Horror Business: David Weiner, Director of IN SEARCH OF DARKNESS, THE DEFINITIVE 80’S HORROR DOCUMENTARY.
In Search of Darkness is an upcoming horror documentary that comprehensively tells the story of ‘80s horror, in all its bloody, nostalgic glory. Having completed a successful Kickstarter campaign that surpassed its goal on day two, director David Weiner is currently raising finishing funds for the film on Indiegogo.
In the midst of rampant nostalgia for all things ‘80s, In Search of Darkness celebrates a truly iconic decade in horror history, featuring interviews with such people as Jeffrey Combs, Stuart Gordon, Brian Yuzna, Joe Bob Briggs, Mick Garris, John Carpenter, Larry Cohen, Joe Dante, Barbara Crampton, Heather Langenkamp, Dee Wallace, Keith David, Greg Nicotero, Bill Moseley, Kane Hodder, Sean Cunningham, Tom Holland, and many, many more.
We got to speak with Weiner, a very passionate and knowledgeable filmmaker. You can read our interview with the man behind In Search of Darkness below!
Also, you can go to 80shorrordoc.com to donate to their Indiegogo today.
Dread Central: David Weiner, great to see you. So, as far as the documentary. I, first of all, couldn’t be more excited about it. I think it’s more relevant than ever for there to finally be a definitive ’80s horror documentary. I’m sure you’re getting this from everybody, but it’s such a refreshing glimpse down memory lane, and I cannot wait for it. So, where did the idea come from? I’d love to know how it got from the original idea to where it is now.
David Weiner: Well, to hit the first point of your description, it isn’t actually an obvious thing that people are responding so positively to this project. You never quite know what you’re gonna get, especially with a documentary. And there are many horror documentaries that have come before this one. I think what is very unique about this particular project is that it hits this sweet spot where it really is focusing on the art, the artist, the mastery of a transforming genre in a particular decade, and being able to track not only how films, and technology within the films, changed and evolved, but the way people consume these movies.
The technology, changing from being able to see it not only on the big screen, or even the drive-in, but of course, on VHS or cable. It really changed the dynamic of not only how we watch these movies, but who could watch these movies, and if you were old enough. That being said, this idea first came from Robin Block, who is the executive producer of the film with Creator VC. He came up with this vision, not only to do this film but several other documentaries that are ’80s-centric. He’s finishing up an action documentary called In Search of the Last Action Heroes.
DC: Oh, wow.
DW: We’re doing In Search of Darkness, and then right after this, we’re in development on a film called In Search of Tomorrow, and that’s also ’80s sci-fi movies.
DC: So you guys are just tripling down on ’80s.
DW: Yeah. Exactly.
DC: I’m sure you’re the perfect person to ask: a lot of people have theories as to why there’s so much rampant, obsessive ’80s nostalgia happening right now in pop culture. What do you think was so magical about that time period, particularly for horror?
DW: I think the first reason why we’re getting so much of it now is that the people who were kids and adolescents growing up with it, in the ’80s, are now the ones who are the creators. They’re making the projects, they’re making the films. They control the media and the output, and it’s kind of a cyclical effect, in terms of the people who are old enough to spend the money and consume, who also want a taste of their childhood. That’s why you get so many of these remakes–good, bad, or ugly. I hear great things about Pet Sematary coming up, but then for every Pet Sematary you have, and I have not seen it, but arguably, a Child’s Play reboot.
DW: That may not be necessary. But it’s tapping into a complete nostalgia feed that people want, and there are many, many folks who are arguing for “Enough of the reboots, enough of the remakes, let’s have some original content.” Hand in hand with that, we’re getting a lot of great original content, but for everything that’s really new, you’re standing on the shoulders of ideas that came before you.
Is it a question of creating some originality out of inspirations, or literally doing a bold-faced remake or a reboot? To that point, if you think about something like Stranger Things, that’s really, really, really sort of capitalizing on the nostalgia for the ’80s, but I think it’s a very unique creation, as a mini-series, I think it’s an amazing success, because there are so many nods to its ’80s sources. Whether it’s John Carpenter, or Steven King, or even John Hughes, there are many, many nods and loving tips of a hat to those inspirations.
DW: Whereas, if you had made that into a two-hour film, it would feel like, in my opinion, an absolute derivative rip-off. Yet you can get away with it, because there’s so much great story and character development. It feels absolutely right.
DC: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. My theory is that the 80’s nostalgia is very much driven by people’s yearning for the use of practical effects, particularly with horror. Is that a theory that you are exploring in this movie?
