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New Release Review [Shudder] - IN SEARCH OF DARKNESS

In Search of Darkness review
An exploration of '80s horror movies.


Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: David A. Weiner

In Search of Darkness poster


In terms of quality, the '80s wasn't the greatest decade for horror, falling considerably behind the decade that preceded it, which gave us the likes of Halloween, The Omen, The Exorcist, Jaws, The Hills Have Eyes etc. And if we're talking quantity, well there are probably more horror movies released in the average year now than in the entirety of that decade, thanks to how digital filmmaking has opened the doors for an army of opportunistic hacks. But the '80s holds a special place in the hearts of horror fans of a certain generation, chiefly thanks to the phenomenon of the video store. It's hard to express the cheap childhood thrill of perusing your local video store's horror shelves, becoming entranced (and sometimes a little disturbed) by the lurid cover art, gruesome stills and hyperbolic blurbs. With his lengthy documentary In Search of Darkness, filmmaker David A. Wiener goes some way to reminding us of those glory days.


In Search of Darkness review

If you've ever seen any of those "100 Greatest..." shows that pop up on weekend TV, you'll be familiar with the format used here. Thankfully, we don't have to endure the muggings of any c-list comedians with this one, as Wiener has assembled one hell of a roster of talking heads. Practically everyone you can think of in connection with '80s American horror (who is still with us at least) pops up here at some point. There are filmmakers (John Carpenter, Joe Dante, Larry Cohen, Stuart Gordon, Brian Yuzna, to name a few), actors (rather than listing them off, it's quicker to mention that Jamie Lee Curtis is the only major absentee), and a supplementary host of critics, fans and experts.


In Search of Darkness review

Wiener takes the novel approach of taking us through the decade year by year. This has both its strengths and weaknesses. It serves to highlight just how strong some individual years were, and allows us to trace the evolution of horror from the slasher craze that kicked off the '80s to the fad for miniature menaces (Child's Play, Critters, Dolls et al) that the decade went out on. But it eventually becomes somewhat laborious. With so many sequels discussed, the same points are rehashed several times, and I can't help but think it would have been more satisfying to divide the films up thematically rather than chronologically. Much of the information imparted is also recycled in the doc's many sidebars, which focus on specific subjects like practical effects, the genre's roles for women, the 3D fad, soundtracks and nudity. Some clever editing could have cut the film's 260 minute runtime down considerably.

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While I can't think of too many North American titles that are conspicuous by their absence, the doc's refusal to engage with world cinema means it's a far from comprehensive overview of '80s horror. Italian gems like Opera, Inferno, The Beyond, Demons and Stage Fright are bizarrely absent, yet the doc finds time to discuss all eight Friday the 13th sequels released during the decade. There's also no discussion of how the genre was attacked by conservatives and religious groups throughout the decade, with no reference to how the UK's farcical Video Nasties debacle, America's Satanic Panic and general tabloid scaremongering made the '80s a potentially dangerous time to be a horror fan.


In Search of Darkness review

In Search of Darkness is best viewed as a filmic version of the sort of encyclopaedic books young horror fans once pored over. If you're a veteran horror buff you're unlikely to learn anything new here or stumble across titles that may have eluded you. But as an entry level overview of American '80s horror, it serves as an ideal introduction for those beginning their journey into the world of horror fandom. If you grew up in the '80s and now have kids of your own reaching the age where they can indulge in the genre's delights, the four and a half hours of In Search of Darkness should serve as quite the primer for leading them down the path to horror geekdom.

In Search of Darkness is on Shudder from July 30th.






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