Interview: David Weiner, Writer/Director Of ’80s Horror Doc ‘In Search Of Darkness’
By Dr. Zaius
Friday, October 4th, 2019 at 11:29 am
In one of the best displays of the power of horror movie fandom, a project that started with a crowdfunding campaign lives to see the light a year later in the most special month of the year for horror fans. Last year, a Kickstarter campaign was started for ’80s horror documentary In Search of Darkness, written and directed by David Weiner. After meeting their goal in just two days, the campaign moved to Indiegogo in early 2019 and now right in time for Halloween, the epic horror documentary about the genre’s craziest decade will make its grand premiere this weekend at Beyond Fest in LA.
Executive Produced by Robin Block of Creator VC studios, the film is an all-encompassing and thorough review of a decade that made and nearly broke the horror industry filled with dozens of people who were there and lived through it. When I say all encompassing, I mean it. The documentary clocks in at four hours and eighteen minutes, and it’s worth every second. The absolutely amazing cast features a who’s who of iconic names from directors, writers, actors, critics, executives, people from Fangoria magazine, and modern voices in the industry who were growing up in the ’80s, like Corey Taylor of Slipknot and YouTuber James A. Janisse of Dead Meat.
I was so excited to see this documentary because while ’80s horror has its ups and downs, it was ’80s horror that hooked me as a fan for life. Born in 1982, I remember spending hours sprawling the horror aisle at my local video store (Flo’s Video). It was A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 3: Dream Warriors (1987) that ignited a lifelong obsession. So you can imagine my excitement when I got a chance to interview the writer and director of this project, David Weiner, to discuss the making of this grand film, its coming release, and our mutual love of ’80s horror. Read the whole interview here below.
Geeks of Doom: First of all, thank you for this film. I got the screener copy in an email at around 9:00 PM last Monday and I was sick that day and worked a 14-hour day. I came home and figured maybe I’d watch an hour before I passed out, since this is a 4+ hour documentary. Long story short, I was up till 2:00 AM and I watched it straight through because it so engrossing, especially for a crazy horror fan. So first off, thank you for this.
David Weiner: Well, good, I’m so glad you enjoyed it and you win a prize. You get a trophy because I know four hours is a tall order for anybody.
Geeks of Doom: It’s funny, this is not the first long horror documentary I’ve seen. Two I can think of are Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy (2010) and Crystal Lake Memoirs (2013). Those are four and six hours respectively. What is it about horror films that you can trust an audience with a Lord of the Rings-style documentary and know you’ll have fans there chomping at the bit?
David Weiner: I think that’s a great rhetorical question and I think ultimately people who are fans of the genre, of this very particular genre, they like to paint the corners, they like to know all the details, they want every stone unturned. They have the type of personality where they want to absorb as much as possible about the stuff they love. It means something to them, and now that they can relive these great moments, these moments that meant so much to them. They’re a captive audience and a very supportive one, too.
Geeks of Doom: Since you mentioned stones being unturned, was there a nugget of information you had not known, a stone unturned for you while making this film that blew you away when you heard it?
David Weiner: Yeah, I’d say there were a lot of things I was glad came my way that I was very happy to get on film. I definitely do my research and do my due diligence. I’ve seen these films many, many times over. And if I hadn’t seen it, I’d make sure I knew what I was talking about when I interviewed this amazing cast of talented icons from this era that were there. When Joe Dante was talking about Gremlins and he told me Gizmo was supposed to turn into Stripe in the first part of the movie, but they changed it because Steven Spielberg said the character was too lovable and wanted him as a hero and sidekick to Zach Galligan. They hoped it would be this little film for Amblin that would do well and it ended being this crazy genre film that helped create the PG-13 rating. That’s one that stands out.
Another that stands out is the The Breakfast Club concept for the Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 poster. That was always an intriguing one for me. Tobe Hooper originally wanted a much more aggressive poster that showed Leatherface chainsawing through a door that looked like he was coming straight through the poster. But they changed their approach and turned it into this parody of the The Breakfast Club. It was L.M. Kit Carson who came up with the idea so they could sell it to places where you normally wouldn’t be able to get the Texas Chainsaw Massacre into. It kind of fooled the audience into thinking it was lighter and more whimsical. Ironically, it’s very true to form because it is a much more tongue in cheek humorous film, which was Hooper’s intention for the original, but no one got it and it was one of the scariest films ever made.
Geeks of Doom: I remember seeing that poster on the box in the video store and then years later seeing The Breakfast Club poster and I thought they ripped off Texas Chainsaw 2. You can tell which aisles I frequented.
David Weiner: Which is the horror film? You decide.
Geeks of Doom: You mentioned the amazing cast. You have writers, directors, actors, people from Fangoria, critics, you name it. Just a literal who’s who of ’80s horror are in your film. Who was your biggest “get” and who was the person who got away?