DW: Yeah. Oh, absolutely. You know, it’s funny, there’s also sort of that element of certain filmmakers and the studios of the time. A lot of people were going after, say, that Amblin feel.
We absolutely explore that in In Search of Darkness, because there was an explosion of practical effects and special effects maestros. Rick Baker, Tom Savini, they would put together amazing, believable effects that everyone else wanted to do just like that. Practical effects become just so prevalent, that it started to define these movies. Not only do we talk to those folks,
You can look at the likes of periodicals. Fangoria, for example, really made these guys center-stage and put these guys on the cover. You’d not only read about movies, and what was coming up, and what was coming out, but you’d also find out about, not only what they were about, but how they were made, and how these effects were done. I would say, especially in a post-Star Wars world, people were not only blown away by an amazing story experience, they really wanted to explore why and how these things were done.
For me, Star Wars was that movie, but I also have to say, American Werewolf in London was too. I remember in Life magazine, there was this huge spread about the making of the effects of American Werewolf in London. They show a picture of Rick Baker and his team putting David Naughton halfway into the floor just to change his body shape during the transformation. I’m like, “Oh my gosh, that’s how they did that.” It’s something that we’re really, really enjoying. It’s very much a definition of what this movie’s about, but there’s so much more to it, as well.
DC: Very cool! And it’s funny that you mention Eli Roth’s newest movie because, particularly in the ’80s and into the early ’90s, there were a lot of horror movies, some of which were completely, totally frightening. I don’t know if kids were tougher in the ’80s but I grew up on movies like Monster Squad, Something Evil This Way Comes, and Little Monsters all of which had terrifying elements. Did you feel like there was more of a cultural acceptance of horror back in the ’80s for kids’ movies?
DW: The thing is, ’80s horror is also very much defined with the cable and the VHS elements. Tom Holland loves to call horror the red-headed step-child. Horror gained momentum and acceptance by the time you saw franchises really taking a foothold with Nightmare on Elm Street, and Friday the 13th, and the beginnings of Hellraiser, and even Child’s Play. By that time, people knew exactly what to expect from horror. It was becoming much more widely accepted.
But in the early-to-mid ’80s, people would have to go the Indie route to get things done. There was a lot more freedom that way, but there was a rejection of the fact that they knew they were gonna be slapped with an X rating–not for sex, but for violence. The only way they could make money, a return on their investment, was to go straight to video, because they didn’t want to cut the movie, for creative reasons.
DC: The ‘80s was prolific for horror. There were so many original
DW: I would argue that The Thing is a big change. American Werewolf and The Thing together, and you can put The Howling in there, as well.
In the early ’80s, people realized, “Well, you can make a transformation and you can make it believable,” but The Thing just blew it all out of the water, where you could–in harsh lighting, you can make over the top, outrageous special effects. A lot of people don’t realize that The Thing is really considered to be an absolute ’80s classic, and a horror classic, that’s timeless at this point.
But John Carpenter got lambasted by the fans of the original because The Thing is a remake of the Howard Hawks film. He’s still, to this day, licking his wounds at how people just said, “The reason why this movie is awful is
So you have Sam Raimi, with Evil Dead & Evil Dead II you have Stuart Gordon with Re-Animator &From Beyond. Where they’re like, “The limit’s been pushed, the envelope is already just, it’s just ripped and destroyed. What else can we do to make ourselves stand out?” They really racked their brains, and they had the technology to do it. The Steve
DC: Oh, yeah.
DW: There was such reliance on CGI that every day, people were lamenting the fact that there was nothing tangible on the screen. You’d rather have a puppet than a CGI creature, because at least it’s tangible, and you could tell that the actors were interacting with something on screen. That’s the difference, and so now you’ll find that when you look back at these movies, and the worst movies, arguably–for whatever you wanna consider them bad for, whether it’s just the dialogue, or even just bad, cheesy effects–they were actual effects.
They’re fun to watch, simply because you knew that on set, people were not only interacting with these things, but they were being splattered with blood, they were knee-deep, elbow-deep, face-deep in these things, and it was really happening, and you could really feel it while they were filming it.
DC: You guys were particularly effective with crowdfunding. Can you talk about your Kickstarter strategy?
