Director. Writer. Actor. Artist. Journalist. When it comes to the horror genre, the craft of quality filmmaking is found in the hands of a very particular person: the fan. David Weiner has worn many hats throughout his illustrious career, but horror audiences are lucky enough to catch him currently donning the one of ‘Writer and Director’ with his latest film, In Search of Darkness. In a larger-than-life documentary filled with tons of the most relevant names in horror, Weiner explores the decade’s numerous contributions to cinema and the genre respectively. With a hearty runtime (around 260 minutes!), he ensures no stone is left unturned and incorporates the broad variety of perspectives, opinions, topics, and even the visuals with ease. If you’re a fan of the genre at any level and enjoy the documentary platform as much as I do, In Search of Darkness is an absolute dream come true and a genuine novelty to horror history.
Speaking of novelties, Weiner was kind enough to provide me with insight into this project’s fantastic undertaking. He exudes charisma and appreciation, adding an extra factor of satisfaction to the essential love letter that is In Search of Darkness. He is, indeed, a true fan and even began our interview asking me the big questions:
“We’re all just geeks deep down in terms of the creators and the people who made this. We all speak the same language. We are all on the same wavelength.”
David Weiner: You stepped into the four-hour and 20 minute experience? How many sittings did it take you to watch?
Jessica Rose for Nightmare On Film Street: I happily watched it in one sitting.
DW: Really? Wow! Three hours alone is a tall order for people whether you’re enjoying it or not, but this was always designed to be something that was a one-film-go-to for the backers and the fans. We went back and forth quite a bit as it was getting longer and longer. We even reached out to the Kickstarter Indiegogo supporters and backers and asked them if they wanted it to be shorter or longer because I initially delivered a five-hour cut.
They practically unanimously said ‘More, more, more!’ I think for people who are vested in the genre there can be so much more. I really had to make decisions as to what stays in and what doesn’t. At a certain point we had to trim for time and space to fit it on one DVD. A lot of people say ‘It should be a series on Netflix or something I can binge watch’ and I absolutely agree, but it’s a project that, first and foremost, was made as a crowdfunded project for fans of horror, really by fans of horror. We’re all just geeks deep down in terms of the creators and the people who made this. We all speak the same language. We are all on the same wavelength.
I’m an entertainment journalist and I’m a fan of the genre, big time. I always have been since I was a kid. I made something that I would enjoy. ‘Documentary’ is a word these days that’s a little more accessible. For years it’s always been that a documentary is like having to eat your vegetables. There’s no rule that you can’t make a documentary fun and entertaining while being an informative trip down Memory Lane. That’s what this is designed to be: it’s a big nostalgia trip that, when all is said and done, you get some insight, some new perspectives of films where the point of view has changed over the years especially in terms of contemporary perspectives versus back then when these things were made and why, and then you get the point of view from the people who are actually there as well as the creators as part of that whole scene. I think it makes for a real fun experience.
NOFS: It really does! What made you want to go in this direction and make In Search of Darkness?
DW: This documentary is the brainchild of Robin Block, who’s the Executive Producer. He has a company called CreatorVC Studios that’s London-based and has a background in documentaries and production. He wanted to create exactly what I described: a nostalgia trip that you could literally go down 10 years through one of the most amazing decades in the horror genre. It was just an absolute explosion of practical effects, creativity, and changed the way people watched these things. Indie filmmakers got their shot to do something with a genre that sold really well because if you had sex, violence, and gore, or at least one of those three things, and you could package it nicely, it would do really well.
Robin saw this as an opportunity to create another documentary because he had been working on one called In Search of the Last Action Heroes, which is an 80’s-centric documentary about the action genre. He thought to go one step further and do it for the horror genre. He got this all going and was ready to kickstart it when I got wind of the project. I came on initially just as an advisor on the project. I was the Executive Editor of Famous Monsters of Film Magazine and prior to that I spent 13 years at Entertainment Tonight, I’m a writer as well and I’ve done many celebrity interviews and all that kind of stuff, so it just felt right to be part of this and to help steer things in a certain regard. I was happy to be invited to do so. It just worked out where I was given this incredible offer, one that in my opinion was ‘handed to me on a silver platter’, to write and direct this film. Who would say no with a background like me?
