Having a great title sequence for a TV show can really set the tone for an entire series, and immediately transport viewing audiences into a different world. In my previous installment, I covered some of the best horror intros from shows including “Monsters”, “The Addams Family”, and “Tales from the Crypt.”
I was really glad to see that so many of you agreed with my initial selections, and you also made some fantastic suggestions of your own. So, let’s do this. Let’s continue our TV exploration with another batch of some of the greatest horror show intros.
Tales from the Darkside!
Starting things off, we have one of most simple, yet effective horror show intros you’ll ever come across. “Tales from the Darkside” proves that even if all you have is nice, sunny nature shots for your montage footage, you can still give it an ultra-eerie atmosphere that will work perfectly for any horror show. For starters, the music really does the trick – three notes repeated over and over, while a synthesizer plays dread-inducing ambient tones. It doesn’t matter how nice the creeks and farmland bridges look… you still have this overwhelming sense of unease as the footage continues to play.
Of course, having the late, great Paul Sparer providing the chilling voice-over really pushes things even further. “Man lives in the sunlit world of what he believes to be reality. But… there is, unseen by most, an underworld, a place that is just as real, but not as brightly lit… a darkside.” Talking about setting the mood with a scary narrator! And just as he says “darkside”, the screen colors switch to an inverted black & white as the red show title slides in. See what I mean? Simple, but incredibly effective. Is it any surprise that this intro has stuck with fans of the series for so many years?
Much like “Monsters”, I’ve never understood why more people don’t talk about “The Hitchhiker” very often. It was a great horror series that started out on HBO and ended up moving to the USA Network back in the glory days when “USA Up All Night” was still on the air. The show had an intro that instantly grabbed your attention, because unlike some of the more schlocky horror-comedy shows like “Tales from the Crypt”, “The Hitchhiker” came off as dead serious.
A mysterious, wandering hitchhiker (played by Page Fletcher) walks down a desert highway, carrying a large backpack. What’s in it? Stories? Weapons? Body parts from unsuspecting motorists who were foolish enough to give him a ride? We’ll never know. What we do know is that this guy was no nonsense, walking with a completely cold, impassive expression on his face. Hey pal, if you want to get a ride, you might try smiling here ‘n there. Then again, as he introduced and concluded each episode with a hard lesson that some characters had to learn, the last thing you wanted him to do was blurt out a pun. He was the exact opposite of the Cryptkeeper.
I’ve also had the theme song from this intro in my Halloween music rotation for ages, as it’s an absolutely morbid sounding tune. A constant, pulsing beat that seems akin to a heartbeat, and the repeated sound of a shaking rattlesnake tail makes you fear for whatever is coming around the corner. I sure hope some of you remember “The Hitchhiker”, as it’s one horror series that definitely deserves to be revisited – both for the foreboding intro and for some truly memorable episodes.
The Twilight Zone!
While I’ll always love the original intro for “The Twilight Zone” series, it was the 1985 version that stuck with me the most. It starts off with what appears to be a stop-motion animation sequence as some windows to a cabin overlooking a nightfall scene slam shut. A spinning orb then appears on the center of the screen and we’re treated to a variety of trippy images moving inside of it. I was always excited to see that big, fat tarantula scurry across the orb, followed by the creepy doll with eyes slowly closing. It all concludes with an atomic explosion, and the ghostly visage of Rod Serling, followed by a skeletal illustration that morphs into “The Twilight Zone” logo.
Naturally, the classic theme song we all know and love is still in there too. And speaking of the theme, here’s a bit of trivia that some of you may not know – Jerry Garcia was the composer of it. Not exactly the first guy you think of when it comes to composing intros for sci-fi / horror shows, but he certainly made a memorable one for this series.
You didn’t really think I’d forget about “The Munsters” after I already covered “The Addams Family” in my previous installment, did you? While I’ll give the Addams the advantage for the theme song, our Munster pals still had a great tune that works fine for any monster party, a visit to the beach, or both. And just like their Addams counterparts, the intro accomplishes exactly what it needs to do by familiarizing the audience with the main characters.
And man, you gotta admit… Herman Munster really knows how to make an introduction. He bursts through their giant front door, which leaves a hole shaped like his Frankenstein-like body that the rest of the cast emerges through. It’s a fun intro that showcases all these wacky characters, and it still puts a smile on my face to this day.
The show actually went through a number of different intro sequences, but this one was always my favorite. I should also note that it was originally in black & white, but the colorization in the above video was too nice to pass up.