David Weiner: First and foremost if I could still be interviewing people for this film I would be, but at a certain point we had to cut it off and draw the line. We had to get the film made and we had a limited budget, it’s a small crowdfunded film. But once we got started, we had a fun bunch of names attached and it kind of had a snowball effect after that. I was chasing Tom Savini for the entire production and he said he’d do it and to call him next week. He wasn’t being evasive, he’s just a very busy guy and I’d blame the new Creepshow TV series for unfortunately ultimately not allowing the stars to align because he’s directing an episode. I even went to Pittsburgh to talk to Tom Atkins and Doug Bradley in the same day and they both said, “˜You’re talking with Tom Savini, right?’ and he wasn’t in town. The stars just never aligned.
The big fish was definitely John Carpenter. We have such wonderful people in the film: Joe Dante, Mick Garris, Heather Langenkamp, but for me Halloween in 1978 just changed the game in terms of my perception of horror. So to be able to talk with him and to have him go through his entire career in the ’80s, but from a different perspective. To us he’s “The Horror Master,” but he is pretty hard on himself. He took some hard knocks in the ’80s: tough criticisms, fired off some jobs, not getting the budget on other projects. Trying to carve his own path while dealing with the unexpected obstacles. He was supposed to direct Firestarter.
Geeks of Doom: I am a monster John Carpenter fan and that is something I never knew.
David Weiner: He was fired off that because The Thing didn’t do well.
Geeks of Doom: Which is hilarious today looking back at The Thing.
David Weiner: I also wanted to mention that there were some real pleasant surprises. There were some people I had never met before. Many of them I’d crossed paths with, I’d interviewed them before, and I know some of them. Others it was the first time meeting them and interviewing them. Caroline Williams who plays Stretch in Texas Chainsaw 2; she was such a pleasant surprise and a joy. I never knew she was such a cinephile. She knows her stuff and she’s very articulate and is very thorough in her thought process especially about this genre. You have these magic moments where you’re sitting in an interview, hoping to get good stuff and she starts dropping these priceless nuggets left and right. I felt I was knee deep in gold by the end of these interviews.
Geeks of Doom: If I had to pick a favorite, just because I’ve been such a big fan of his for so long, it would be Tom Atkins. His story about The Fog and being on set with Jamie Lee Curtis was great..
David Weiner: [quoting Tom Atkins] “And next thing we’re in bed together because I’m smooth.” I have to throw this in, I’m getting excited at your excitement. Speaking of priceless moments, having Tom Atkins sing the “Silver Shamrock” theme in an interview was just amazing. I mean that was like, stick a fork in me, I’m done.
Geeks of Doom: That’s another ’80s film that got ragged on and now has gained a cult following.
David Weiner: You know it’s interesting looking with a contemporary eye at ’80s horror, which is what this is, as well as showing our love for these films. Many of them were failures at the box office, they were critical and financial failures. I think a lot of people, especially with the distance we have now, don’t realize that The Shining got terrible reviews. You don’t know unless you have Mick Garris or Tom Holland telling you because they were there. Even The Thing, it failed. But now it’s a genius classic and kudos to the amazing cast and Carpenter’s direction and of course Rob Bottin’s amazing special effects.
Geeks of Doom: I wanted to talk about the way the documentary is organized. I love going year by year through the decade, but I really appreciated that way you broke it up by delving into the culture of the ’80s. You talk about about Reagan and politics, the PMRC controversy, the role of women, the critical backlashes from [film critics] Siskel and Ebert. Can you talk about your process for how you went about organizing this film?
David Weiner: Approaching this thing was obviously an intimidating prospect. We were tackling an entire decade in what was originally supposed to be a 2- hour movie. This film is the brainchild of Robin Block, he’s the Executive Producer, and he said he wanted to make a movie that’s a trip down memory lane where we go year by year and cover all the movies. I said that sounded great, but there’s a lot of stuff to cover and the tighter we grasp the more it’ll slip through our fingers. In order to accomplish something like that and to not have it feel repetitive is we have to divide it into explorations into the more broader topics such as sex and nudity, the heroes, the villains, the final girl, pop culture and politics, composers and soundtrack, the brief 3-D resurgence, the home video revolution, etc. I ultimately came to the conclusion that we’d focus in on a number of films per year in the decade and spend some time with them, whether they were really well known or more obscure. Especially if we had people who were in those projects, we’ll let them speak about their projects and discuss their favorite of the decade. I figured the broader I got in my focus, the more I’d get moments from movies we don’t get to spend some time on. At least we’ll get them in, either visually or verbally. If we don’t get to them, at least we can have a wall of posters in the background for each year and people will get that we know they exist. At least they’re there.
Geeks of Doom: Yeah, I loved that aspect with all the posters because it reminded me of the video store and that’s where I truly explored my love of horror, looking at every box in the horror aisles.
David Weiner: Heather Wixson, who’s one of our producers, she said something that was interesting: She found the box to Terror in the Aisles and the skull on the box had all the titles of the films in it, and she’d use that as a guide in the horror aisles. I love those stories. You know there’s a lot of them in there. They’re icons, but they’re people too. Corey Taylor [of Slipknot] saying his mom wasn’t home, so let’s see what’s on HBO or Cinemax. The video store was a rite of passage and I think everyone can connect with that.
Geeks of Doom: The best you get nowadays is scrolling down the screen of a streaming site.
