Ask any horror fan what they consider the best decade of horror filmmaking is, and more likely than not they’ll say the 1980s. While the great films and unique artistic developments of other decades can’t be discounted, the 80s saw a surge of horror filmmaking and creativity that forever impacted the genre. Now, In Search of Darkness, a crowdfunded documentary, is aiming to be the definitive deep dive into the history of 80s horror. It’s a lofty promise, but In Search of Darkness looks to have the talent, knowledge, and passion lined up to keep it.
The horror community seems to agree. The Kickstarter for the film reached its initial funding goal in just 48 hours, and the project already has a killer lineup of horror icons attached. I got the chance to talk with Robin Block, the executive producer of the film, and David Weiner, the director of the film. We discussed what made the 80s the golden age of horror, and why In Search of Darkness will be a uniquely comprehensive, fan-focused look at horror history.
Stephanie Cole for Nightmare on Film Street: When did the idea for In Search of Darkness emerge for you?
Robin Block:I remember the day I had the idea, think it was the 14th of July, because I had just finished fundraising for a documentary about 80s action movies called In Search of the Last Action Hero. That’s actually in production now. And that process was just so fun for me I remember thinking, “What should I do for my next project?” A few months away was Halloween and I knew that the new Halloween movie was going to coming out. So I thought, what a brilliant opportunity to do a retrospective documentary on 80s horror! And what a great opportunity to bring some of the best people involved in 80s horror all together.
I had a very clear vision from the beginning of what I wanted to create with the film — the aesthetic of the film. It started from there and we had a two-month pre-launch period where we started building up our audience and getting people attached to the project. And then we launched our Kickstarter on the 4th of October.
David Weiner:I got involved through a friend of mine who’s a horror entertainment journalist named Jessica Dwyer. She writes for Horrorhound and when I was executive editor of Monsters in Filmland magazine she wrote for me. I think we first met on the set of The Conjuring 2, and we hit it off. She brought this project to my attention and said: “You gotta talk to Robin and get involved in some way.” I was hooked immediately by the trailer and the concept. It’s entirely in my wheelhouse.
I’m of the generation that grew up watching these movies. Not only in the theater, but in the dark recesses of cable TV and VHS. So I came in as an advisor, and after some time Robin invited me to come on as director, and to help write and produce this project.
NOFS: Each decade of cinema has its unique take on horror and influence on the genre. Why the 80s? What, in your mind, makes the films of that decade so unique?
RB:I think we’re living in some global time warp. My parents’ generation, they had the 50s as their era for nostalgia. For our generation, it’s the 80s that we look back on with nostalgia. We’re in the era of Stranger Things and Ready Player One. The social and political environment we’re in now is complicated, and we want to be back in the 80s when life seemed simpler. The aesthetic of the time is so powerful; it’s taken on a new meaning.
One of the things I’m most proud of is our partnership with New Retro Wave — the biggest synth wave record label in the world. They’re creating an official soundtrack for the film.
There isn’t another decade that has that same complex allure as the 80s has right now. There are also some interesting parallels between what was happening then and where we are today.
“Not only was horror in drive-ins and theaters, but you could get your hands on a VHS or a bootleg of a film that you weren’t supposed to see or weren’t old enough to see.”
DW:The 80s represented a real creative explosion in horror filmmaking. It grew and then subdivided into all these different subgenres.
It also saw a transformation in the way people consumed these movies. Not only was horror in drive-ins and theaters, but you could get your hands on a VHS or a bootleg of a film that you weren’t supposed to see or weren’t old enough to see. Or you could watch it on cable at your house or your friend’s house.
You could browse the art on the shelves of the video store, and sometimes that would impact your decision more so than the marquee value or if you’d even heard of the title or not. It was an experience that was so different from opening up the newspaper and looking at the listings as you’re deciding to go to the movies.