“Hannibal” just might be the most beautiful horror-drama series to ever appear on television. The intricate meals that were created for the show were equal parts gorgeous art and horrible nightmares. There’s simply no denying that we hadn’t seen anything like them before, especially on a major network like NBC.
I suppose it’d almost be easy for some to forget that “Hannibal” had an intro, as it was so brief, and was followed by some of the most intense episodes I’ve ever seen. But just as Hannibal’s recipes were works of art, the title sequence is fantastic as well. Those 20 seconds of blood flowing against a white backdrop, slowly forming the semi-translucent faces of Hannibal and the other main characters are absolutely hypnotic.
Lastly, this one was suggested to me by several readers, and I can’t believe I hadn’t thought of it in ages. “Eerie Indiana” was an NBC show that originally aired back in 1992, and was basically about a teenager living in a strange neighborhood who ends up encountering various urban legends and other odd scenarios. The intro really sets the vibe as kind of a halfway serious / halfway comedic show. I always likened it to “The Adventures of Pete & Pete”, which was also on the air around the same time.
It starts off with our protagonist, Marshall Teller, hanging out in an old attic that the kids from The Goonies would love to hang out in. He turns on a lamp and begins writing a narrated letter explaining, “if you’re reading this document, it means I’m either dead, or have disappeared under mysterious circumstances.” He then goes on to talk about just how squeaky clean the neighborhood of Eerie, Indiana is, and how its completely normal appearance is actually quite deceiving. Soon we see all kinds of strange visuals: a creepy mailman, a basketball team bouncing their balls in perfect unison as they walk along the street, a strait jacket hanging from a laundry line, and even a guy who looks like Elvis in hiding coming out on his front lawn to get his newspaper.
And then the classic visual that I’m sure any fan of this show remembers – a black crow sitting atop the “Eerie Indiana – Population 16,661” sign. But it’s not just your average black crow… it’s one with a human eyeball in its mouth. Gotta love it!
From there, we see the spooky “Eerie Indiana” title appear on the screen as we’re treated to a montage of oddball visuals including classic horror films, novelty X-ray glasses, and even the infamous wobbling Tacoma Narrows Bridge. All this while Marshall and his best friend Simon ride their bikes and run through all this chaos. It’s a truly great intro, and while the series only lasted for 19 episodes, I hope watching the intro convinces some of you to give the show a try.
That does it for this second piece in my “Greatest Horror TV Show Intros” series. In case you missed it, you can read part 1 here to see some of the other intros I already covered. Are there any others you’d like to see me discuss in the future? Be sure drop a comment below, on the Dread Central Facebook page, or tweet me at @imockery or with your suggestions for my installment!
Brennan Went to Film School: Unlocking the Hidden Meaning in Insidious: The Last Key
“Brennan Went to Film School” is a column that proves that horror has just as much to say about the world as your average Oscar nominee. Probably more, if we’re being honest.
WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS DETAILED SPOILERS FOR INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY. READER DISCRETION IS ADVISED.
Blumhouse had quite a year last year, didn’t they? In addition to having three number one hits on their hands, the racial satire Get Out is their first horror entry to get awards traction thanks to its deeper themes. Now that everyone is starting to take the company and its work a little more seriously, it’s time to bring out the big guns and dive right into some deeper analysis into a much more unlikely subject: Insidious: The Last Key. The fourth entry in their tentpole haunted house franchise might not seem like it at first glance, but it’s the Get Out of the Me Too era, telling a story of women’s struggles while predicting the downfall of powerful, abusive men that started to occur during its production process with eerie accuracy.
No, seriously. Let’s start by taking a look at the villain. Unusually for this franchise, the baddies are both paranormal and human: halfway through the film it is revealed that the haunting victim who has called Lin Shaye’s Elise and her crew is also a sadistic killer who has chained up a woman in his basement. This is also revealed to be the very same thing Elise’s father did many decades before. The film implies that both men are being influenced by the key-wielding demon that inhabits the house.
Key imagery is very important to the film as a whole (I mean come on, it’s literally in the freakin’ title), and its themes of Elise arriving to her childhood home to unlock the secrets of her past. But there’s more than one meaning to that imagery, and understanding those meanings is the key to unlocking the subtext of the film, if you’ll allow me a really obvious pun.
The demon KeyFace might be influencing the men, but they’re still receptive to the idea. That’s because he’s awakening something that was already inside them. Keyface represents the pure male id; the unconscious, animalistic desires and drives that lay buried in the psyche. He’s not forcing them to behave in this way, he’s just unlocking their darker impulses.
