Horror has to be the most fascinating genre in all of film. Despite having few big-name stars buy into the genre before modern times, horror films have always performed vastly outside of their budgets due to their embrace of visceral thrills and cultural taboos. Something about horror just connects to a deep, dark trench that lives within us, and it is this trench that In Search of Darkness seeks to explore.
Aiming its focus at the undeniable golden age of horror — the 80s — In Search of Darkness breaks down the decade that brought horror into the mainstream, and how it all happened. This may sound small-minded, or even passe, in terms of a focus, but even the most ardent horror hounds or film nerds would be hard-pressed to recall just how many iconic horror films emerged during such a short period of time.
In Search of Darkness is a great reminder, in this regard, of just what the 80s was — not just politically, but culturally. Between Reaganomics and the AIDS crisis, MTV and the Satanic panic, the 80s was so rife with anxiety and despair over a societal changing of the guard that audiences seemed to pine for a way to deal with their fears in a safe and healthy way. Hence, the horror revolution of the 80s.
Breaking down this revolution in painstaking detail, writer-director David A. Weiner revels in diving deep into the nuance and inspiration behind some of the most iconic and memorable horror films of all time. Everyone from actors, screenwriters, and directors to composers, fans, and aficionados are interviewed with incredible depth, as he takes us down his haunted memory lane.
A horror fan’s wet dream of subjects provides the backdrop for this nostalgic horror fest. John Carpenter, Keith David, Cassandra Peterson, Bill Moseley, Heather Langenkamp, Joe Bob Briggs, Greg Nicotero, Nick Castle, Kane Hodder, Alex Winter, and Caroline Williams all make appearances, but the list goes far beyond that. In fact, the most impressive thing about In Search of Darkness might be the insane level of scope that Weiner and his team bring to the film.
Few documentaries will leave you as awestruck by the credits as this film does. Hundreds and hundreds of films have been pored over in explicit detail to put together the disparate pieces of this movie, and it is truly impressive to see them all listed together. Production stills, soundtracks, trailers, posters — everything has been sourced and cataloged, and the amount of effort in terms of man hours will certainly reach into the thousands.
Speaking of hours, one of the biggest shocks of In Search of Darkness is its runtime. Coming in at an intimidating four hours and eighteen minutes, this movie is not the fluffy horror doc you might imagine it to be. It’s a very serious time commitment, but luckily, the compartmentalized nature of the subject matter makes it easy to digest the film over multiple viewing stretches.
Essentially In Search of Darkness follows a chronological breakdown of horror in the 80s, year by year, interspersing different motifs here and there to break things up. Segments focusing on final girls, iconic soundtracks, and VHS covers, for example, all make appearances throughout. These details provide vital context for viewers, particularly those who may not have been at the age of reason (or even the age of being alive) during this formative time in the genre.
The importance of history cannot be overstated, especially when looking back at a time as strange and troubled as the 80s. The rise of consumerism and materialism, the format war between VHS and Betamax, and the beginning of the 24-hour news cycle are all elements of what inspired and enriched these films, and In Search of Darkness is interested in parsing out every little bit of these details.
With that in mind, it’s worth pointing out that a film this in-depth is not for everyone. At over four hours, In Search of Darkness might not be worthwhile for those who lack a serious passion for the genre. Though a theatrical cut has been announced, coming in at closer to the 90-minute mark, we haven’t seen that version of the film and, as such, can’t comment on it.
In any case, In Search of Darkness is a film for the people who sat up long after their parents had gone to bed on a Friday night. It’s a movie for the kids who had a local video store that scoffed at the ratings system, and rented whatever to whoever. And finally, it’s a movie for the weirdos and misfits who have been obsessed with the darker side of things for as long as they can remember.
If this sounds like you, then even with its daunting runtime In Search of Darkness is a film you will absolutely devour. If not (and that’s okay), you might be better off waiting for the shorter cut to arrive after the film premieres at Beyond Fest. Either way, if you’re a big-time horror fan, this is a film worth seeing, regardless of which cut is better suited to your fancy.