If there is one decade of cinema that defines the horror genre, it is without doubt the 1980’s, a statement In Search of Darkness seeks to definitively justify. This is an extensive, four-hour plus deep dive into the darker, seedier side of cinema’s equally oft-reviled and beloved genre.
David A. Weiner’s documentary will perhaps disappoint those looking for a searing examination of cult, exploitative 80’s horror. Some of the more extreme examples *are* referenced—Cannibal Ferox, for instance—but this is primarily a deconstruction focused on the biggest and boldest examples of horror across a decade filled to burst with many of the more legendary franchises still prevalent in popular culture today – Halloween, Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm St, Hellraiser, the list goes on. Only horror aficionados can truly attest to whether In Search of Darkness provides new insights into the genre but Weiner leaves no stone unturned in exploring all of the components that constitute 80’s horror, and the genre in general.
For someone like me, without a true grounding in the era or genre, In Search of Darkness was an illuminating watch that didn’t necessarily introduce me to a range of new films I had never before heard of, but whetted my appetite to discover and know more about the ones I had.
Weiner’s analysis here is, as stated above, deep. At over four hours, In Search of Darkness may have worked better as a mini-series as opposed to a single documentary, as it is a big commitment for one sitting.
Nonetheless, the approach is fairly forensic in how the film is structured. Weiner balances the traditional talking heads approach of commentators addressing the camera with thoughts on their given topic with clips of the films being discussed, images of the posters for each movie, and divides the film into a chronologically accessible structure. Every year of the 80’s gets around 20 minutes of coverage, picking through all of the major horror releases annually and discussing them, often with the writers, creators or stars – and many of the big names showed up for this one. John Carpenter, Joe Dante, Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Tom Atkins, Mick Garris, Stuart Gordon, Heather Langenkamp – the list goes on. A heady stream of horror legends from behind and in front of the camera discussing their iconic works.
Around this, Weiner takes us to school. Between each year is a sub-topic focusing on a specific area of the horror movie that defined the 80’s; understanding the ‘Final Girl’ theory epitomised in characters such as Halloween’s Laurie Strode; the impact of the recurring movie monster such as Michael Myers or Freddy Krueger; music and sound within 80’s horror pictures – few stones are left unturned in giving us a broad knowledge of the key aspects within Weiner’s subject base, again all delivered by the stars, writers and directors—plus ingrained critics and commentaries—who know the details so well. The film doesn’t have time to go too in-depth in all of these areas but as a starting point, In Search of Darkness is very satisfying in how it educates while entertains, telling the story of horror’s most vibrant, colourful and iconic decade.
A project that began as a Kickstarter campaign, fuelled by horror fans who wanted to see a documentary which focuses on the cinema they love, In Search of Darkness ends up being something more. While long and too broad to be more than a cursory examination of 80’s horror, it is nevertheless informative, entertaining and possessed of a brevity that belies its running time.
If you love these movies, you’ll lap it up. If you’re new to them, it will almost certainly make you want to pull a few off the shelf.
In Search of Darkness premiered in the US at Beyond Fest on October 6th.