It’s no coincidence that the demon’s lair is the bomb shelter basement. The house has now become a road map of her father’s mind, with his strongest emotions (and the literal place where he keeps his abused women secreted away) hidden in a sublevel that isn’t visible from the surface. This is the very same basement where he locked up Elise while punishing her for insisting that her visions were real. He wanted her to keep her psychic gifts locked away, probably so she wouldn’t discover his own submerged secrets.
Elise encounters a variety of keys during her journey that allow her to penetrate deeper and deeper into The Further, the house, her past, and the hideous truth about the men in her life. These keys unlock doors, suitcases, chains, and cages, but the most important unlocks the truth… and turns the attention of the evil upon her and her two nieces.
The probing of these women ignites the fury of Keyface and he takes her niece Melissa into the basement (another buried sublevel that must be unlocked), inserting a key into her neck and rendering her mute, then stealing her soul with a second key plunged into her heart. He is only vanquished when Elise and her other niece Imogen team together and use a family heirloom – a whistle – to summon Elise’s mother’s spirit.
On the surface, this seems like an inspiring story of three generations of women helping each other to face a great evil. This is certainly true, but now we have the key to understanding exactly what’s happening here. When a young woman discovers the abuse being perpetrated in her house, the figure of pure, wicked male desire literally steals her voice, silencing her. In order to restore that voice, another woman who knows the truth must very literally become a whistleblower.
…Did I just blow your mind?
At its heart, Insidious: The Last Key presents a world where women must rely on other women to provide them a voice and their very survival in a world dominated by powerful men and their ugly, dirty secrets. Secrets that they will do anything to keep locked away. There may be slightly more ghosts in Insidious than in real life, but that’s a frighteningly close parallel with the ugliness currently being revealed in Hollywood – as well as the world at large. It probably won’t tear up the Golden Globes next year, but this film is just the next important stepping-stone after Get Out in Blumhouse’s use of the genre to dig deep into the real life horrors plaguing our society.
Brennan Klein is a writer and podcaster who talks horror movies every chance he gets. And when you’re talking to him about something else, he’s probably thinking about horror movies. On his blog, Popcorn Culture, he is running through reviews of every slasher film of the 1980’s, and on his podcast, Scream 101, he and a non-horror nerd co-host tackle horror reviews with a new sub-genre every month!
Why Brad Anderson’s Session 9 Scared the Hell Out of Me
Invariably, working for sites such as Dread Central, I am always asked the question, “What is the scariest movie you have ever seen?” And, well, truth be told, movies don’t tend to scare me that often. Sure, there are my go-to flicks time and time again such as The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity, and Lake Mungo. But sure enough, every time I spout out that list to a fellow horror fan, they always follow up with, “Well, what is the scariest movie you’ve ever seen that ISN’T found footage?” Fair enough question.
Now, while I’m not going to go into what I consider to be the scariest non-found footage horror movies (we’ll get into all of that at some later date), I do want to point out a movie in particular here today. The way it goes is that when I tell people my list of scariest non-found footage films, they always nod in agreement. Until, that is, I get to a film called Session 9. It is at that point that whomever I am talking to cocks their head to the side and says, “I’ve never heard of that one.” Which is a shame, and it happens far too often. So today I want to, yet again, give anyone and everyone who’s willing to listen the recommend.
Let’s begin with a quick rundown of the film. Session 9 was written and directed by Brad Anderson, who is a name you might recognize as the creative force behind such films as The Vanishing on 7th Street, Transsiberian, and the “Christian Bale is as skinny as a skeleton” mindfuck The Machinist.
But as good as those film may (or may not) be, without a doubt Anderson’s masterpiece is Session 9. Written specifically to be filmed inside the Danvers State Mental Hospital, the film stars David Caruso (don’t let that stop you), Peter Mullan, Josh Lucas, and a few other gents as a group of asbestos removal guys who are possibly haunted within the walls of the institute while on a job.
If that rundown isn’t the best, here is the film’s official synopsis: “A tale of terror when a group of asbestos removal workers starts work in an abandoned insane asylum. The complex of buildings looms up out of the woods like a dormant beast. Grand, imposing…abandoned, deteriorating. The residents of Danvers, Massachusetts, steer well clear of the place. But Danvers State Mental Hospital closed down for 15 years is about to receive five new visitors…”
Brrr… freaky enough, right? Well, trust me; the actual film is leaps and bounds better than even that creeper synopsis lets on. And best of all, with all horror and terror aside, the film is a tight flick about a group of men and how they interact as a team. While that may not sound too appealing, the actors – yes, even David Caruso – make for a lovable group of grumps that I enjoyed spending 90 minutes with.