Another element of what made the decade so special was because of this colorful explosion of film releases; you had a really wide range of budgets. There were high budget, well-known films that came out, and others that were clearly just made in alleyways, basements, backyards, and a cabin in the woods if you’re Sam Raimi. But on a wing and a prayer and with a tiny budget and the equipment, you were capable of doing anything. And anyone could be the next star. If you were Bruce Campbell and you were willing to work on anything from acting to the camera to gaffer you could be a star of the genre.
Lastly, you’ll notice that when people look back with nostalgia on that particular decade of filmmaking, people are pining for practical effects. For practical effects maestros, it represented the pinnacle of their craft. And arguably it was the last gasp of that craft as CGI was creeping in. So when you look back at these films, those practical effects are what defines them the most.
NOFS: What are some films that epitomize 80s horror that you’ll be covering in this documentary?
RB: (laughs) How long have you got? That’s a really tough question, so I’m not going to give you the answer you want, right? Because there’s going to be a lot that we cover and I can’t go into all of it right now. But the three and a half minute trailer that’s on our Kickstarter page has 60 movies in it. And not enough! We still got complaints that we missed one. The original teaser had about 50-odd films in it as well.
The question to ask is ”what movies are you not including?” Right now on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, we’re doing a countdown of the top 100 80s horror movies. Our partner has curated that list, 80shorror.net.
It’s very hard to defend these points, but for me, The Shining, one of my all-time favorite movies, that’s a Stanley Kubrick movie. I don’t see it as an 80s horror movie when I think about the 80s horror aesthetic.
The same with Aliens. That’s a sci-fi movie. People have asked if Predator is going to be in it. No, we’re not going to cover Predator because it’s more sci-fi action with an element of horror. What I love about 80s horror is not just the incredible films, that only get better with age, such as The Thing. But also the ones that are a time capsule of what was unique about the decade. The effects are goofy now, but they retain this nuanced charm, and we have this affection toward them.
DW:The 80s were arguably the first decade in film when sequels and franchise building was really encouraged. There’s a lot of that in the horror movies of the 30s and the 40s, the Universal monsters had plenty of sequels. But that kind of went by the wayside.
And then when slashers began with Halloween — which was ’78 — it paved the way and reopened the floodgates. Everyone was trying to create their own franchisable character, but often they only had a one-off. Those were unique because of their remarkable failure. Of course, you had your Jason, your Michael Myers, your Pinhead, Chucky, the list goes on and on. You had the best of both worlds. For every one of those successful franchises, you had a franchise failure that still gave you a remarkable — or a remarkably bad but lovable — film. I think that’s an essential element to touch on. We’re not judging. We’re not telling you what’s the best and what’s the worst. We’re covering the territory, and we’re providing some context. Everyone has their favorite movies; everyone has their ”guilty pleasure” whether or not we should even call them that. That’s all the territory we’ll be covering.
NOFS: This film has a pretty incredible group of horror icons and influencers attached. How did you assemble such a killer team? What drew them to this project?
RB:There isn’t a secret sauce. It’s about having a great idea and a lot of creative people behind it. Looking back, the first thing I put together was a poster image of a little boy staring into a TV screen, with all the monsters behind it and a sort of ”retro-wave” grid. That effectively communicated the vision.
The second thing I did with my team was to develop an 82-second teaser trailer. It was viewed well over 100,000 times, and it spoke to people. It intrigued them, and it worked. And with that and the synopsis input together with my team, we were able to go out and pitch people on the project.
It’s like a little snowball. It grows as it builds momentum. That’s exactly where we are now. We launched on the fourth of October with a world-class group of talent attached. And we hit our first funding goal within 48 hours. That momentum is how we’ve been able to get some of those marquee names involved. In the next few weeks, we’re going to be dropping some announcements which are going to be really incredible.
DW:We’re covering talent that was part of the scene in the 80s, the talent that was inspired by 80s filmmaking, and influencers of today.
