Thursday, April 06, 2023

In Search of Darkness: 1980s Horror Documentary Trilogy

I’ve been a horror fan for years, I cut my reading teeth on Stephen King, just as many “children of the 80s” did, as well as early Dean Koontz and Robert R. McCammon. I sort of skipped all the Goosebumps and Christopher Pike books, I was already on King early in my middle-school years and maybe even before that.

From a TV perspective I remember the show Tales from the Darkside with great fondness, too and the fact that it isn’t available a streaming service like Shudder boggles my mind. As relates to this post, specifically, I also was a fan of the horror movies of the 1980s. Movies like An American Werewolf in London, Gremlins, Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce were movies I often returned to during my formative years. I remember being drawn to the video cassette boxes at my local mom & pop video store, Video Unlimited in Linden, NJ for many rentals. In those days, there was no Blockbuster Video, just mom and pop stores capitalizing on the home video craze.

Fast-forward a few decades and I learn of the documentary, In Search of Darkness and I’m intrigued. When I learned that the horror streaming service Shudder had rights to air it on their service, I signed up for the service. I’d wanted to sign up for Shudder for a while, but for whatever reason, the app wasn’t available in my smart TV and was eventually made available through Prime Video via amc+. This was January/February 2021 and I was recovering from shoulder surgery so there wasn’t much I could do except sit up straight. The first installment of the In Search of Darkness was an absolute delight. This documentary, like the best of them, was clearly a passion project for the creators. It was so much fun reliving some of those classic movies that are now much more readily available thanks to streaming services. It was wonderful to get both insider perspective on the movies from the people behind the scenes (actors like Hellraiser’s Doug Bradley, directors John Carpenter and Joe Dante, 1980s Scream Queen Barbara Crampton) as well as fans/media personalities like Phil Nobile, Jr. (Fangoria’s Editor-in-Chief Cinnemascre’s James Rolfe (f.k.a The Angry Video Game Nerd) and Daily Dead News’s managing editor Heather Wixson.

A few months later, the second installment of In Search of Darkness landed on Shudder after a successful crowd-funding campaign. The first installment shone its lens on the more well-known horror films like An American Werewolf in London, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Fright Night, and Pet Sematary that have entered the larger public consciousness with some smaller films like Dolls and Night of the Creeps thrown into demonstrate the breadth of the genre. 

In Search of Darkness Part II highlights some of the lesser-known films, or rather, the films that most horror-junkies know and might be considered cult classics. Movies like EvilSpeak, C.H.U.D., and Night of the Demons. If the first installment was something of a reminiscence and films to revisit, this second part was very much a “To Watch” list. As I said, with so many streaming services, many of these films can be found with a few clicks of the remote control. The creators also expanded some of the “panelists” / talking heads for this installment and more of the filmmakers including Nancy Allen (Carrie, Dressed to Kill), filmmaker Jackie Kong (Blood Diner), and one of my favorite professional wrestlers of all time, Chris Jericho!

Of course, a third installment would have to happen, right? Well, a crowd funding campaign through Kickstarter made sure that would happen. From past experience, I had a pretty strong feeling Shudder would eventually be airing the third installment, so I commenced a re-watch of the first two installments….all 9-ish hours of the first two volumes.

February 2023 rolls around and I'm finishing my re-watch of In Search of Darkness II and the third installment is about to release to Shudder. On Valentine’s Day, my wife gifted me something on a piece of paper… “Nothing says love like a nice cozy night or two or three or 666” along with an image of the three-disc set. She had the link to watch online, but I wanted to wait for the Blu-Ray to arrive. 

A big focus for the third installment was home video and some of the movies that were direct to video. While the first installment covered some of the "video nasties" elements of 1980s horror, there was more of a deep dive into people like Charles Band of Media Home EntertainmentEmpire Pictures (Ghoulies), and Full Moon Features (Puppet Master) and quite obscure movies like The Video Dead and Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama. Some very obscure (to American audiences, at least) films were featured as well, like the Canadian film Things, Japan's Guinea Pig: The Devil's Experiment, and Italy's Hell of the Living Dead.

All told, the In Search of Darkness is a masterpiece, a piece of media lovingly created, meticulously detailed, and just pure fun. One hand hand, it is a lens to the past, on the other it can be seen as an elaborate curation of movies to watch. Seek it out if you are a horror fan, horror curious, or simply want to experience an exceptionally well-made documentary.

As for extras that came with the gift...

Not only did the Blue-Ray of In Search of Darkness III arrive, it came with the In Search of Darkness I and II and a nice slipcase for all three Blu-Rays, the three posters were part of the package. I got a sense that when they filmed the panelists for In Search of Darkness II the creators knew they were going to release a third installment. It is a common practice nowadays when film series are being made, so it shouldn't be a surprise, for example, when you see Chris Jericho in the same jacket and seat in both In Search of Darkness II and III

My wife also said for me to make sure that she’s awake when I watch the end credits.

You see, I acquired the nickname of ManBearPig a few years back and my wife wanted to make sure my name stuck out in the credits so she had them add me as Rob ManBearPig Bedford.

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