Let’s talk about the horror for a second. You have to wait until the end, but once it hits (full force), it is well worth the wait. The first two thirds of the film is creepy but mostly about the men and the job. Horror looms in the background at all times, sure, but it isn’t until the final act that the shit really hits the fan. And boy, does it. The final act is as bloody as any slasher you could ever hope for and even features a fun, very cool cameo by Mr. Larry Fessenden himself. But it is the final, give or take, 30 seconds of the film that still haunts me to this day.
You see, the film is constantly playing a game of “Is it ghosts? Is it all in your head? Or is there a human element to the horror?” And that game comes to nightmarish reality in the film’s final moments. I specifically remember having fun with the film until its last frames. That was when I needed to turn the lights on. But that still didn’t help. The horrors that Session 9 presents in its final moments are horrors where there is nowhere to run, no way to prevent it from finding you in the darkness, and no way to save yourself, or your loved ones, if it finds you.
“I live in the weak and the wounded.”
Being that I am prone to being one of those dudes that lets shit bottle up inside until I explode (sad but true), this film is fucking terrifying to me. I get it. I fear it. And I hope you will too. As kids, we need cautionary tales, and let’s not forget that we as adults do too sometimes. Session 9 is a warning for grown-ups. You almost deserve it for yourself and your loved ones to see this film and allow it to sink in. Just don’t expect to sleep for a few nights…
In the end, why did Session 9 scare the hell out me so bad? Was it that voice that haunts my dreams to this day, or was it what the voice says? I’m still not sure. But trust me when I say that Brad Anderson’s Session 9 is one of the absolute scariest films I have ever seen. If you haven’t given the film its day in court yet, remedy that ASAP and thank me (or hate me) later.
The Nuclear Explosion Scene in Terminator 2 Still Haunts Me After More Than 20 Years
A beautiful, bright, sunny day on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Children frolic and delight at a picturesque playground. A merry-go-round spins lazily, a see-saw goes up, then down, then up, then down, over and over, a swing set glides back and forth, ever higher. It should be the setting of a moment of happiness and joy. Instead, it is the canvas for one of cinema’s most nightmarish and enduring scenes.
A bright flash goes off in the distance and everyone, parents and children alike, duck on the ground only for their bodies, and the ground itself, to smolder, smoke, and then burst into flame from the intense heat. The buildings in the distance evaporate, blown apart by a growing dome of fire that burns hotter than the core of the sun. Cars and busses are blown away like leaves off a tree on a windy day as infrastructure crumbles.
Back at the playground, all those miles away, everyone is screaming as their bodies blister and char, turning their limbs into brittle ash. The shockwave reaches them and they disintegrate, their bodies becoming little more than clouds of their former selves.
If you need a reminder how horrific Sarah Connor’s nuclear explosion nightmare was, here you go.
A testament to the hard work of effects company 4Ward Productions, the nuclear bomb nightmare in James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day has been hailed by scientists has being one of the most realistic depictions in a film. Created by using incredibly detailed miniature sets, matte paintings, air cannons, and prosthetic body doubles, the sequence required multiple takes, went through a myriad of issues, and ultimately ended up as Cameron’s, “…favorite fucking shot in the movie.” [Source]
For me, it’s just as haunting today as it was when I first saw it over 20 years ago. Seeing innocent children quite literally explode in front of my eyes was a shocking moment for someone who, at a young age, thought kids were exempt from being harmed in movies. Then seeing Sarah’s flesh peel away to reveal a skeleton clinging to that fence as her chilling scream echoed through the air? That ruined me then and it still makes me wince and turn my head now.
Even knowing that it’s all a part of Connor’s nightmare doesn’t detract from the terror of that vision. After all, what can a nightmare add to a nuclear explosion to make it more frightening than it already is?
If you want to read an incredibly in-depth piece about how the sequence was created, from inception to actual filming, there’s a wonderful article over at Cartoon Brew that details every aspect of the scene. If you want a mini-version, you can watch the below video.
Also, some quick interesting facts about that scene: Linda Hamilton’s twin sister, Leslie Hamilton Gearren, played the happy Sarah Connor in the playground and the infant John Connor is played by Hamilton’s own son, Dalton Abbott. The more you know!
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