The 1980s was an amazing time for horror and saw the rise of some of the horror genre’s greatest icons, performers, directors, and franchises that continue to live on to this day. Yes, franchises like Nightmare on Elm Street, Poltergeist, and Phantasm grew out of the ’80s. This was also the era where the makeup effects industry was almost completely revitalized. Who can forget that amazing transformation sequence done with practical effects from An American Werewolf in London? Or the gooey transformation of Jeff Goldblum into The Fly? This decade was truly a transformative period in the horror genre that it’s difficult to cover all bases. However, the upcoming documentary IN SEARCH OF DARKNESS: A JOURNEY INTO ICONIC ’80s HORROR will dive deep into all things ’80s horror, featuring interviews with over 40 talented individuals who worked on some of the most iconic films from the era.
In anticipation for this summer’s release of the 80’s horror documentary IN SEARCH OF DARKNESS, I had the chance to chat with director David Weiner about what makes ’80s horror stand out in comparison to other decades, where he is on the debate regarding the superiority of practical effects versus CGI, and which ’80s horror films he would recommend to budding horror fans.
The upfront and obvious question – In the grand scheme of things, what makes ’80s horror stand out when juxtaposed against the decades preceding/following?
David Weiner: Horror films went haywire in the ‘80s with a colorful explosion of unhinged ideas and imagination, gut-level exploitation and shared practical-effects technology, much of it motivated by a brand-new avenue of straight-to-video and cable distribution that brought better returns to filmmakers. The era came to a close to a certain degree due to a horror genre-preponderance overload and franchise fatigue combined with the advent of CGI.
People seem to argue this fairly regularly, so I’ll ask you – Practical Effects vs CGI, which is superior in your opinion, and why?
DW: I think both have their place onscreen depending on the story requirements. But when they share the same space, such as in The Thing prequel, they are often not complementary and have an oil-and-water feel. These days, filmmakers are finally figuring out how to employ practical effects while digitally sweetening them to give them more life. That works for me. As long as it does not feel like CGI. I love the ‘80s for all of its practical effects innovation. Even if the effects were essentially cheesy, they were real and tactile and sold the moment. I can revisit any ‘80s horror flick and love it, even if it’s a terrible film, simply for the huge effort made to sell a gag or effect.
How do you view the current health of horror? Do you think it’ll ever be on par (or surpass) that of the ’80s?
DW: The horror genre is stronger than ever today, bolstered by standout original material like Hereditary, It Follows, and Jordan Peele’s Us and Get Out. These smart projects build on a foundation of cinematic storytelling that ‘80s horror remains a cornerstone of. Halloween 2018 is a great example of telling a brand-new story while banking on the powerful nostalgia of the 1978 John Carpenter original. There is a tremendous amount of generational sentimentality for the titles and icons and characters of the ‘80s for so many. It’s been incredibly rewarding to see people respond organically, in real time via YouTube posts, to all the clips we put in our trailer for IN SEARCH OF DARKNESS. Seeing those indelible moments has had a potent effect on fans. It takes us right back to the good ol’ days. For the younger generation just getting acquainted with the material, IN SEARCH OF DARKNESS serves as a deep-dive, binge-watch curation guide to so many of those amazing movies and their influence on later filmmaking choices.
We’re in the midst of an ’80s revival, exemplifying this is Stranger Things throwing back to the ‘coming-of-age’ niche recycled heavily throughout the aforementioned decade. Are there any staples of ’80s horror left presently untapped in contemporary horror that you’d like to see reappear?
DW: What I think Stranger Things does so effectively is it taps into the zeitgeist of ‘80s and late-‘70s filmmaking across a number of genres. You can clearly see the loving nods to not only Stephen King and John Carpenter and Steven Spielberg’s genre contributions, but those of John Hughes with The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles, Amy Heckerling’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and Paul Brickman’s Risky Business. The ‘80s had such a wealth of horror and fantasy output that the Duffer Brothers can feed off that decade for years to come with subsequent seasons. And it all works because they have the time on that series to develop characters and situations that we care about. Near Dark, Fright Night and An American Werewolf in London remain big favorites of mine. If handled correctly, it would be interesting to see how they can incorporate the classic vampires and werewolves of those types of films. David Naughton’s transformation in American Werewolf, masterminded by Rick Baker, still has yet to be topped in my opinion.
Lastly, in anticipation of your upcoming documentary – If you had to compile a small bundle of films for a budding horror fan to really get a definitive feel for the 1980s, what films would you include?
DW: That’s a question I’ve been asking several of the icons that are interviewed in IN SEARCH OF DARKNESS. Turnabout is fair play. My list would include popular staples and some more obscure, eccentric entries. How many do I get to put in a “bundle”? This is hard for me because I am such a completist. But in alphabetical order, not including the titles I’ve already mentioned, budding horror fans should see Brain Dead, Creepshow, Evil Dead II, The Fly, The Hunger, Nightmare on Elm Street, Phantasm II, Poltergeist, Psycho II, Re-Animator, Return of the Living Dead, The Shining, and Society. Ask me again tomorrow. They may all be different.
IN SEARCH OF DARKNESS is set to be released Summer 2019. For more details on the various backer levels, or for more general information on IN SEARCH OF DARKNESS, please check out the Indiegogo Campaign at: https://www.indiegogo.com/