In Search of a Purpose

In Search of Darkness

by Hope Madden

The first thing you know about Shudder’s new original doc In Search of Darkness is that it’s an encyclopedic look at horror movies from the Eighties.

The second thing you need to know is that it’s 4 hours and 20 minutes long.

Right?!!

Why filmmaker David A. Weiner decided this had to be a standalone doc rather than a short series is beyond me. Certainly you can (and no doubt will) pause the film and come back to it, which is simple enough to do with Shudder. Still, having devoted about 1/3 of my waking day to a single documentary, I feel as if I should have learned more about Eighties horror than I did.

The bright spots: Tom Atkins is as delightful as you hope he is, as, of course, is Barbara Crampton. John Carpenter and Larry Cohen are as curmudgeonly; Keith David’s saucy baritone makes every anecdote extra fun; Alex Winter makes some interesting connections between films and society at large; and some of the industry insider talking heads seem knowledgeable.

There’s no real rhyme or reason to the specific titles discussed, but more problematic is the superficial treatment of the genre. In four and a half hours, I should have learned something, should have heard of a movie I’d never known about. In Search of Darkness refuses to connect any dots.

Some of the asides about VHS cover art, for instance, are briefly interesting, but other such tangents only emphasize the film’s overall weaknesses. The discussion of the final girl or of gratuitous nudity in 80s horror lacks any kind of insight, but when the piece on horror soundtracks did not mention Goblin, it dawned on me that in early 4 ½ hours, not a single foreign title is discussed.

No Argento, no Fulci, no Deodado – niente.

A ninety minute doc that contents itself with a nostalgic traipse down VHS store aisles would be fun. A doc series that contextualizes the phenomenal explosion in the popularity of horror in the Eighties, digging into sexism, feminism, foreign titles, changing music, the Reagan influence, the impact of VHS and MTV – that would be amazing. In Search of Darkness is neither.

Ticket for One

Nightmare Cinema

by Hope Madden

Horror short compilations can be tricky business. Mick Garris, far better known for being a horror fan than a horror filmmaker, collects a handful of new shorts for Nightmare Cinema.

As he did with Masters of Horror, a sometimes wonderful and generally competent cable program he produced in 2007, his latest effort pulls in the talents of a few of his pals.

The through-line “The Projectionist” ties the disparate group of shorts together as, one after another, individuals see their names on the lonely marquee of a single screen theater and wander in to sit alone in the dark and watch as their nightmare unspools, controlled by the man in the booth (Mickey Rourke—shirtless, natch).

Those nightmares boast the direction of Joe Dante (The Howling), Alejandro Brugués (Juan of the Dead), David Slade (Hard Candy), Ryuhei Kitamura (The Midnight Meat Train) and Garris himself.

Things open briskly with Brugués’s “The Thing in the Woods,” a slasher/SciFi mishmash with a bit of novelty hiding behind the mask of The Welder, the seemingly unkillable marauder stalking a group of good looking college kids in the woods.

What the short lacks in originality it mainly makes up for with humor, blood and an entirely unexplained basement full of corpses.

Important tangent: If you have not seen Brugues’s glorious 2011 caper Juan of the Dead, you should feel compelled to do so right now. Right now.

Dante’s “Mirare” plays like a particularly corporeal Twilight Zone, with a predictable outcome but a fairly wild journey.

Kitamura’s “Mashit” offers the most compelling visuals and nothing else. It’s just one more tired, lazy entry into the tedious “Catholicism is so bad” subgenre.

Slade’s “This Way to Egress” impresses. Feeling like a genuine nightmare with that same kind of illogical logic and terrifying vaguery that frustrates the dreamer, the short follows Helen (Elizabeth Reaser) through a moment of madness set in a doctor’s office that’s increasingly marred with filth and populated by disfigured janitors grunting through their endless cleanup.

A mysterious plot, Reaser’s wonderfully committed performance and some unsettling imagery combine to make this one the most intriguing of the shorts.

Garris’s own “Dead” completes the lineup with a bland “I see dead people” drama that collides with the framing “The Projectionist” to remind viewers that Garris is better at enjoying horror than he is at creating it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g-lMGKO9MnQ