Horror is in a class all its own, as we adoring fans know so well. Horror creates a film experience that can’t be replicated in any other space. Horror sits on the razor’s edge of innovation, making note of the line of decency before dancing across it. Politically, culturally, and in its very construction, horror is a bold and brassy corner of the film world. In Search of Darkness offers one of the most comprehensive journeys into every lovely facet of the genre, with over four hours of history and commentary to get swept up in!
In Search of Darkness chronologically investigates the best of the horror genre, from major theatrical releases to straight-to-video treasures, through its Golden Age, the 1980s. If it’s a subject that horror touches, it’s lovingly turned over and explored with all the care of an art historian and the fervor of the ultimate fan. This oral history of fandom, artistry, and terror is delivered by a genre pantheon of experts, filmmakers, iconic performers, and more. The film features interviews from Joe Bob Briggs, John Carpenter, Barbara Crampton, Joe Dante, Don Mancini, Phil Noble Jr., and Daily Dead’s very own and incomparable Heather Wixson. That’s not even half of the list of talents that appear in this all-encompassing love letter to scary movies. Atop it all sits director David A. Weiner, who’s doing a hell of a job putting together this behemoth.
It’s fitting that the genre of horror was birthed into this world as a rejected outcast. The documentary begins in a time before the rise of horror, in the 1960s and 70s, when horror was looked down on. In the fashion of Basket Case’s Belial or Michael Myers (a Shape who needs no introduction), horror rose from its twisted, reject beginnings into a powerhouse of fear.
Many experts in In Search of Darkness credit the ascension of horror in the 80s to the culture and politics of the time. It was the Reagan era and a time of social repression and frustration. As one expert so eloquently put it, “Horror thrives under repression.” This time of unrest and the need to vent, on a wide social scale, was exactly the opportunity that horror needed to prey on our fears and release the pressure valve of anger, violence, and wantonness.
Horror has always been a political genre, speaking frankly to the anxieties and climate of a given time. The political beginnings of horror only make more sense, when contextualized with horror’s other social obsession – gender and sex. In Search of Darkness explores this topic brilliantly through interviews with some of the most famous “final girls” in the history of the genre.
Through discussion with these actresses, as well as female horror experts and lifelong fans, the viewer gets a deeper look at how the question, “What is horror’s relationship with women?” It’s empowering to listen to these women speak of their experience with horror in terms of strength and terror and career-defining performances. The documentary goes deeper than a simple discussion of the final girl. In Search of Darkness, is more interested in how these iconic performances and opportunities left a mark, not just as on the fans, but on the industry.
Truly, to dive into In Search of Darkness is to acknowledge horror as the genre that has pushed the envelope. Lovers of film history will delight in accounts of practical effects artists, legends in Hollywood, and makeup artists that made history by embracing the potential of horror. As mentioned at the outset, horror fans are hopelessly in love with their genre, but In Search of Darkness reaches beyond its expected fanbase to appeal to anyone with a love of the art of film. It’s incredibly well done and accessible.
Capturing the essence of horror is like trying to capture smoke with your bare hands. Horror represents a pedigreed lineage, incestuous in how it borrows and builds off of what came before. It’s a genre that pulls off “elevated” (whatever the hell that means) and gory, fantastic filth with the same ease. It’s the birthplace of icons – creators, performers, and, of course, villains that stalk off the screen and into the imagination. There is so much to uncover in In Search of Darkness that it would not fit within a single review. Yet, somehow, it is perfectly and beautifully and lovingly captured in this documentary.
In Search of Darkness is a fitting tribute to the history of horror, because it understands the full scope and reach of the genre. It’s for the VHS geeks and physical media curators. It’s for the weird kids, and the cult devotees, and the twisted, and the cinema appreciative, and the culture critics. Whatever kind of fan you are, In Search of Darkness is calling out to you. You would be hard pressed to find a documentary that is so infatuated with its subject and is able to detail every facet to this degree. It comes with my highest recommendation.
Movie Score: 5/5