“a nostalgia trip that you could literally go down 10 years through one of the most amazing decades in the horror genre.”
NOFS: It’s pretty obvious why the 80’s was the focal point of In Search of Darkness. Is there any part about the 80’s decade and horror that is really fascinating to you?
DW: I connect more to the fantastical elements of the genre. It’s like a big buffet of subgenres and I really enjoy tasting each little bit. I’ll take a little Cronenberg body horror, I’ll pick on a little Friday The 13th, but Halloween really jump-started it for me. It was really a seminal experience for me in terms of my appreciation of a horror film. It wrecked me in the best way possible. I saw that as a kid when I was way too young. It confronted me with fear and fascinated me with trying to deconstruct that movie so I could face my fear. I didn’t do that consciously at the time, but I really said ‘I’ve got to watch this again and again and again’ so I would know when all the jumps were going to happen and know when all the scares were going to happen and know I’m ahead of that music, which is just relentless and builds an incredible atmosphere. Based on all that, I can understand how horror filmmaking is made.
Along comes An American Werewolf in London and Rick Baker’s absolutely stunning practical transformation effects just blew my mind. The only other movie, other than Halloween, that made me want to actually learn about filmmaking and how these things are made was Star Wars. Horror creates this back door if you want to go through it to see how these things are made. You need to watch it or you’re afraid or you find out how it’s all done, how the magic is created. That really took me down a real rabbit hole of discovery and not only with effects. The way John Landis constructed that film was a masterpiece of comedy and horror and drama and realism where you have this situation that’s absolutely absurd, but it’s happening. You have these people who are responding and saying ‘This doesn’t exist, this can’t happen. It’s crazy, but it’s happening.’ He pulled that off so well. I’ve been chasing that ever since.
NOFS: In Search of Darkness is packed with star power. What was it like to get ahold of all these people for the interviews? Did you have any input on the commentators?
DW: Absolutely. That element of putting a film together, for me, is really part of the fun. I get the thrill of the chase and being able to get someone interested and then being able to lock them down. There are ways to do that and there are subtle ways to do it. There’s overt ways to do it and then there’s bribery (I’m just kidding). That’s a real fun element of it. When I came onto the project, there was a nice handful of names attached. I can’t deny my Entertainment Tonight background, it’s all very star-driven and marquee-driven. When I was with Famous Monsters, I did the best I could to really elevate the marquee status of the interviews that came through. So, for this I had that experience between Famous Monsters and Entertainment Tonight where I know some of the tricks and how to go about this.
The challenge was like a snowball effect, more and more people were added to it. I quickly realized that we were going to have too many people. At a certain point I had to create a healthy cross-section of types of people from different projects, whether they were directors, actors, composers, effects artists, etc. I had to include some particular films that are really well-known and some that are commercial successes and some indie films. In addition to these people who are in these films, you also need to balance out the the expert perspective to create some contemporary and historical context with knowledgeable people who really know their stuff. That was really more of my approach. Having the likes of Phil Nobile, Jr. and Michael Gingold of Fangoria and also including some of these YouTube creators who make these wonderful, amazing deep-dive dissections of these films that are really well-versed in them and have a huge horror fan following added a lot of color and flavor and perspective to this as well. That was all very helpful.
To put a finer point on it, we were nearing 50 people and we only had a very tiny, limited budget to make this movie and it was getting longer and longer by the day. I didn’t want to say no to anybody, but at a certain point I just had to cut it off. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Heather Wixson (of Daily Dead) as she is really the glue that held things together because when I started assembling these things and realized that there are certain films I wanted to cover, I needed some basic information and perspective and knowledge. I joked to her that I put her through the wringer. She and I sat down for a very long time and I had a laundry list of films to discuss and she was on top of it all.
