As fate would have it, Fade To Black was not the breakout hit that producer Irwin Yablans was hoping for on the heels of his career-defining production Halloween. It didn’t deliver the same kind of box office profits, partly due to patchy distribution and partly due to the film not being the easily accessible film that Halloween is. Indeed, Fade To Black is interesting as a film because it isn’t a pure-blooded “rock ’em and shock ’em” affair: instead, the psycho killer element of the film dovetails with a portrait of a disintegrating psyche that gives in to revenge fantasy a la Taxi Driver.

The producers thought enough of the film’s commercial chances to create a tie-in paperback and the result was penned by Ron Renauld, a writer who penned several novelizations for properties like Airwolf, the first two Porky’s films, The A-Team and Kidco.  Renauld was a prolific craftsman whose other credits include television work, eleven entries in the popular Mack Bolan men’s action franchise and his own paperback original novels. 

As his credits suggest, Renauld was ideally suited for this gig and his novelization of Fade To Black is a respectable prose treatment of the film. It follows the plot of the film to a ‘t’, spending a few chapters getting us into lead character Eric Binford’s troubled life and obsession with cinema then chronicling the disappointments that fuel a breakdown resulting in a film-inspired string of murders. In keeping with the film, there are also subplots devoted to Marilyn, Eric’s romantic obsession, as she deals with the ups and downs of pursuing a career as an actress/model in Hollywood and Moriarty, a psychologist who has just started working with the L.A.P.D. and becomes the first to suspect Binford of being a serial killer.

Renauld makes a game attempt to flesh out the other characters in ways the film could not. For example, insight is provided into Marilyn’s background as someone who came from Australia to live out her dreams, only to discover she’s just one of several pretty faces. There’s also a subplot later in the novel involving a boyfriend that doesn’t happen in the film. Moriarty’s plot thread gets a lot of expansion, including more on his romantic relationship with a female cop, his work as a therapist trying to aid a small-time criminal and details on the personal tragedy that led him to leave a musical career behind to become a therapist. 

Unfortunately, these added layers don’t really enhance the overall story. Moriarty in particular remains the same weak link in the novel that he was in the film: despite the extra development for his characterization, his link to the main Eric-driven plot still feels grafted on to add a little pop psychology into the mix.  The extra time spent with Marilyn does enhance the story’s theme of Los Angeles being an alienating place for dreamers but it doesn’t quite dovetail with Eric’s story in the tragic/poignant way that it aims to achieve.

That said, these flaws are baked into the preexisting plot line that Renauld had to work within so he can’t really be faulted for trying to at least enrich the proceedings.  The film’s meandering plot is better accommodated by prose, where there’s more room for introspection.  It really comes to life in the chapters built around Eric, where Renauld skillfully communicates his alienation and immersion in fantasy.  The author clearly did his homework on the films Eric is obsessed with and is able to depict them with a passion that reflects the main character’s obsessiveness.  Renauld’s prose is also disciplined, adding the occasional flourish in spots but moving through the material nimbly enough to bring the whole story in at just 215 pages.

In short, the Fade To Black novelization can’t redeem the flaws of its source material but does a professional job in translating the tale into print, adding a few extra touches that make it worth a read for anyone intrigued by the film. At its best, it communicates the extremes of cinephilia with impressive skill.

For Schlockmania’s film review of Fade To Black, click here.

Paperback Matinee is a recurring feature that focuses on vintage paperback adaptations of films and t.v. shows as well as print-based spinoffs of such properties.

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