Film Review: IN SEARCH OF DARKNESS (2019)

IN SEARCH OF DARKNESS *** UK 2019 Dir: David A Weiner. 264 mins

There’s no doubting the affection behind this four hour celebration of 1980s horror: the title design is lovingly modelled on Carpenter’s THE THING, the synth score (by Weary Pines and New Retro Wave) is a spry homage to the period’s soundtracks and the video wall backdrop is a warm nod to the VHS horror section of our misspent youth. Director David A Weiner has assembled talking heads pivotal to the decade’s genre output – among them, John Carpenter, Doug Bradley, Tom Holland and Greg Nicotero – and it’s lovely to hear Joe Dante enthuse about MOTEL HELL or Mick Garris reflect on watching THE SHINING for the first time. Given the running time and the presence of such great orators as the late Stuart Gordon and Larry Cohen, it is a real shame that everyone is reduced to soundbites, which means the film has moved on to the next 60 second analysis just as we’re enjoying listening to these great personalities chew the fat.

Quickly you realise that this isn’t “A Journey Into Iconic 80s Horror” at all – it’s more accurately “A Journey Into Almost Entirely American Horror With An Emphasis On The Films of Those We Managed To Interview”. A couple of British titles (A COMPANY OF WOLVES, LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM) break the disarming U.S. bias while the likes of Argento and Fulci are given the cold shoulder. While breaking down the decade’s movies year by year, sidebar interludes focus on key themes like politics and culture (Reagan, MTV, metal, AIDS etc), practical FX and franchises. Fangoria magazine is celebrated, someone says with a straight face “Ghosts in movies are so hard to pull off” and Carpenter – who deserves a solo four hour piece – is amusingly honest and cynical about HALLOWEEN II.

Depressingly, some information is just plain wrong: two different commentators refer to an actor named “Lance Hendrickson”, the 1974 MADHOUSE is included in a collage of 1983 movies and someone highlights nine minutes of gore being from MY BLOODY VALENTINE (?!). Despite the presence of some true horror greats, way too much time is devoted to the grating likes of James A Janisse of “Dead Meat”, who speaks like an automated Poster Quote Generator and somehow thinks THE EVIL DEAD feels like a documentary (!!!?). “Darci the Mail Girl” from the Joe Bob Briggs show sports cleavage more expressive than her face and has nothing interesting to say about anything, while Cassandra Peterson offers thoughtful analysis like confirming THE HUNGER is…”sexual”. It’s also fair to say that ELVIRA, MISTRESS OF THE DARK, which wasn’t even funny in 1988, doesn’t belong in any study of horror films from this period.

That said, it’s a slickly produced, easy-to-digest four hours with an incredible array of graphic, fun clips from many great movies. Several commentators shine in their brief spotlight: Alex Winter smartly dissects VIDEODROME; Don Mancini articulates beautifully about “one of the most horrifying concepts in horror” (from RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD) and Heather Langenkamp discusses the most provocative shot from A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. A switched-on Caroline Williams is terrific value as she defends the astonishing chainsaw-between-the-legs scene from Tobe Hooper’s wonderful THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE PART 2. Dante talks about toning down the gruesome stuff from GREMLINS and Carpenter recounts being fired from FIRESTARTER.

Amidst the padding and bad choices, there’s some real gems here…and the whole thing is worth it to spend time in the company of a typically jovial Tom Atkins. He’s funny and touching as he discusses his own action figure, has a flashback to Ed Harris’ dancing in CREEPSHOW and conveys massive enthusiasm for NIGHT OF THE CREEPS.

Review by Steven West

 

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