retrospect, it shouldn't be surprising. Despite Star Wars taking pop culture by storm and reaffirming the traditions of the pulps, the studios were still beholden to the 70s hippie influx.

The two 80s films I've watched most recently bring up a fascinating aspect of Hollywood's campaign to propagandize moviegoers. The first is Fade to Black, a slasher flick from 1980, and Martin Scorsese's The King of Comedy released two years later.

Fade to Black is a schlock horror film that's way better than it has any right to be. It nabbed Vernon Zimmerman a Saturn Award nomination, but it would have ended up as Best of the Worst fodder if not for its lead actor's performance.

In case you haven't seen it, The King of Comedy is Martin Scorsese's character study/caper film about an aspiring comic played by Robert De Niro who kidnaps a fictionalized version of Johnny Carson played by Jerry Lewis.

Both movies share a striking similarity. Their protagonists are both socially awkward fans of famous entertainers whose fantasies spiral out of control and lead them to commit serious crimes.

In The King of Comedy, an A list comedian gets kidnapped. In Fade to Black, a scummy producer gets murdered, and an aspiring actress is kidnapped.

At first I found Hollywood's portrayal of movie fans as potentially violent nerds puzzling. Then I remembered that Hollywood hates its own audience. Yes, even in the more innocent 80s, film makers regarded moviegoers with fear and contempt.

Dennis Christopher's Eric Binford is the portrait of an omega male. He lives in his shrewish mother's attic, works a dead-end job, and has no social life. There's nothing to recommend him except for his encyclopedic knowledge of movie trivia. Today he'd be moderating /r/movies.

De Niro's Rupert Pupkin lives in his mother's basement. He has no visible source of income, his only friend is a crazed female stalker, and he has a raging case of oneitis for a former cheerleader from high school. His delusions of grandeur approach the level of psychotic breaks.

Why did Zimmerman and Scorsese portray their fans this way? This was the insight that fascinated me. Both directors were showing us how they--and the rest of Hollywood--see their audience.

And they've been telling us since at least the 1980s. The poz casts a long shadow.

To the shameless pimps in Hollywood, we are weak, pathetic, unattractive losers. But they're painfully aware that they depend on us to maintain their lavish lifestyle, and they hate us for it. They also fear that one day, we'll realize they hate us and pull the plug on their nonstop party.

Another question presents itself. If Hollywood is afraid we'll wake up to the fact that they hate us, why make movies revealing their hatred?

Why do open borders proponents proudly declare that they want to turn the whole country into California? Why do intersectionalists openly fantasize about killing straight, white, Christian men?

Towering, diabolical pride is a defining feature of the Left. Like the serial killer who gets a rush from sending clues to the police, the death cultists get off on explaining their dastardly schemes to their intended victims.

It's not like they have much of a disincentive. A defining feature of Conservatism has been its puzzling refusal to take the Left's admissions of its goals seriously.

What about you, dear reader? Now that you know Hollywood detests you as an ineffectual, oblivious nebbish, are you still inclined to pay for their elaborately produced insults?

As a member of Hollywood's IATSE union recently advised:
Make the money dry up.
Stop going to the movie theaters.
Stop using the products they pimp.
Stop paying to be entertained. 
Now, being an entertainer who respects and cherishes his audience, I would edit the last line to read, "Stop paying to be insulted." If you want to pay honest creators interested only in providing you with a fun time, more power to you.

On a related note, the crowdfunder for the imminent sequel to my mech adventure Combat Frame XSeed has less than two days left.

Don't miss your chance to get the book before its official launch and claim sweet perks like exclusive trading cards, signed books, and short story commissions. Back Combat Frame XSeed: Coalition Year 40 now!

Combat Frame XSeed: Coalition Year 40


  1. The cancer runs long and deep indeed

    1. More than most realize.

      Jeffro's identification of 1980 as the dividing line in SFF may apply to film as well as books.

  2. I watched PCU the other day. I've seen it several times before, but probably not in the last ten years. It came out in 1994, and is superficially a warning about PC insanity on campus.

    Of course the real villains of the piece---against whom all the other groups united in the end---are conservative white men.

    1. Good catch.

      PCU was a favorite among my circle of friends back in college. I haven't revisited it in years, either, but I clearly remember David Spade's college Republican character being especially loathsome.

    2. The filmmakers were none too subtle. The villains are introduced as obviously wealthy and snobbish, and then they're established as Christian conservatives in the next scene:

      "America's greatest president?" "Who is Ronald Reagan"
      "They killed Jesus Christ." "Who are the Jews?"

      Followed by David Spade's monologue a few minutes later:

      "The pride of the Port Chester sports program, Tom: hippie olympics. Doesn't matter who wins, because they're all losers. You know it's sad, really. This school used to be a bastion of rich, white, elitism. Now? Now there are homosexuals on the football team. Whiny minorities run the student government, and you can't even coerce a woman into having sex without being brought up on charges! What is this world coming to?"

      ...As the whole group of white men around Spade (except the main character) nod along in agreement.

      Of course it's all couched in humor.

    3. For all the movie's warts, I have found the Caine-Hackman Hypothesis to be a useful predictive model.

    4. I was just thinking about PCU the other day. My favorite scene was when the militant feminist said,"You mean if you're nice to them, they do things for you?"

    5. That's a good one.

      For my money, it's tough to beat, "Coffee NOW!"

  3. Maybe there's something real in the concept of rules that vampires must follow. Evil must openly declare its plans and intentions.

    As much as I'd love IATSE to strike on May 1, my hunch is they won't. If they were going to, why wait almost two months? It's the information age, do it next Thursday!

    A month and a half is more than enough time for TPTB to bribe--that is-- give IATSE some concessions, hanging those that walk out out to dry.

    1. "Evil must openly declare its plans and intentions."

      That's how you know the cultists are demon-ridden, and not just adherents of a flawed but purely human ethos.

      Knowledge of an evil act's moral character is necessary for one to be guilty of sin. The Devil not only wants us broke, despised, and dead, he wants us damned.

      Mere human charlatans just want you deceived. Satan wants you to call good evil and evil good while knowing in your heart it's a lie.

  4. It's no wonder Hollywood detested studios like Cannon Films and the like and considered them festering wounds. They just wanted to make silly movies and make money, but they didn't do it the approved way. After Cannon disappeared so did a lot of the more exciting aspects of cinema. They were focused on the audience first.

    It says a lot that the only skeevy things they've been charged with doing include shifty deals and (depending on the director) work conditions, but nothing on the level of outright sexual assault or blackmail.

    Makes you think.

    1. The owners of Cannon Films were also Hollywood outsiders. They were two Israeli guys who strove to re-create the fun of the American movies they loved through a weird, warped lens.

      Yeah, of course the Tinseltowm aristocracy hated them.

    2. And it's a shame, because their character gave their films such an original stamp. There is nothing like them out there now, and it is what the industry needs more than anything.

    3. Agreed. Say what you will about schlock or production values, Cannon movies were synonymous with fun.

  5. Not surprised. For all the accolades I've found the most vaunted Hollywood directors to be lukewarm at best when comparing their catalogue to the glories of yester year. Spielberg and Scorsese do not deserve the hype behind them. Spielberg also ruined WW2 movies so I have a particular axe to grind there.

    1. How did Spielberg ruin WWII films?

    2. tbqh I thought Zemeckis was better than Spielberg for the most part. If the former wasn't so fascinated on gimmicks instead of story he might still be up there. His '80s material is the best of the big studio stuff.

      The more I watch movies from the '80s that are in the B-world or even the trash the more I realize where the decade's true highlights were. It was the last decade where filmmakers could have done anything they wanted, even if it was mostly the smaller guys that did it.

      And screw Saving Private Ryan. I'd rather watch Zone Troopers instead.

    3. I don't know about Spielberg, but Lucas managed to screw up what I thought was an unscrewable premise with Red Tails. I so wanted to live this movie, as I am fascinated with the history of the Tuskegee Airmen. Instead of an uplifting film about men overcoming the odds both at home and abroad, we got a parody of a 1940's war movie. How much do you have to hate your country to screw up a true tale of heroism, involving people of color no less.

    4. Hey, I think Private Ryan is great.

    5. @JD: I also prefer Zemeckis to Spielberg. Ask random people on the street to list their favorite Spielberg movies, and you'll get quite a few 80s flicks that people think he directed but he really just produced or executive produced, e.g. Back to the Future, Poltergeist, Gremlins, etc.

      It's probably because Spielberg is a technical virtuoso but a stylistic chameleon. He'll spare no effort getting the perfect framing, film grain, and color saturation for his purposes. Then, when his imitators try to make a movie in his style, they just clutter up every shot with lens flare.

  6. @Rawyle every WW2 film since saving Private Ryan has to have the exact same tone as Saving Private Ryan. Grim, gritty, the harsh horrors of war. We get nothing like Twelve 0'Clock High or Where Eagles Dare anymore. You can't just have a fun action romp in the second world war anymore.

    1. Or the guns of Navrone.

      The closest contemprary romp was the new A team movie with Liam Neeson. That was such a fun movie with the ludicrous plans to steal the printing plates and then get them back.

      The rube golberg complexity was such a hoot.

    2. The A-Team movie is criminally underrated. The casting, action/comedy balance, and caper elements are pitch perfect.

      Sadly, it had the misfortune of going up against The Expendables. In a just world, The A-Team would have launched a film franchise while that bloated, CG blood-soaked, shaky cam fest ego boost for geriatric action stars would've been a one-off.

    3. The A-Team had the benefit of being a movie that didn't take itself too seriously that was based on a TV show that didn't take itself too seriously. That combined with a very likable cast made it a winner.

    4. Loved that movie. A remake made by people who love the source material, also best action scenes in the last decade.

    5. Brian

      Yes but I enjoyed the 1st Expendables. I found it rather campy. Further 50+year actors could still outperform and out act the much younger actors.
      It struck me just how the masculinity just oozed and that alone was worth watching


    6. You're entitled to your opinion. Mine is that The Expendables was overproduced, poorly written, and shoddily photographed.

      I can forgive the first two, but bring in the caffeine cam, and I check out. It's the same reason I can't watch the Bourne films.

    7. Brian,
      I only saw the first expendable and I liked the campiness and not much else. I did find the latent nihilism offputting here and there. The A team movie was so much fun and I tremendously enjoyed it. It's too bad they didn't do another movie for whatever reason.


  7. When I saw a behind the scenes on The Expendables where Sly is literally yelling to "shake that camera" a piece of me died.

    I know what he was trying to do with the series, but by modernizing it, adding bad camera work and cg blood, removing any semblance of life and lightheartedness, and attempting to add "depth" instead of letting the characters' actions speak for themselves, he neutered the era he is trying to recapture.

    Going back between a movie like Cobra and then that one shows just how much the mark was missed, and how much it really shouldn't have been.

    But I'm of the opinion that outside of outliers like Speed, Die Hard 3 and 4 (not 5), or John Wick, action movies ended with Demolition Man. They never reached that level again after it.

    1. Concur.

      Here's an experiment our readers can try at home. Watch Cobra, Commando, and Invasion USA. Then watch The Expendables. You'll see what JD means.

  8. Related: I was just alerted to the existence of this documentary.


    As I said the '80s were the last time anything could be done in cinema. Whether the opportunity was taken or not it was still there. Once practical effects and lower budgets were pushed aside for CG and glossy photography that was the end.

    Highlight comment of the trailer: "We didn't take ourselves seriously, but we took the movies seriously."