My Journey ‘In Search of Darkness’

Devoted followers of IT CAME FROM… may have noticed that I have been posting less on the website (but still plenty of fun, curated stuff on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr) overall this year. It’s for a good reason, however. I had the opportunity to write and direct (and produce) a documentary on ’80s horror movies called IN SEARCH OF DARKNESS. It was my feature-film debut and I had a blast. The experience also fulfilled a lifelong dream to direct a high-profile project.

 

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With John Carpenter, post-interview.

 

A nostalgic deep-dive journey into one of the most beloved decades of genre filmmaking, the four-plus-hour IN SEARCH OF DARKNESS features critical takes and insider tales of the Hollywood filmmaking experience from horror icons and experts including John Carpenter, Tom Atkins, Doug Bradley, Heather Langenkamp, Joe Bob Briggs, the late Larry Cohen, Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Stuart Gordon, Sean S. Cunningham, Joe Dante, Keith David, Katie Featherston, Mick Garris, Kane Hodder, Tom Holland, Lloyd Kaufman, Bill Moseley, Greg Nicotero, Phil Nobile Jr., Cassandra Peterson, James Rolfe, Corey Taylor, Caroline Williams, and Alex Winter.

 

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Amazing custom IN SEARCH OF DARKNESS art by celebrated poster artist Graham Humphreys.

 

The growing cast (a total of 47 interviewed) was like a snowball effect, and I have to admit that I was simply amazed — not only at how many incredible names attached themselves to this project, but how enthusiastic they each were to share their own stories and simply geek out over their own favorite films and franchises of the decade, from THE SHINING, MANIAC, THE THING, FRIGHT NIGHT and CAT PEOPLE to CHOPPING MALL, PHANTASM II, PSYCHO III, RE-ANIMATOR, EVIL DEAD II, PUMPKINHEAD, THE MONSTER SQUAD, AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON and even SOCIETY and KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE.

 

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Interviewing Jason Voorhees himself, Kane Hodder, at his home.

 

Structured year by year, spotlighting several key releases (major theatrical releases, obscure titles and straight-to-video gems) for each year from 1980-1989, the film also includes interstitial chapters covering broader topics including groundbreaking practical effects; the home-video revolution; poster art and project marketing; creative and budgetary challenges; sound design and musical scores; the 3-D resurgence; heroes and villains; sex, nudity and “the final girl” controversy; and the pop-culture context of what fueled the genre and the ways it responded to the times. 

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IN SEARCH OF DARKNESS was conceptualized and executive produced by Robin Block of CreatorVC in London, and I am grateful to have worked with such a devoted and trusting producer who gave me the freedom to create such an epic undertaking.

 

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RE-ANIMATOR star Barbara Crampton on set.

 

Anyone interested in a more detailed account of how IN SEARCH OF DARKNESS came about, I recommend reading these interviews I conducted with Moviehole and with Promote Horror, in which I detail the origins of the project, the interview and editing process, the methods to my madness of encapsulating a decade’s worth of filmmaking, and much more.

 

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Beyond Fest Premiere at Hollywood’s Egyptian Theatre: Brian Yuzna (Re-Animator, Society), Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator, From Beyond), David Weiner (director) Kelli Maroney (Night of the Comet, Chopping Mall), Robin Block (producer), Caroline Williams (Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2), Mick Garris (Critters 2).

 

 

A crowdfunded project on Kickstarter and Indiegogo, IN SEARCH OF DARKNESS was released to backers and made available to the public for a limited time this past October on 80sHorrorDoc.com. The film was incredibly well-received by horror fans and movie lovers alike (though I got critically drubbed by a few blogger gems like THIS ONE, which gave me a chuckle). In fact, I was honestly blown away by the positive response, and I’m sharing one especially nice interview by Forbes below, as it was nice to be so wonderfully recognized by a notable publication outside the horror community bubble.

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By Josh Weiss

Before Stranger Things, there was Firestarter and Poltergeist

If you like TV shows and films influenced by the 1980s, you seriously need to watch In Search of Darkness—a wildly ambitious and exhaustive documentary that pulls back the curtain on our current cultural fascination with genre movies of the Reagan Era. Making his directorial debut, David Weiner has crafted a scary good magnum opus on his very first attempt.

A full-length documentary could be made about any of the horror flicks released in the ‘80s, but instead of choosing to focus on one, In Search of Darkness chooses to dissect them all. The result is a 4-hour deep dive into movies like The Shining and Child’s Play (those are just two out of dozens) and while that may sound unwieldy for some, you can rest assured that this is something you never knew you needed until you’ve laid eyes on it. At times, you’ll be lost in wonder at how this comprehensively epic behemoth was cut together in the first place.

