In Search of Darkness, a crowdfunded documentary that showcases 80s horror, is the ultimate nostalgia trip. For anyone who grew up in the 80s or otherwise quenched their passion for horror on the films of this decade, this 4-hour-plus love letter will have you pining for the days when more was really more – more blood, gorier special effects, but not necessarily more budget. Nor, when we look at the 80s oeuvre as a whole, more quality.
Because while this documentary, directed by David Weiner, revels with childish glee at this often schlocky decade, but one that nonetheless brought us titles which will go down as classics of the genre, there are those who’d consider the curtain of the second Golden Age of American horror films to have already fallen. Mark Gatiss, in his 2010 BBC documentary A History of Horror, says that Halloween (1978) “is the consummate slasher film [but] I’m not so enthusiastic about its legacy. A slough of lower-quality, increasingly gory serial killer outings that would overwhelm the genre for years to come, like horror’s equivalent of Dutch Elm Disease.” While Gatiss is referring to a specific sub-genre of 80s horror, this sentiment could be applied to the decade as a whole, even if there are notable outliers. The reason I bring this up at all is that your enjoyment of In Search of Darkness will depend not only on your sense of nostalgia but your own critical consensus of the films of this period.
In Search of Darkness calls itself “the definitive 80s horror documentary”. I would add one amendment: the definitive 80s US horror documentary. This is an America-centric film and you won’t find, for example, any of the interesting Euro-horror films of this period. And therefore, nor will you find any commentary from anyone who doesn’t have an American perspective. This is fine, of course, because the film intends to indulge the memory of a particular breed of horror fan, but its tagline suggests you’re getting something more all-encompassing.
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What you are getting is a discussion show-reel of the key American horror films of the decade, year by year, often featuring commentary from the very people who were involved in their making. There are some impressive names here, too – John Carpenter being one of the star inclusions. Further commentary is provided by journalists and content-creators, all of whom share the same enthusiasm for this decade and highlight a key element that this documentary celebrates other than the films: the horror fandom. This documentary knows who its audience is – other horror fans – and doesn’t attempt to win anyone else over. As Doug Bradley (aka Pinhead) in the documentary says: “they are the most loyal, the most knowledgable fan base that anybody could wish to have.”
A documentary by and for horror fans, then, and I suppose you’d have to be to sit through over four hours of it (this extended version is the version being premiered at theatres). Unless you’re fanatic for these films, I’d more sensibly suggest you dip in and out of the documentary, perhaps if you’re looking for inspiration on which film to fill your evening with. As a result of its length, In Search of Darkness will serve as great reference material.
Interspersed with the film commentary are discussions on other key themes, such as the socio-political background to the decade, the evolution of special effects, memorable soundtracks, low-budget and B-movies, and the iconic women of 80s horror. The result is a comprehensive examination of the 80s that attempts to leave as few stones unturned as possible. And that’s where I’d imagine the benefit of a crowdfunded model comes in: there’s no way this documentary could have been as indulgent as it is were it backed by a major studio.
In Search of Darkness is a geeky and passionate tribute to American 80s horror films that will either have you grinning in reminiscence or noting down all the films you haven’t watched.