[Review] ‘IN SEARCH OF DARKNESS’ a comprehensive doc on horror’s biggest decade – the ’80s

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Travis Leamons // Film Critic

IN SEARCH OF DARKNESS: A JOURNEY INTO ICONIC ’80s

Not rated, 260 minutes.
Director: David A. Weiner
Cast: John Carpenter, Heather Langenkamp, Joe Dante, Barbara Crampton, Katie Featherston, Kane Hodder, Nick Castle, Tom Holland, Stuart Gordon, Greg Nicotero, Cassandra Peterson, Tom Atkins, Andre Gower, Doug Bradley, Mick Garris, Ryan Turek and Larry Cohen

IN SEARCH OF DARKNESS: A JOURNEY INTO ICONIC ‘80s HORROR sets out to be an all-encompassing documentary about a genre that served as a rite of passage for me as a child. Thanks to my parents’ lenient viewing restrictions, I was able to see my first horror movie at the age of six. It occurred during a sleepover at a daycare center. Not sure which one of those is worse. Nonetheless, I was desensitized to blood and violence early in life growing up with Freddy and Jason, killer clowns, poltergeists, gremlins, and wishing I was part of the Monster Squad. What a glorious time to be a kid.

Writer-director David A. Weiner must have had a similar fondness when he took on a project that ultimately clocks in at more than four hours in length and is backed by thousands through Indiegogo and Kickstarter. Such love for genre film is felt by the talent Weiner assembles. They talk about the 1980s and how horror and its subgenres both changed and reflected the landscape of America.

Participants include filmmakers John Carpenter, Mick Garris , Tom Holland and Joe Dante; A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET scream queen Heather Langenkamp; practical effects experts Greg Nicotero and Tom Woodruff, Jr.; and horror icons Kane Hodder (who played Jason Voorhees four times), Tom Atkins and Doug Bradley. That’s just a small sample.

Unlike the CNN docuseries THE MOVIES, which flips among motifs and trends for a given decade, DARKNESS is framed chronologically. It starts with 1980 and the divisiveness that came with Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s THE SHINING and moving through Jason leaving Crystal Lake and taking Manhattan. In between the years are segments that hit on specific topics related to ’80s horror. Phil Nobile, Jr., the Editor-in-Chief of FANGORIA magazine, recalls the VHS boom and how the format and advent of cable television made titles that much more accessible. Nobile would also add that while the horror genre prospered greatly during the ‘80s, many titles that didn’t make the leap from VHS to DVD are less likely to make it to Blu-ray. (Seriously, how has Michael Mann’s THE KEEP not had a proper DVD release in North America?)

Weiner’s kitchen-sink approach mirrors the abhorrent excess of the 80s, and his documentary should play well with passionate horror fans. But they shouldn’t expect a critical examination. IN SEARCH OF DARKNESS could easily be a miniseries, titled I LOVE ‘80S HORROR. Too many enthusiasts and pop culture podcasters weigh in on the genre.

In a year that has also given us the exceptional HORROR NOIRE: A HISTORY OF BLACK HORROR and SCREAM, QUEEN! MY NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, two documentaries topic specific to race and sexuality in horror, Weiner’s documentary is splattered with superfluous remarks with little or no context. Even a section on memorable heroes and the progression of females as the sole survivor feels like a missed opportunity for theoretical introspection.

If there were an independent study program on ‘80s horror, I’d encourage students to watch both of those documentaries alongside DARKNESS for a broader look at the genre. Still, Weiner’s documentary covers pretty much everything that made the decade so great. Attention is paid to the rise of the holiday slasher subgenre, the 3D horror craze with the likes of PARASITE and FRIDAY THE 13th PART III (with Harry Manfredini’s disco-influenced score also lauded), fans’ unbridled devotion to the genre, and where horror is going.

IN SEARCH OF DARKNESS is long and extensive but never feels like a slog to sit through. Minus some oversights (no foreign horror?) and unintended flaws, horror junkies will get more than their pound of tenderized flesh with this one.

Grade: B+

The limited run of IN SEARCH OF DARKNESS is only available until midnight Halloween. This is your last chance to order the documentary in time for Christmas! Visit https://80shorrordoc.com for all information!

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