If I was an attorney defending 1980's horror movies on a charge of willful genre damage, I'm not sure I could save my client from the chair. Yes, it produced some fine and original films that I love as much as any fan, and some that are gloriously silly fun to prevent us getting too earnest about terms like 'importance' and 'meaning'. Nevertheless, the '80s was also the era where horror suffered from two damaging forces particular to the time. Firstly, there was the relentless sequelitis, whereby any character or format that could be repeatedly milked to exhaustion was so treated, with little regard for anything except cynical box office exploitation. The uniqueness of Jason, Freddy and Michael Myers for example became victims of gradual reductionist exercises in diminishing returns in which their back story was either ignored after being set up, explained unnecessarily when their enigma was part of their appeal, or their appearances just became a platform for staged 'kills' instead of depth.
Linked to that was the tail wagging the dog of horror films that seemed almost solely driven by the practical FX pyrotechnics that were supposed to be in service to the plot and ideas. Admittedly I have a great fondness for the period's advances in the tangible reality of prosthetic creatures and make-up whose threat level unnerves the mind more than when you know what you are seeing was added 'in post' - but too often it felt like the Visual Effects Supervisor was a stronger guiding hand than the writer or director.
Your honour, the defence suggests that the emphasis on the look of '80s films can't be blamed entirely on the creators or studios themselves (not even the non-coincidence that the French term 'cinema du look' was coined in the 80s to describe the high-gloss work of then-emerging filmmakers like Luc Besson). As an influence on America, the Reagan administration and Reaganomics' support of the rich between 1981-88 ushered in a period where conspicuous consumption and the visual demonstration of excess was not only accepted but encouraged. Gordon Gekko's "Greed is good" speech written by Oliver Stone for WALL STREET was so seductive that it became a call-to-arms for yuppies not a warning as intended. With that in mind then, what is a great horror movie FX sequence if not a demonstration of "Look what we can do, and this time it's bigger, better....more!"? Qualities like taste and restraint were sometimes as out of place as an old lady at a Dead Kennedys concert.
Horror fans of my generation are also prone to a rose-tinted view of the 80s because its is inextricably bound up with our coming of age at that time. Can we honestly say that it's the period's films that are being celebrated by us or our own sweet nostalgia for being young? I'll lay even money that every generation feels this way about the decade when they were teens.
Having said all that, let's get to the point of this article: IN SEARCH OF DARKNESS does a lot to remind even the jaded fan that there was a lot to offer in 80s horror despite my overarching whingeing. Across its four hours plus running time you have the pleasure of an exhaustive trip through the well-known and more obscure releases from every year between 1980 and 1989. This is no lazy clip or trailer show though: Writer/director David A. Weiner features some interesting and illuminating interview clips with many of the era's directors such as John Carpenter. Brian Yuzna, Stuart Gordon and Joe Dante, as well as much-loved actors who became genre stars in the 80s like the amiable Tom Atkins and Jeffrey Combs. A bonus for Slipknot fans is the enthusiastic musings here of lead singer Corey Taylor, reminding us that this was also the period when heavy metal music first became intertwined with the medium. It's a great concentrated injection of fun and serious contemplation along the way. Let's agree not to show the jury the big hair photos though, eh? No further questions.