If there's an overall theme at Beyond Fest, it's one of excess (the good kind!). Screenings often begin with T-shirt cannons (and arm cannons) firing into the crowd, Q&As sometimes run as long as the films themselves, and double/triple features are not uncommon. And there's usually a healthy supply of repertory selections from the 1980s, so it's only too fitting that a four (4!) hour documentary on '80s horror would premiere there. In Search Of Darkness ropes in several familiar and beloved faces who formed so many of our nostalgic horror memories, plus a few of today's prominent horror journalists and mainstays, and breaks down each glorious year of the decade, covering as many of your favorites as they possibly can.
The format is not too dissimilar from "I Love The _____s" kind of specials; a film or theme ("Final Girls", "Makeup FX", etc) is brought up and a revolving group of talking heads chime in with their thoughts then and now. The difference is that a number of the people who actually worked on the film are among the participants - with Barbara Crampton, Jeffrey Combs, Brian Yuzna, and Stuart Gordon all on board, they could have put together a pretty thorough documentary on Re-Animator and/or From Beyond alone. But the real fun is hearing these folks chime in on other films, so you get Combs, Yuzna, etc giving their thoughts about everything from The Changeling to Maximum Overdrive (Yuzna's description of the latter being one of the funniest lines in the entire film). We've heard Joe Dante discuss Howling and Gremlins a lot, sure - but how often do we get to see him gushing about Killer Klowns From Outer Space?
I bring up the Klowns because in retrospect I guess it's lucky that film made it in at all. Given the surplus of titles from the decade (possibly the most horror-fied decade of film in history), it's no surprise that there are a few oversights, but by the time we got to the middle of the film it was clear that they were using box office receipts to guide the majority of their selections, as limited releases like Killer Klowns and DTV horror were scarcely even mentioned, let alone covered. Each film is introduced via a wall of posters of titles from that year, zooming in on the one about to be highlighted, and for a number of notable entries, the lesser-known films surrounding that selection are their only representation here. It's not a knock on the documentary itself; even at four hours they can't cover everything (they could probably go that long on each year and still miss a handful), more of a warning that it's not as comprehensive as a die-hard horror fan might demand.
Luckily, sometimes they find a way to smuggle in a film elsewhere; 1987 was too busy a year to make time for The Stepfather, but since Caroline Williams is one of the participants they can talk about Stepfather 2 (1989) a bit and highlight the original at the top of the segment for context. And the theme sections also provide the same function; 1981's overstuffed slasher output meant Friday the 13th Part 2 got skipped in that year's section, but the Final Girl segment gives Amy Steel's Ginny her due props. But not every film is that lucky, and if you sit there with a checklist you're bound to be disappointed that this or that personal favorite got left out (for me, that'd be Shocker, which didn't even get a nod during a diversion on the heavy metal-fied soundtracks of the latter part of the decade. I am righting the wrong with the screenshot), so I'd advise not to worry about it. I do not begrudge them for any particular omission of a film*, but I must confess I was legitimately disappointed to see that DTV horror is given only a cursory nod, given its importance to the genre and the fans that have kept all of these films alive for so long (not to mention paid to bring this documentary to life, as the credits sport lengthy lists of Kickstarter and Indiegogo donors). Also, a few films are seemingly only in there because the person who made them is one of the participants; with all due respect to Mick Garris, is Critters 2 really worth highlighting during 1988 when films like Serpent and the Rainbow and Night of the Demons don't get mentioned at all?
This and other unexplored topics (Roger Corman and his New World/Horizons companies are barely mentioned, though makeup wizard Mark Shostrom sounds exactly like him as a consolation prize) wouldn't sting so much if not for the prominence of one particular contributor, who I am told has a huge Youtube following. While everyone else is speaking from the heart and off the cuff, this young man always sounds like he's excitedly reading from the back of the VHS box or his own Youtube comments, and by the time they got to 1981 I was already sick of him, as were others I discussed the film with later. I didn't have a stopwatch but I'd guess he appeared more than any other person in the doc, despite his lack of insight and often pointless observations - I mean, it's a four documentary on 80s horror - no one watching this needs the plot of Dream Master summed up. Ideally, the filmmakers would cut him entirely and use that time to address a few of the oversights, or strengthen the reason a film is being spotlighted anyway. Jason Takes Manhattan comes up, and they talk about how it was really Vancouver - but not that it was one of the last gasps of the slasher sub-genre that was so prominent in the decade. It's fun to hear about these things from the people who made them, sure, but placing a film in its larger context would have been nice.
Ultimately, it's an odd beast in that the length will scare away everyone who doesn't already know everything that's being discussed within it. There's no need to watch it all in one sitting (there's actually an intermission built into it, thankfully), but like the similarly epic-length documentaries on the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street franchises, it's something you throw on and enjoy in bursts, without necessarily having to hang on every word. They never stay on any one film for more than two or three minutes, so if they get to something you're not interested in, that's when you grab a drink or focus on your laundry before returning your attention to whatever's next. It'll also make for an excellent choice as background for Halloween parties, given the plethora of highlight clips, posters, and familiar faces talking about the movies they love, too. Despite the length and a few missed opportunities it mostly flew by for me, and I was in a movie theater seat - it'll probably play even better at home. You can pre-order it here to find out!
*OK, MAYBE Friday the 13th: The New Beginning - but only because it's literally the only '80s entry from the Friday series that isn't spotlighted in any way. I demand justice for Roy Burns!