Covering every single year of ‘80s horror, In Search of Darkness doesn’t just look at how the iconic films of that era were made; it also adopts a sociological approach to try and understand what led to their conception and why they’ve endured all these decades later.

For example, the documentary posits that the root of all these famous flicks can be traced back to the hair-raising concept known simply as politics. According to some folks, the gore, nudity, and social commentary seen in ’80s horror films were all a knee jerk reaction to the rise in conservatism and capitalist ideology following Ronald Reagan’s ascent to the White House in 1980.

Well, that and cocaine. Lots and lots of cocaine.

But just when you think the film is staying in one area, it pivots to another bone-chilling topic. Like the shape-shifting alien in John Carpenter’s The Thing, In Search of Darkness is an ever-changing creature that doesn’t fit into just one category. One could say it’s got the DNA of multiple movies in one body. You’ll learn about A Nightmare on Elm Street one minute and The Toxic Avenger the next—whether it’s cult or mainstream, the documentary has you covered.

Because of the project’s wide scope, it has a little something for everyone, die-hards and casuals alike. This is mandatory viewing for lovers of horror-comedy, sci-fi horror, creature features, allegorical horror, or any other kind of horror, really.

Even if you don’t like being scared, there’s just too much history here to ignore. Since the films of the 1980s offer excellent case studies in psychology, marketing, and franchise creation, screening certain sections of In Search of Darkness college classes would be totally justified. You’re welcome, professors!

To break up each year of the decade, Weiner employs fascinating and critical interludes that tackle eye-popping poster art; the advent of home video; the holiday-horror sub-genre; great slasher villains (e.g. Michael, Freddy, and Jason); in-camera practical effects; sound design and music; and the concept of the “Final Girl.” 

All of it gives you a better appreciation of what tropes and practices contributed to what we consider to be ‘80s horror, and how the shockwaves of it are still being felt to this day. It’s really cool seeing what bits and pieces have been carried over into the 21st Century.

A sizable handful of films (a good chunk of them Stephen King adaptations) is explored for each year and with them, the viewer is treated to behind-the-scenes tidbits as well as hindsight reflections stemming from a modern day lens. There’s just so much to unpack here, and it’ll surely warrant multiple viewings from fans and historians. At a certain point, it begins to resemble those “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die” books more than it does a documentary.

That may sound like a criticism, but this “Greatest Hits” method actually makes the finished product feel breezy and fun. Nothing overstays its welcome and just when you might feel like things are lingering an iota too long, you’re on to the next spooky adventure. There’s always something new and frightening to discover.

That said, there is cursing, gore, and nudity on display here, so you may not want to watch this with young kids. Even so, the choice to not censor the more sensitive elements of ‘80s cinema is an indication of the seriousness and respect Weiner has for what he is documenting.

In Search of Darkness truly understands that scares are best enjoyed with some company. To that end, it couldn’t have a better collection of actors, directors, writers, and horror hosts if it tried. Joe Dante, Keith David, Caroline Williams, Brian Yuzna, James A. Janisse, Bob Briggs, Tom Woodruff Jr. Cassandra Peterson, Jeffrey Combs, John Carpenter, Tom Atkins, Alex Winter, the late Larry Cohen, and so many others are all present for an ‘80s high school reunion of sorts.

It’s the equivalent of hanging out with your friends on a weekend afternoon and shooting the breeze about your favorite pop culture moments until the shadows grow long and menacing. The documentary takes on a fitting campfire-like quality where everyone is just sitting around and swapping literal horror stories. There’s just something very earnest about that and by the end, you’ll feel like you’re buddies with Barbara Crampton, Alex Winter, Joe Dante, and the rest.

This is a definitive, intimate, anecdotal, thematic, funny, and loving oral history of a decade that changed the face of big screen horror forever. Fulfilling the dearest wishes of Ray Cameron in Night of the Creeps, it will thrill you.

You can pick up the film on Blu-Ray or DVD right here. Purchases can only be made until midnight on Oct. 31 (aka Halloween). Deliveries are expected to be completed in November.

Next up for me is a new, epic-length documentary on ’80s Sci-Fi movies called IN SEARCH OF TOMORROW, as well as expected expanded editions of IN SEARCH OF DARKNESS. Stay tuned…!

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