It was a time when horror reigned supreme, when slasher icons stabbed their way through cinemas, when practical effects oozed from the pores of mind-bending creations that had to be seen on the big screen to be believed. It was the ’80s, and this magical era of horror is dissected with more than 40 top-level interviews in the new documentary In Search of Darkness.
With just a few days remaining on the documentary's final Indiegogo campaign, Daily Dead had the great pleasure of talking with one of the key interviewees from In Search of Darkness, legendary filmmaker Tom Holland, who discussed some of the main themes that will be covered in the new documentary, including the industry's mindset of horror in the ’80s, the decades-long endurance of the genre, and the groundbreaking practical effects that were used in Fright Night and Child's Play.
Was In Search of Darkness something you immediately wanted to do once you learned about how they were approaching the topic of ’80s horror?
Tom Holland: It was Heather [Wixson]. I've known Heather since I first became aware of the growing fandom out there in horror. Heather and Brian [Smith] sort of led me into it. I have a lot of respect for Heather, and she and Brian have been friends for a long time.
Throughout the ’80s, you were writing and directing with movies like Fright Night and Child's Play, and horror was so huge at the time. Why do you think it was as big as it was in that decade? It almost seems unprecedented. Now, when you look back at it, it's this perfect storm of creativity that was happening, and you were in the center of it.
Tom Holland: I didn't have a sense of it that way, but you came off of the ’70s when the major studios fell apart and lost their death grip on the content. They got lost. They didn't know what to do.
All kinds of interesting material was being done as mainstream films, but the way into the business had always been through low-budget movies. Low budget in those days, it became horror, but really it started out being motorcycle films and stuff like that.
Then, all the Roger Corman films and knockoffs, those were the ways to get in. This is maybe a little hard now to think of, but horror was really looked down on. It was the redheaded stepchild of Hollywood. It was a genre you got out of as quickly as you could because it got no respect, as Rodney Dangerfield would've said.
Other than The Exorcist, which was ’73, horror got no respect. I think also what helped elevate it in critical terms was Rosemary's Baby. What was going on way underneath that was very, very, very low-budget horror films. That was where so many of us came from, because it was the only way in. That's how it was thought of in those days.
Now you've gone to the critical reception of Us, where they're now trying to elevate horror to where it's reflecting whatever's going on socioeconomically and politically. In other words, horror is now being put out there as not only critically acceptable, but also in the forefront. You can see the genre being lifted in the critical press now, but my entire life it was something that you got out of as quickly as you could. I did Fatal Beauty because I was told by everybody, including the studio, that I couldn't do another horror film.
In the ’80s, there were so many great practical effects, and you had a front row seat to that work with Fright Night and then the animatronics of Child's Play, which are still landmarks in practical effects work.
Tom Holland: What Heather [Wixson]'s done is put together a phenomenal collection of people that she's interviewing and talking to. I'll look at it to see what they have to say, but my memory is that it was totally unselfconscious. There wasn't a community. The first echo that I got was after Child's Play. I went to a Fangoria convention or something in LA and I was mobbed. It scared the living hell out of me. It just never occurred to me.
Every director in Hollywood turned down Child's Play because just the concept: a killer doll? Really? You're going to do a movie about a killer doll? Most people were thinking of things like leprechauns. In other words, it was like the lowest of the low. I can't tell you how many directors walked away from Child's Play. It was considered to be such a stupid, cheesy, exploit-y premise that nobody wanted to do it.
What happened in the ’80s is that horror had been coming out of independents. Then, a few hits got into the majors, into their distribution system. They made so much money, Friday the 13th being a terrific example of that, and the majors were forced to release it even though they didn't want to.
I know that [Friday the 13th director] Sean [S. Cunningham] is also a part of In Search of Darkness. It's funny because Friday the 13th and Child's Play, nobody at the time thought they would be successful, but here we are talking about them over 30 years later and there's a whole documentary about it. It's pretty amazing.
Tom Holland: Well, that's what's amazing. To be honest with you, it never occurred to me that this would happen. They're coming out with a remake of Child's Play in June. If that's a success, Child's Play will go for another 30 years. That was not conceivable back in the 1980s when I did it. It never occurred to anybody that this would happen. What I'm trying to say is, and this is reflected by what Heather's doing, is that horror is becoming increasingly respectable. It was always financially remunerative. By that, I mean it was always your best shot for making money because it was so cheap to produce, and that's still true now, but now it is getting a cultural and critical cache that is really, really interesting.
You don't have to be ashamed to do horror anymore. Horror used to be where you came in or where you went out. It wasn't a genre you chose to do as a lifetime work.
Stuff that came out in the '80s almost holds up better than other things that were done with CG in the '90s and 2000s, just because it was in-camera. I think that's why Chucky is so terrifying and evil even today, because the horror is so palpable.
Tom Holland: It does not have the reality that in-camera effects do. Your eye somehow reads it, even if it's subconscious, because with CGI it's an image put on another image. It's green screen, and then whatever comes out of that green screen is put on a plate. That never has the immediacy.
There's something else, too. I'm going out to Monsterpalooza in April. I started going to Monsterpalooza when it first opened. I don't know how long ago that was, but I went to look at the art, to look at the sculpting because it was all the guys who weren't making a living anymore doing in-camera because CGI had taken it over.
When Monsterpalooza first started out, that was like a refuge for people that did in-camera effects. If you go look at the sculptors of all the pieces, at least within one of the first films that I wrote [The Beast Within], that's a monster suit. When I looked at the models for that, it's brilliant. It's just wonderful. It never got on screen, but there's a different level in craftsmanship between modeling on a computer screen and building it with your hands.
