The decade of excess found many ways to frighten its young and old denizens through its extremely popular horror franchises. Freddy Krueger was the terror of Elm Street with the razor sharp glove and the bad fashion sense. Jason Vorhees stalked Crystal Lake with his butcher’s knife and old school hockey mask. There was Michael Myers, Leatherneck, Pinhead, Chucky… it was a great time to be a horrormeister! And the public just couldn’t get enough of it, as these slasher franchises were milked for so many sequels, that they not only jumped multiple sharks, but continued to serve up sliced and diced fin well into the 1990’s.
But popular as they were, these Hollywood generated scarefests were largely campy and goofy, particularly once the sequels started rolling around. When your appointed slasher is reeling off corny jokes and bad puns while he’s severing your jugular vein, that’s not true horror…. certainly not the kind that makes you want to run out and buy a Rainbow Donkey nightlight, not that you wouldn’t want to anyway!
The 80’s did, however, manage to produce a true masterpiece of terror. A short, one minute weekly production that was guaranteed to conjure up goosebumps, especially if you were watching it late at night, and is seriously one of the most bone-chillingly terrifying works of genius ever created… and if you have the heart to click play, you can view it again as this week’s Flashback Friday honoree is the super-creepy introduction to the short-lived, but ever popular anthology series, “Tales From the Darkside”….
There’s no grotesque makeup or costumes, not a drop of blood to be found, no naive teenagers waiting to be preyed upon, none of the things we associate with Hollywood horror. Just a stream of innocent, countryside images that we might see in a starving artist painting. What makes this intro stir up fear on a primal level, however, is blending those ordinary everyday scenes with a spine-tingling musical score and the forboding narration. The show’s theme, composed by Donald Rubinstein, is nothing short of eerie. And just when it grabs you enough that you get this overwhelming feeling that you’re being stalked by something, in comes the voice of Paul Sparer, who puts even Vincent Price to shame in his ability to conjure up a sheer sense of terror through his slow, but powerful monologue. The intro climaxes with the scenery flipping to reveal the “darkside”, in perfect timing with the narration, and the final pastoral scene is darkened using the very best of 80’s cheesy special effects at the time, and the title card for the series (there were two, the video I linked to shows the later “bloody looking” version) comes into view as the music hits a crescendo in terror. And if that wasn’t enough for you, then a door opens up in the middle of the screen to reveal the start of the episode…
The intro to this show was so kickass in its ability to frighten the living shit out of you, that I can barely remember any of the actual episodes of the show, even though I know I saw plenty of them back in the day. Tales From the Darkside only ran for four seasons in syndication, and it hasn’t quite taken on the cult status of some of its inspirations like The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits, but it has certainly earned a spot in the Hall of Fame of Horror just on the strength of its opening sequence alone. I dare anyone to say they can watch that intro even now, even in the middle of the day, and not get at feel at least a chill or two. Only a sociopath could possibly not shudder in the face of such a brilliant work of frightfulness.
We all need a good scare every now and then, and we here at The Nest would like to salute the masterminds who created the Tales From the Darkside intro for giving us a weekly dose of uneasiness back in the mid 80’s. After writing this post, we would also like to order up a whole case of those Rainbow Donkey nightlights….. MOMMY!!!!!!!!!!!!