“part of the real fun for me on this project was not even intentional, but it was establishing these little mini-reunions.”
NOFS: Was there anybody that you personally had to have in In Search of Darkness or anyone that you considered hard to get that was a victory to have?
DW: I would say that there were surprises, there were victories, and there were disappointments. There were people who I had and who I’d been communicating with, but ultimately couldn’t make it because of scheduling conflicts. However, with this cross section, I could really account for all these elements of filmmaking and perspectives so I was very happy with who we have. I think John Carpenter is the ‘big fish’ for me and for many. I found interviewing him was absolutely refreshing because he is very humble and is not a bit self-effacing about his work. He knows that he’s revered now, but he’s very mindful of how he did not get the same treatment in the 80’s. He had lots of struggles and critical drubbing for everything in The Thing, which is now considered a masterpiece.
Everyone really had wonderful things to offer. I thought it was a real coup, for example, to have this Re-Animator and From Beyond quartet with Barbara Crampton, Jeffrey Combs, Stuart Gordon, and producer Brian Yuzna all weighing in from different and complementary perspectives of these stunning, amazing, and memorable projects that are still, even for the time, radically different and amazing and challenging and horrifying. They were very candid.
I want to add that part of the real fun for me on this project was not even intentional, but it was establishing these little mini-reunions. Whether it’s on camera and you have Barbara Crampton and Kelli Maroney talking about Chopping Mall or when there was a crossover in interview times with Barbara Crampton and Jeffrey Combs. They’re like ‘Hey, how’s it going? How are you doing? Great to see you. You look great!’ and I’m just sitting there trying to act super cool, but of course I’m like, ‘Oh, this is great’… Like I said, this is a movie by the fans, for the fans and for the fans ,by the fans. It’s something that was a real rewarding experience.
NOFS: What makes In Search of Darkness different from other documentaries out there?
DW: I think what makes this project special and what differentiates it from many other horror documentaries, there are plenty of horror documentaries out there and there will be and should be plenty more, but this really zeroes in on a very singular decade of American filmmaking in the horror genre. Not only do you have people who were part of this movement, you have them talking about their own projects and memories and perspectives on that, but they’re also fanning and just as excited to talk about their own favorites. You get these people who were known for something just talking about all these other wonderful films where they’re just an audience member themselves, they’re just a horror fan themselves. I think that’s especially fun.
If anything, the limitation of this film is that it’s long and there are still so many films that we did not cover. I did try to at least give visual or lip service to all of them by way of posters or references or names or quick clips. I decided that we would focus on American films only and I know that’s a disappointment to some. The world, at the time, was also creating wonderful films as an answer and were sometimes ahead of the curve of what we were doing in the 80’s domestically, but that’s hopefully another iteration of our film. Maybe we’ll be able to do a whole section on world cinema.
I think I was just the right age at the right time with the 80’s and all this stuff is about nostalgia. Putting this movie together, I had the opportunity to do the most awesome homework ever by watching all these movies again and again. I was looking at them from a different perspective this time around. When you’re bringing in the people who were part of this, you want to be able to have them share things that potentially they’ve never shared before, but also take a look at contemporary filmmaking and how their films sit in the pantheon of the horror genre. It’s been a thrill.
“[…] there are plenty of horror documentaries out there and there will be and should be plenty more, but this really zeroes in on a very singular decade of American filmmaking in the horror genre.”
Weiner is currently working on In Search of Tomorrow, a project in a similar format to In Search of Darkness, but will focus its content on 80’s sci-fi movies. He will be writing and directing, so we will be seeing even more quality documentary-style filmmaking from a true fan, for the true fans. If you love film documentaries, horror commentary, seeing all of your favorite stars in one spot, or want to spend over four hours on something truly entertaining, buy In Search of Darkness at 80shorrordoc.com and enter the real decade of terrifying decadence.
Are you interested in this fantastic 80’s horror go-to documentary film? What do you think of In Search of Darkness? Let us know your thoughts over on Twitter, Reddit, or in the Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook!