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In Search of Darkness Documentary Review

In Search of Darkness Documentary Review

by Jessica Gomez on October 18th, 2019 | | , ,

In Search of Darkness has been surrounded by a flurry of hype and great expectations from one of the most passionate groups of all film viewers: horror fans. Filmmakers David A. Weiner and Robin Block were incredibly aspirational to take on an entire decade of the most transitional time in horror history. But they did it, and they did it well. 

The documentary, which is over 4 hours (don’t let it deter you, it’s a necessity to properly iterate the importance of the movies through the entire decade), breaks down the segments into easily digestible themes, and the films are discussed in order by year. 

The socio-political landscape in the 80s left a giant hole that only art could fill. People without a release for their frustrations in their own lives within an oppressive society turned to music and film to help fill in the gap. The doc explores how the decade’s issues allowed for film to explore taboo topics with a built-in audience, and no genre did it better than horror. 

Tom Holland kicks off the documentary by referring to horror as “the red-headed stepchild” of film, which couldn’t be more accurate. Horror has been snubbed time and again by the film industry, as evidenced by spliced in reviews from Siskel & Ebert, neither of whom understood horror. However, the interviewees make a great point: being dismissed freed filmmakers from the confines of trying to make something just to gain positive reception. Instead, by doing what they wanted to do and taking things as far as they wanted to take them, the artistry never suffered. 

Many actors and nearly all of your favorite horror directors and producers (and cult favorite reviewer Joe Bob Briggs) are interviewed – the film is as comprehensive as it could possibly be, which is a true testament to the credibility of the creators. Origin stories of many of the films are explored, as are behind-the-scenes stories and differences of opinion on the outcomes of films. Some flattering, and some not-so-flattering, opinions are shared. (For example, how 3D effects interfered with the decency of Friday the 13th Part 3, or John Carpenter admitting that he phoned it in for the screenplay for Halloween II.) Horror has never been given its due for its larger underlying themes, as its social commentary, its allegories, and its ties to mythology go over the heads of many mainstream viewers (and mainstream critics). The doc spends only a few minutes on each film since there are so many to get through, but even quick analyses from interviewees who truly understand the films substantiate that horror is deeper than what initially meets the eye.

The 80s were a time when Blockbuster was king, and the VHS boom was an essential part of the explosion of 80s horror. Anyone from teenagers looking for videos with their friends to collectors purchasing cassettes to show off lent a hand in horror rising to prominence. Art became a large part of the horror genre in this decade as video cover art became imperative to a horror film’s success – viewers would choose videos based entirely on the cover art. 

The 80s quickly became a crucial time when creative expression was revered, and special effects artists became more liberated to experiment, blazing the trail for future filmmakers and SFX hopefuls. In Search of Darkness showcases, through thoughtful interviews of special effects designers and filmmakers, that the success of horror films in the 80s largely relied on those effects. Today’s viewers may find some of the effects dated, but as the documentary points out, this was a time before CGI. What you saw on-screen was something that had to actually happen in front of a camera. To think about the scenes in films such as Videodrome, A Nightmare on Elm Street, or My Bloody Valentine – they stand the test of time, and they were all created through the ingenuity of their respective special effects artists. Simply put, no one in the film industry at that time was doing what the special effects teams were doing in horror. 

The launch of horror magazine FANGORIA in 1979 displayed these artists, making them cult heroes in their own right. Current FANGORIA Editor-In-Chief Phil Nobile Jr. speaks to the legacy of Fangoria, but he also brings a ton of interesting and pointed analysis as a fan to many of the films discussed in the doc. 

In Search of Darkness proves that the 80s is definitely the decade with the largest number of recognizable horror films. But it doesn’t just discuss the blockbusters or the classics; it also brings up the smaller movies that are just as important to the genre but have since gone by the wayside in the mainstream, including Fade to Black, Motel Hell, Maniac, and Ghost Story. Each film explored served a purpose in the horror industry, whether it was furthering how far one could psychologically push the envelope, how scary a film could get on a tiny budget such as in Evil Dead, or special effects that no one knew could be done because each movie seemed to be doing something new and cutting-edge. 

The decade also birthed the beginning of villains becoming fan favorites with anti-heroes such as Freddy or Jason, and as a result, horror franchises became commonplace. The doc calls this period of time the “Rise of the Final Girl”, a theme that is still prevalent in most horror films today. Women were able to become their own heroes, turning themselves from victims into warriors, taking their survival into their own hands in a way they weren’t able to in other genres. Interestingly, some of the female actors interviewed don’t appreciate the term ‘final girl’ – I’ll leave that segment for you to watch and determine your opinion. (Also examined: the exploitation of women in horror.)

Eighties horror also brought an important change for minorities – though there were, unfortunately, very few films with minorities as the protagonist, there was minority representation in horror films that wasn’t as prevalent in other mainstream films. The documentary brought to light that Wes Craven specifically wanted to make certain that a minority survived in Elm Street 3 to get to a sequel (even if just for a moment). 

Also discussed is one of the most important aspects of horror film – the music and sound engineering. The changeover in the 80s to digital music and John Carpenter bringing synth to horror scores was an important turning point for making horror more visceral. 

The interviews from some of the most important and prominent filmmakers and actors in horror aren’t fluff – every sentence held importance, and it was gratifying as a horror fan watching such poignant interviews from actors who understand horror on a transcendent level. 

In Search of Darkness proves that 80s horror filmmakers were pioneers, innovating on a path that was never rewarded critically. Still, they forged on, and as a result, the genre morphed into a colorful, stylish, self-aware, boundary-pushing, politically adept class that would change the course of horror forever. 

If you aren’t a huge fan of 80s horror, or you write off the films from that period as too campy, I challenge you to watch the full documentary and come out the other side with the same opinion. If you love 80s horror, rest assured that it’s obvious that Weiner and Block love it too; they set out to create a love letter to the horror films of the decade, and what they produced will make you that much more appreciative of the trailblazing decade of film. 

The commentary was carefully selected and edited to create a film that is as important as it is entertaining. It’s well-researched, well-rounded, and filmed without bias. A masterpiece worthy of the most important decade of horror, In Search of Darkness is required viewing. Pre-order the documentary now – it’s only available until Halloween night. 



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