David Weiner: Yeah, it’s like Jeffrey Combs said, there’s a coldness to the process and no one wants to hold anything anymore. It’s just all in the cloud. Phil Nobile of Fangoria makes a great point towards the end, that the ease and convenience of the streaming process we have now has actually eliminated access to a huge amount of titles. If they didn’t make it from VHS to DVD, and then to Blu-Ray and streaming, and there’s all the transfers and licenses and deals that are required. Many of the films disappear.
Geeks of Doom: It’s sad thinking back to all those boxes in the video stores knowing you’ll never see many of them again.
David Weiner: I was one of those people who made the mistake when Netflix really established a foothold, I started to sell a lot of my collection. I didn’t have the room for it and I could get the films so easily over here, that it never occurred to me things would cycle out and never return. I think we’ve all learned by this point in the streaming game that nothing is permanent. I think the most permanent thing is something to hold in your hand.
Geeks of Doom: Let me ask you a few quick rapid-fire questions. What’s your favorite ’80s horror movie?
David Weiner: That is an unfair question because I love so many, but I’ll answer it. It’s a constant rotation. So much for rapid fire, I’m trying to think of something different. I’d say I have a brand new appreciation for Brian Yuzna’s Society (1989). I was late in the game watching that, I didn’t see that in the ’80s, but that is hands down such a strange little movie with outrageous practical effects, and if you don’t know what “The Shunting” is before that movie, you’ll get an idea. It’s quite an experience and it’s not the typical movie you’d expect. Can I squeeze in another?
Geeks of Doom: Of course.
David Weiner: I’ve always been an absolutely huge fan of The Hunger by Tony Scott. You have Catherine Deneuve, Susan Sarandon, and David Bowie. It’s poetic, it’s sad, and it’s such a wonderful film. The scene in that film where David Bowie is rapidly aging and he goes for help but is forced to sit in the waiting room and he ages so dramatically, that was so haunting and it sticks with me.
Geeks of Doom: One more rapid fire: Of the three major ’80s horror franchises — Nightmare, Halloween, Friday the 13th — which is your favorite and which of the major villains is your favorite?
David Weiner: I’d say it was Halloween hands down. Michael Myers was the iconic ’80s killer for me. I was into Friday the 13th and Nightmare, but I wasn’t into them like I am now. In revisiting these franchises and with Chucky and Leatherface and Pinhead, I have a much greater appreciation for the fact that these icons and these franchises stuck around. They were in it for the long haul. My cynicism seeing those Nightmare and Friday the 13th movies, was that everyone wants their own horror icon. I saw through it, still enjoying the movies. But I was cynical. Now I have tremendous reverence for the fact they stuck around and were able to become massive franchises that were very successful.
Geeks of Doom: Can you discuss Beyond Fest and the film’s upcoming premiere?
David Weiner: They reached out to us in the Summer and they were interested in us being a part of it. This will end up being our big screen premiere, so it’s quite an honor being at Beyond Fest. We premiere Sunday, October 6th at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood at 6:00 in the evening. It’s going to be great, they are such a great genre festival, there’s an amazing array of films gaining a lot of attention. It’s fun. It’s a rowdy, raucous festival, they want everyone to have fun there. Because it’s such a long film, one that was always supposed to be watched on Blu-ray or DVD or digital over long sittings, to have it on the big screen we’re dividing it into two parts. So part 1 is about two hours and then we’re going to have a Q&A with Caroline Williams, Barbara Crampton, Kelly Maroney, Don Mancini, and Mick Garris. Then we’ll finish the film afterwards. Two weeks later, we’ll be in MonsterFest in Melbourne, Australia. Lots of these great genre festivals have reached out to us and are interested.
For everyone to access this movie, all they have to do is go to www.80shorrordoc.com starting October 7th and they can purchase it for themselves. They can check there for announcements because we’re looking into distributors, and we’ll announce those soon. October is really the limited time month people can get this.
Geeks of Doom: I guess my final question is if this is successful, will we be getting In Search of Darkness 2: A Journey into ’90s Horror? Or ’70s horror? Do you have thoughts on expanding this into other decades?
David Weiner: Yeah, well there have been conversations about that and I’d love to do a ’70s version of it. There’s also so much more we can add to this film, it’s sort of a living breathing entity. We’ve already had discussions about extended versions and alternate versions where there’s more films that we cover, and those icons of ’80s horror that got away, hopefully we can get them next time around. What we’re actually doing next is another ’80s-centric film called In Search of Tomorrow, that I’ll be writing and directing with Robin Block. It’s ’80s sci-fi movies. It’s similar, but a different approach to that decade of amazing films.
After nearly 30 minutes on the phone, I thanked David Weiner for his generous time and then immediately threw back on his film. In Search of Darkness is the type of film horror fans dream about and, in fact, helped get made. It’s over four amazing hours of a deep dive into a pivotal decade in American history and for the genre we love so dearly. My full review of In Search of Darkness will be posted after the film premieres at Beyond Fest in Los Angeles on October 6, 2019. Check out their full schedule at beyondfest.com
Thanks again to David Weiner for the great interview and better documentary.