I want to kick this off with my own personal history with the horror genre. It’s a simple one really. Growing up: scared shitless. Couldn’t even handle slightly scary episodes of sitcoms up to an embarrassing age. Around about freshman year of high school was when I began to transform into a horror hound, falling in love with films like Suspiria and Jacob’s Ladder, and beginning work on horror scripts of my own. When I had gotten wind of the In Search of Darkness project, while I wasn’t in a position to contribute at the time, I kept a close eye on it. The prospect of a large-scale documentary exploring the whole of 80s horror, the decade that birthed iconic franchises like Friday the 13th and immaculate one-offs like Tenebrae, was simply fantastic. And once the Blu-ray disc was in hand, I threw it in the player and embarked on what I hoped to be a most informative journey.
There is a lot to love about In Search of Darkness. It is not so much a documentary in the super in-depth behind-the-scenes sense, but this gloriously overdone YouTube retrospective, full of people who were there on the sets, and those who appreciate the resulting horrors by the powers invested in home video, magazines, and the internet. The result is like this amazing kaleidoscope of horror cinema from across the decade, loaded with talking heads from both then and now, and filmmakers from both then and now. It’s an undeniable treat to have everyone from directors like John Carpenter and Joe Dante in the same filmic space as Lloyd Kaufman and Stuart Gordon, let alone the fact that YouTubers like James Rolfe of Angry Video Game Nerd and Cinemassacre fame, and Dead Meat’s James A. Janisse are in the mix. The wealth of informative voices present take time to explore each individual year as well as tropes and concepts surrounding horror within the decade. It all moves along effortlessly thanks to the guiding hand of director David A. Weiner, making the admittedly lengthy runtime fly by. However, as strong as it is, there are two flaws in its design that strike me as damaging.
The first is the lack of archival interviews. I get that this might have resulted in plenty of copyright headaches, but to be the “definitive documentary” on 80s horror, I feel you owe it to include the voices of the legends who have since passed, as well as those who are still with us. Directors George Romero and Wes Craven in particular feel unheard in spite of the focus on some of their pictures, as well as actors like Robert Englund and effects men like Tom Savini, Rick Baker, and Rob Bottin. I know that there may be some visual dissonance between the brand-spanking, peak HD footage with plenty of amazing talent and a shot-on-video interview from the bonus features of a DVD, but it would add a greater holistic quality to the piece to hear these voices brought into the fold as opposed to simply being talked of.
Speaking of holistic, that brings me to my second massive gripe: the choice of focus. When I hear “the definitive 80s horror documentary,” I am thinking we are going to dive into classics and the obscure, but on a truly global scale. So, when I’m over an hour in and find myself treated to the fruits of Canadian and American horror and a hatful of UK-co-productions, I’m left scratching my head. Where’s the Italian horror, the handful of fellow Euro-horror flicks like Nekromantik, the odd Asian horror like Testuo: The Iron Man? I’m not asking for every one of Lucio Fulci’s poor-man films to be included (“oh heavens, won’t someone please think of…Sodoma’s Ghost!”). However, if you have time in your 4-hour documentary to make note of every cotton-picking Stephen King picture that ran through a projector, as well as plenty of under-the-radar flicks like the 1980 slasher Fade to Black, you cannot tell me with a straight face that you couldn’t pinch out a couple of words on pictures like Cannibal Holocaust, Tenebrae, The Beyond, or Demons, films that have made an undeniable impact on horror as a genre and culture. As the old saying goes, I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed.
Also, as a bit of an aside, there was one detail that went overlooked in regard to An American Werewolf in London that particularly confounded me: the Michael Jackson connection. I get that 2019 wasn’t the brightest year for the late King of Pop’s legacy following the salacious allegations made in the HBO documentary Leaving Neverland and the subsequent scramble to explore and pick apart the allegations made, but the simple fact remains: Thriller was an undeniable cultural force in the 1980s and the music video that spawned from the title track was one of the biggest blockbusters in the days of MTV. And it was a blockbuster completely in debt to An American Werewolf in London. Jackson was a fan of the film, and thus commandeered director John Landis, effects wizard Rick Baker, and leftover score material by Elmer Bernstein to conjure up the now legendary mini-motion picture. Again, if you have the time in your four-hour documentary to detail practically every single sequel in every single franchise in the 1980s (to the point of ignoring inaugural efforts in the cases of The Stepfather and Critters), you could spare a few words detailing how one of the products of the early 80s werewolf boom gave way to one of the greatest watershed moments in popular music and culture. And it is not like you weren’t in the company of collaborators, as Mick Garris was the mastermind behind the original 1993 Addams Family Values music video that evolved into Jackson’s 1996 fantasy horror featurette Ghosts.
When all’s said and done, I’m not disappointed enough to say it’s bad, or merely average. What the team behind In Search of Darkness have achieved here is nothing to turn your nose up at. It’s combing over a decade that revolutionized the horror genre in many ways with substantial depth. Not the greatest of depth as previously detailed, but the gargantuan runtime never wears on you, and, in the end, is a most engaging doc that is loaded with plenty of fun facts, anecdotes, and a wonderful atmosphere of love for the genre. Recommended to both horror fans and patient newcomers (seriously make sure you have an evening or afternoon to spare)…if you can get your hands on it.
2021 UPDATE: Below is the original paragraph about the state of availability at the time of this article’s publication. I am pleased to bring our readers the news of where you can find In Search of Darkness today. The titanic documentary can be seen through AMC+ and horror streaming service Shudder, so if you have currently joined either service, or are interested in them, perhaps In Search of Darkness may prove to be an incentive for some. However, the concluding paragraph will remain in the piece as it is worth mentioning the history of options prior to these revelations.
Usually, if I am more than willing to recommend a film to our readers, I will give them every available option they have to see it. Unfortunately, I find that In Search of Darkness is unfairly limited in its release. I purchased my copy in a flash sale, but I would much prefer to see a viable, affordable VOD option for those of us who haven’t been able to afford to contribute to the campaign or who have missed the flash sales. As of now, the only way to get your hands on it is subscribing to CreatorVC’s newsletter in regards to In Search of Darkness here and praying for something to be in the pipeline, or if you are drunk enough and have the money to spend, literally dropping anywhere from $150 to $2,000 to access it for streaming and download over on Vimeo. I’m not even joking. With any luck, something from the gang at CreatorVC will be coming soon to the World Wide Web as I do believe In Search of Darkness is a film every horror fan and newcomer should be able to see as its retrospective qualities make it an excellent gateway to not only 80s horror, but horror as a whole.