Anyone who’s involved, they can smell if the people behind the project are genuinely knowledgeable and enthusiastic. What sets this particular project apart is we’re not just documentary filmmakers interested in this topic. It’s really about passion. It’s really about surrounding ourselves with a group of people who are incredibly knowledgeable and filling in all the corners so that every genre and subgenre of the decade is at least touched upon by knowledgeable individuals.
I think it’s palpable. I mean, we still have a movie to make! But I can tell you; the enthusiasm is so great based on this trailer that we’re excited for the challenge of living up to people’s expectations.
NOFS: What makes the horror fan community so unique? How does our love for the 80s play into that?
RB:This is a really good question and it’s something that has absolutely impacted the development of this project. On our Twitter page, we talk about how we’re making something with the horror community. In our main campaign trailer, we talk about how this is fan-funded for the fans. That community element has been critical in fleshing out what the [horror fans] want to see.
The kids that loved horror movies in the 80s were usually the kids who were outsiders at school. And what I’ve come to learn through this project is that the horror community is all about belonging. You think horror must be horrible, but actually, it’s all about love.
“And what I’ve come to learn through this project is that the horror community is all about belonging.”
We’re putting work out on the internet for everyone to scrutinize, and the response to what we’ve been doing has been overwhelmingly positive. Our team, everyone we’re talking to has been so supportive.
This project is so much bigger than us. What’s lovely about Kickstarter is you get to have this prolonged conversation with your audience. And they’re very vocal about what they want to see. Whether it’s LGBTQ issues and subtext in 80s horror, to the role of women in 80s horror. And those are things we’re absolutely going explore with this piece.
Although I want to take a nostalgic ride through 80s horror, I also want there to be some rigor. I want people to look at it differently and learn a few things. And the community has made that happen. That’s not a risk, from my point of view as a producer. I know that’s what they want to see because they’ve told us.
DW:The horror fan community is incredibly enthusiastic, incredibly creative, incredibly vocal, and incredibly involved. It’s all been very positive, there are fewer trolls in there because the content itself is held to a different standard. It’s really beloved. It’s like the homely relative that you love because you know all about it. But from the outsider’s point of view, it’s not very appealing. But that’s the appeal to the horror community. They know the secrets. They know how important this stuff is and why. And if anything they just want the best they can get to celebrate the stuff they already love.
NOFS: I’m sure we’ve gotten everyone quite excited for the documentary. How can horror fans support the film? Where can we keep up with news about production and release?
RB: Communication is absolutely key with this. In terms of supporting the film, we have some incredible rewards to offer backers. You can head over to our Kickstarter page, or you can go to 80shorrordoc.com. We’ve got pre-order Blu-Rays, DVDs, T-Shirts, and limited edition art available.
To just support the project, talk to us on Twitter! All our social media handles are @80shorrordoc. We’re very responsive. Comment on Kickstarter, tell us what you’re looking forward to seeing. And feel free to disagree with us! I’m putting out the top 100 80s horror films now. If you don’t like it, blame Derek at 80shorror.net, if you do like it then give me all the credit. (Laughs) But get involved guys! There won’t be another time when this happens. I feel it’s about more than a documentary, it’s really about the journey for us and our backers. That’s going to take a few months and it’s going to be an amazing ride.
DW:The backers get to be involved and have their say. It’s not just throwing money at a project that you want to see. Part of the Kickstarter groundswell concept is that you really get to participate, be vocal, and shepherd a project to completion. While it’s incredibly humbling and spectacular that we met the initial goal in 48 hours, now is the wonderful part where we get to aim for a stretch goal. We plan to deliver an approximately 90-minute film, but we want to make something that’s twice as long. And with stretch goal funding you also ideally get a longer version of the film with much more of a deep dive into all aspects of the genre. And we’re excited to have the opportunity to do that!
You heard them! Head over to the In Search of Darkness Kickstarter to check out the awesome trailer and poster art and support the project! And follow @80shorrordoc on twitter for updates. As always, continue the conversation with Nightmare on Film Street on our Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.