As In Search of Darkness states, the 80s was a booming time in the horror genre. There is a very good reason why the last 20 years has been rife with remakes from that period. Due to political frustrations at the time and a myriad of other fears of things going on throughout the decade. Horror found a large number of creative types who wanted to let out their emotions onto cinema in a more visceral way than standard dramas or thrillers would allow.
In Search of Darkness is a documentary detailing all of the important and intriguing horror films released in the 1980s. We talk to critics, actors and filmmakers on the importance of the films and what it meant to make horror films during this time.
To focus on the 80s is a bold move for filmmakers David A. Weiner and Robin Block. For the fact of just how much there is to talk about in the 80s for the genre. As mentioned it was a time in which there were so many horror releases coming out. Importantly, so many types of horrors that you wouldn’t know which to watch first. This is a daunting project, yet our filmmakers can navigate through In Search of Darkness so well that you almost wish they would do other decades (though they would not be as fun and eventful as the 80s).
When you see that the entire piece is almost four and a half hours you know that there will be a next-level amount of detail presented to the audience. Yet, somehow four and a half hours simply isn’t enough to cover all of the major releases of that decade. Some films are hastily spoken about when they should be given an extra minute (Hellraiser). But, that was always going to happen in a wholly comprehensive piece about the genre in that era.
A brilliant choice to pace the documentary is by focusing on each year and having mini segments/talking points to break up the years. It allows for obvious stopping points for audiences who are not able to commit over a sixth of their day to one sitting. We also do not merely focus on the big releases (though they get a bit more time in their segments). Small video nasties get mentioned and brought up. A wonderfully refreshing take that allows for those not fully immersed in the genre. To find new films that they would never have found otherwise. We also get a tonne of information about making the films that even for the biggest horror fan. Something new will come up about a specific film.
One thing that is noticeable from the very start is the love all of the interviewees have for not only their films but other films. They remember other horror films and comment on them, it feels that at the time the horror genre was one massive family. That or everyone is now friends due to conventions. Regardless, there is a positive and caring feel when everyone talks about a specific film.
Not only is there obvious love by the interviewees, Weiner, and Block has thrown all of the love and affection they have into this film. It is almost impossible to think of filmmakers who did not have the same level of love for horror directing this as these two. To their credit, they also allow for different viewpoints on some topics. Which some lavish praise on 3D, a small number deride it. The same for the idea of the use of female nudity on screen. Some female commenter thinks it was for a purpose to the story. Whereas some others comment on the unnecessary nature of it other than to stick it on the marketing to bring in audiences. This conflict on some discussions allows the audience to know that this isn’t just going to be a lovefest. But a documentary that allows for actual discussions and that is refreshing.
The short sequences in between the years are great as we see discussions about the VHS boom. Speaking about how when people were children or youths they could go and rent a multitude of films at a time. They would take staff picks or even watch horrors thanks to the beautiful cover art. VHS also allowed films that did not find their audience in theatres to thrive in the rental market. Something that during the time would not be thinkable. We return to this point later on in the documentary when it is mentioned that compares the lack of films surviving transfers from 35mm to VHS. Then from VHS to DVD and now Blu-Ray and digital transfers to how 85% of silent films are lost.
We can only sit and think that in a few years the wonderful 70s and 80s films that will be lost to us in a few decades. It isn’t likely that they will ever get that digital transfer. It is a sombre thought and one that these group of people want to make sure never happens. We need to salvage all of these films for future generations to see.
Horror as said in, In Search of Darkness, is the red-headed stepchild of cinema. It is where filmmakers go to cut their teeth before “moving on” to different genres. Yet, for fans (like myself) this is the most important genre. What other genre gets you to feel such emotions and devotion to a film? The only thing comparable as of late would be the MCU. With horror though. We know these films are not always going to be great (going through my Hellraiser review series will show you that). Yet we will keep watching. We will say we hate the previous entry, and then we will be there to watch the next. We love the genre, we love to feel scared. To feel something and no genre will ever do that as well as horror.
In Search of Darkness has an endless, glorious amount of films that get a few minutes at a time. It is difficult to think of a film that doesn’t get mentioned in some form. To do this and to have it only run (yes only) at 4 and a half hours is proof of filmmakers who know how to pace a film. At no point are you struggling with this film. For something so long, it flows so smoothly and quickly. A true testament to the ability of Weiner and Block.
The only problem with In Search of Darkness is that you are entirely consumed by it, that you would want it to be so much longer than what it is. I am sure there are so many hours of footage not used here. Honestly I would not be upset if a full 10-hour version was released down the line split up in a miniseries with an hour given to each year. I am certain there is enough footage to allow this. Again, this is barely a critique as there is so much to enjoy here. That is probably just the horror fan in me who always wants more.
(It should be noted, that I am way behind on the sequel. With its pre sale for the effects heavy side finishing in October)
What makes this documentary work so well is that even if you are not a fan of horror or 80s horror. You will find something to enjoy here. This was an important point of cinema at the time and it aided in pushing the envelope. Without the films in this decade we would not have the directors who would go on to make the biggest films in future decades. For the cinephile, In Search of Darkness is essential viewing and you will most likely put it on repeat. A tremendous piece of work.
Available on Shudder now.
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