Not only do you have the art that's involved in the sculpting, it's also figuring out how to do the gags and fool the audience. That would be like the pencil going through Jerry Dandrige's hand [in Fright Night]. That is a gag that's well worked out. When he turns over his hand, the fishing line jerks away, and the pencil goes through his hand. He pulls it over and it looks like it's gone through his hand.
The work and the art was there in creating the monsters like the bat in Fright Night or Chucky the doll. It was about how to make, how to sell it. They require, "Look, mom, no wires." They require that shot, but that's what makes Child's Play work is that between using a little person [Ed Gale] and also shooting the doll in such a way to hide all the cables, which ran up through the floor behind the doll because it was an elevated stage, it made it seem real.
In order to make an ’80s gag work, you had to have x number of shots where the audience couldn't explain it. That's what sold it as a reality. I know so many of the people that did it and so many of the directors. They laid down a subbasement for people to be working off of now.
To take part in the final Indiegogo campaign and to buy a copy of In Search of Darkness on Blu-ray and DVD, visit:
Press Release: Celebrating the greatest and most influential decade in horror, the groundbreaking documentary In Search of Darkness: A Journey Into Iconic ‘80s Horror launched last October with a highly successful Kickstarter campaign that captured the imagination of fans from all over the world, and netted more than 300% of the campaign’s initial fundraising goal. Earlier this month, CreatorVC launched a final Indiegogo campaign to give horror fans the opportunity to be a part of horror history by grabbing their copy of In Search of Darkness, as well as other perks, and over the last few weeks, even more exciting participants in this historic project have been announced, including Master of Horror John Carpenter, Legendary Horror Host Joe Bob Briggs and actor/filmmaker Alex Winter.
Featuring compelling critical takes and insider tales of the Hollywood filmmaking experience throughout the 1980s, In Search of Darkness will provide fans with a unique perspective on the decade that gave rise to some of the horror genre’s greatest icons, performers, directors and franchises that forever changed the landscape of modern cinema. Tracking major theatrical releases, obscure titles and straight-to-video gems, the incredible array of interviewees that have been assembled for ISOD will weigh in on a multitude of topics: from creative and budgetary challenges creatives faced throughout the decade to the creature suits and practical effects that reinvigorated the makeup effects industry during the era to the eye-popping stunts that made a generation of fans believe in the impossible.
In Search of Darkness will also celebrate many of the atmospheric soundtracks released during that time, the resurgence of 3-D filmmaking, the cable TV revolution and the powerful marketing in video store aisles, the socio-political allegories infused throughout many notable films, and so much more.
“The amazing, enthusiastic response from the horror community for In Search of Darkness during this Indiegogo campaign has been nothing less than breathtaking, and we are bolstered by this excitement,” said David Weiner, director of In Search of Darkness. “With more than 40 amazing, insightful interviews, we have are fortunate to have a wealth of content that tells a very compelling and entertaining story of a killer decade for film. From the stars to the SFX to the socio-political commentary, the ‘80s were unlike any other time in movie history for the horror genre, and our tales reflect that. Our backers have already gotten a taste of what this film will be about with the multiple one-minute mini-movies we’ve assembled to help promote the campaign, and I can’t wait to show the world the final cut of ISOD very soon.”
Set to be released in Summer 2019, In Search of Darkness is comprised of more than 40 interviews with the greatest array of talent ever assembled, including Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator, From Beyond), Larry Cohen (The Stuff, It’s Alive), Cassandra Peterson (iconic horror host “Elvira, Mistress of the Dark”), Tom Holland (Fright Night, Child’s Play), Mick Garris (Critters 2, The Stand), Sean S. Cunningham (producer, Friday the 13th , the House series), Heather Langenkamp (A Nightmare on Elm Street, New Nightmare), Joe Dante (Gremlins, The Howling), Bill Moseley (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, The Devil’s Rejects), Don Mancini (Child’s Play, Curse of Chucky), Caroline Williams (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Stepfather II), Keith David (The Thing , They Live), Kelli Maroney (Night of the Comet, Chopping Mall), Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator, Dolls), Kane Hodder (Jason Voorhees from the Friday the 13thseries, Hatchet), Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator, House on Haunted Hill ), Lori Cardille (Day of the Dead), Lloyd Kaufman (Troma Entertainment founder), Nick Castle (Michael Myers in Halloween  and Halloween ), Robbi Morgan (Friday the 13th ), Andre Gower (The Monster Squad), Harry Manfredini (composer for the Friday the 13thseries), Brian Yuzna (Society, Bride of Re-Animator), Ken Sagoes (A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master), and special effects legends Greg Nicotero (Evil Dead II, The Walking Dead) and Tom Woodruff, Jr. (The Monster Squad, Pumpkinhead).
As the expansive documentary examines just what made horror entertainment throughout the 1980s so unforgettable, In Search of Darkness will also feature many notable pop culture pundits and industry experts alike: Ryan Turek (producer, Halloween  and Happy Death Day), Ben Scrivens (Fright-Rags), Katie Featherston (the Paranormal Activity series), Spencer Hickman (DeathWaltz Records/Mondo), Phil Nobile Jr. (Editor-in-Chief, Fangoria Magazine), James Rolfe (YouTube creator, Angry Video Game Nerd and Cinemassacre), Cecil Trachenburg (YouTube creator, GoodBadFlicks), Michael Gingold (journalist and former Editor-in-Chief, Fangoria Magazine), Heather Wixson (Managing Editor, Daily Dead), Tom Hodge (The Dude Designs), 3-D expert Eric Kurland and celebrated horror artist Graham Humphreys.
NewRetroWave will also be curating the soundtrack for In Search of Darkness, and for more details on the various backer levels, or for more general information on In Search of Darkness, please check out the Indiegogo Campaign at: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/in-search-of-darkness#/
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