DW: Once again, I credit executive producer Robin Block as being the mastermind behind the whole thing. The nutshell version is, first of all, he’s tapping into something that there’s an absolute hunger for. And because of Kickstarter, we met our goal in the first two days, and we made about a hundred thousand above that over thirty days. There’s an absolute appetite for this kind of stuff, not only the horror element and the horror community but the nostalgia for it, being able to relive your childhood and want to watch this movie and then run out and binge whatever franchise or movies you’d like to
He did come up with a strategy of front-loading this Kickstarter with a group of advisors who are very well connected by way of social media, and connected to the horror community, and are some of the people who are part of the film, who are on camera. You put together an advisory group, and you do lots of promotion, and then you Kickstart it. Once it’s out there, you really gotta actively, actively promote. That’s what we’re doing now. We did the Kickstarter in October, and now we’re doing the Indiegogo. It allows us to be able to show the footage that we’ve shot, and show off what we’ve got in the can, and what this film can be. But it’s really, right now, primarily, an opportunity not only to
DC: That’s great. Your Indiegogo campaign is live now, until March 30th?
DW: Correct. It’s the easiest to just go to 80shorrordoc.com or look us up on Indiegogo, In Search of Darkness, and you’ll see a variety of various packages to back.
DC: So, everybody knows the key ’80s gems like The Howling, American Werewolf, Evil Dead II, Re-Animator. What are some of the more unexpected and undiscovered horror gems of the ’80s that are a lot less well-known, that are some of your favorites?
DW: Oh wow, how much time have you got?
DC: All the time you wanna spend!
DW: All right, we’ll go alphabetical and we’ll go by year.
DC: Oh, wow!
DW: One of the real joys of being able to do this documentary–and I will give you the answer–but we’ve been able to sit down with all these folks for, easily, an hour or more. Some have gone an hour and a half or even close to two hours, because you’ll find someone like…I’ll single out, say, Bill Moseley and Caroline Williams of Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, who are impressively well-read and well-versed with ’80s horror, and really do deep dives.
In our efforts to make sure that we’re not just doing the broad strokes, we really are trying to be as “definitive” as possible, we are talking about some of these stranger, weirder movies. Yeah, now I have to give you an answer … two things that are popping into my head right now are Brian Yuzna’s Society, and Braindead.
DC: That’s so crazy, those would’ve been my exact two picks! That’s so strange.
DC: I always recommend those to people and they’re a perfect double feature.
DW: Yeah. I do believe those two movies are streaming on Shudder currently, so I think they’re finally getting a broader audience. But Braindead is a Lynchian, weird, comedic film that’s definitely making some statements, and it’s just odd, but it’s really fun. It’s sort of like this strange cousin to, say, Basketcase.
DC: Yeah, yeah. You even see Duane showing up on the subway.
DW: That’s the greatest moment in the movie to me! They just stare at each other on the subway.
DC: Yeah, I think that was a whole metaphor for drug addiction.
DW: Exactly. Yeah, you could take these movies at face value, or you could find much deeper, deeper things, because horror is this cathartic exercise, where you’re able to experience through other people’s jeopardy, or extremely complicated situations, things that you may or may not be dealing with or repressing in your own life. Yet, it’s a safe way of experiencing that in the theater or on the TV screen.
Gosh, what other movies? I mean, there are just so many. What I’ve been doing right now, is I’ve been really trying to sort of get the ones that are left-of-center that people aren’t talking about as much. Larry Cohen was a great interview*.
DC: Oh, nice.
DW: Because we got to talk about Q and The Stuff, but we also got to talk about the It’s Alive franchise, and the weirdness of It’s Alive 3 and even Full Moon High. He’s like, “I thought I was making the only werewolf movie. Everyone was making it.”
DC: He’s such a character. I got to interview Steve Mitchell who did the documentary on Larry Cohen a few months ago, and that was a whole lot of fun.
DW: He’s the definition of a maverick because he made the movies he wanted to make. Did he become famous and a name? Not really. His movies were well-known to a certain degree, but they really were the indie spirit, and he really got to do anything he wanted, and if it wasn’t what he was allowed to do, he either just chose to do it and didn’t tell anybody, or he just chose not to do it.
DC: Right. Right.
DW: There you go. I mean, there’s just such a laundry list of amazing movies out there, and so it’s been a real treat for me to really do a deep dive and not just do the broad strokes of horror.
DC: David, this was a whole lot of fun. Thank you so much and best of luck from now until the 30th.
DW: Thank you so much, I appreciate it.
*Note to reader: this interview was conducted days before Larry Cohen’s passing which is why it is not acknowledged in the interview. We at Dread Central are terribly saddened by the loss of this legend.