It may sound wrong to start off a review in the first person as well stating my personal bias, but I am planning to anyway because it would be unfair for the reader and myself due to certain restrictions in my writing. First off, I love horror films of the ’80s. I grew up watching them and I became both addicted and fascinated by the ideas and metaphors (portrayed brilliantly by practical effects) that were up on-screen; all slathered in blood, gore and entrails.
When it was announced that there was going to be a documentary that explores the bountiful extravaganza of horror films from the ’80s, this reviewer reacted with joy and was beaming with excitement. From its beginnings from crowdfunding campaigns like Kickstarter to its massive ensemble of horror veterans both in front of and behind the camera, genre enthusiasts, film critics and many others; the premise sounded so tantalizing to pass up. Does In Search of Darkness live up to its promise?
Director David A. Weiner wisely splits up the film into various chapters such as the years of the decade (highlighting certain films) as well as going in-depth in various topics as to how the decade of horror has become influential i.e. how the horror genre became synonymous with holiday seasons; the use of practical effects; genre tropes like “the final girl”, the prominent use of sex and nudity in the genre and many more. It also helps that the presentation is dynamic and edited briskly enough that there is never a dull spot in its 4-hour runtime.
The films that are, for the most part, looked upon with love and affection like Evil Dead 1 and 2, Maniac, Q – The Winged Serpent, Ghost Story and so on. While most of the inputs from the participants involve praise; some of the participants talk about the influence of said films i.e. as well as the modern critical reevaluations the films have undergone i.e. The Shining, Psycho II + III and Halloween III – Season of the Witch. Thankfully the high level of praise is balanced out with reflections from filmmakers not looking back on their films positively i.e. director John Carpenter on Halloween II and how he thought the sequel was inferior due to the lack of noteworthy ideas.
There are also plenty of funny remarks that highlight other filmmakers and their stance on the horror genre — The Howling director Joe Dante‘s praise of In the Company of Wolves, and how the director of said film Neil Jordan mentioned that while making it, he said he did not want to make a “piece of shit” like The Howling — and there are moments of levity where the participants make fun of critically reviled films i.e. Maximum Overdrive and how writer/director Stephen King was on cocaine throughout the entire shoot.
Speaking of Dante, the various participants themselves are fun to listen to, whether they are fondly looking back or are amusingly taking the piss. Tom Atkins, in particular, is an absolute joy to watch; especially when he looks back on his posterior shot in Halloween III or his most cherished role in Night of the Creeps as Ray Cameron, detective and all-round badass.
Another standout is Cassandra Peterson (best known for being Elvira in Elvira – Mistress of the Dark; and many other appearances), who is just wonderfully humourous (as she also was in the documentary Electric Boogaloo, complete with a brief Sharon Stone impression) as she looks back on her iconic role as well as the horror decade. And of course, Caroline Williams is downright compelling due to her passion as a horror stalwart due to her performances in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and Stepfather II as well as her stance on female empowerment in horror films.
As for its flaws, the film does feel a bit rushed in its examination in some films; especially in the last hour, as the timing of the film examinations become more and more brief to the point that it feels like a checklist being completed. Oddly enough, there are some films that are skipped entirely for no good reason i.e. shouldn’t the first Stepfather film be mentioned, rather than just going for the sequel only? Whether it is due to permissions or lack of clout, the gaps are still quite distracting.
Overall, In Search of Darkness is a must-see for horror movie fans and is an affectionate love letter to the decade of the ’80s. Highly recommended.
FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
In Search of Darkness will be having its Australian Premiere at Monster Fest 2019 Melbourne on October 13th, 5:00pm at the Cinema Nova in Carlton. Book for tickets by pressing this link here.