Happy Halloween, everyone! While you're no doubt getting ready to paint the town red with blood and entrails, take a few minutes to relive some of the most haunting opening titles in television history. We all know that horror is having a resurgence on TV, and we're hoping that leads to more bone-jarring opening credit sequences. It's a glamorous life, no?
Here are 7 of the most disturbing and terrifying openings out there, serving as the perfect introductions for hundreds of madness-inspiring stories. It's no shock that many of them are from anthology series, since their broad approach is often the creepiest way to go about it. Enjoy, if you dare. Cue the Vincent Price laughter.
American Horror Story: Freak Show
American Horror Story has turned the creation of opening titles into an artform, with each season putting forth its own assortment of macabre imagery, bodily contortions, and hidden clues. But Freak Show will have hard time ever being topped as the most disturbing TV opening, either by this series or any other.
What Makes it so Scary: Are you kidding me? Stop-motion freak show performers, for one. And stop-motion clowns. Even that stop-motion carousel is nerve-tensing. If a Tool video did a bunch of hallucinogens and thereafter dedicated its life to only having nightmares, this is the 1-minute result of those efforts.
Are You Afraid of the Dark?
As a child, I wanted nothing more to be a part of the Midnight Society on Are You Afraid of the Dark, skipping out on the home life to go and tell spooky stories in the woods. As an adult, I now know that I would have hated most of those kids around the fire, and they would have been the victims of all of my stories. But it’s that opening title that suckered me right back into wanting to be there. Every single time.
What Makes it so Scary: An abandoned rowboat and swing swaying without being touched? Come on! There’s technically nothing about it that isn’t intentionally scary, and it was often more frightening than whatever silly nonsense the episodes actually covered. If I ever stumble across that bemused derby-wearing doll in my attic, you’re going to hear me scream no matter where you are.
Tales from the Darkside
Kicking off like a David Lynch serenade outside your window, Tales from the Darkside was the exact opposite of Are You Afraid of the Dark?, using bright outdoor locations to offset the gravel-voiced narrator telling viewers that everything we know is wrong. As a kid, considering the “darkside” beyond my humbled life was too much sometimes, as I started to suspect my mailbox and my refrigerator of doing dastardly things when I wasn't looking.
What Makes it so Scary: Character actor Paul Sparer’s voice, for one. And even though it’s an extremely gimmicky trick, seeing that tree scene flip around and turn into a negative was one of the most foreboding elements of my childhood. Digital cameras inevitably ruined this, but it’s still a creepy hook.
One of the most unsettling shows to ever exist, Unsolved Mysteries was like a true crime magazine and a tabloid got thrown in the washing machine together. No subject matter was off the table – from ghosts to burglaries to murders to missing people reports – so long as the mysteries remained unsolved, and Robert Stack was game to step out of every shadow to deliver these stories of dread and despair. And was anything more disturbing than when there were updates?
What Makes it so Scary: Beyond the song that sounds like a Casio keyboard went goth, the scariest aspect of this opening is knowing everything that followed had the potential to stretch out every irrational fear inside the mind. Alien stories are a lot less frightening when they follow child kidnappings.
Friday the 13th
One of the greatest TV shows ever made from a movie, Friday the 13th: The Series had absolutely nothing to do with Jason Voorhees and his mother, and everything to do with an antique shop full of ridiculously evil items. Such as a quilt that suffocates people beneath it.
What Makes it so Scary: A slow trip through an unfamiliar room full of unfamiliar things is already uncomfortable, but it’s the ominous music here, leading into that glass being smashed open. How did they do that? Glass-hating ghosts, I’m betting.
The Outer Limits
In a world of digitally advanced TVs that can be controlled by smartphone apps, the opening to The Outer Limits is far more outdated and meaningless than the stories the episodes told. But there’s something inherently haunting about such a historical time capsule, reminding us of a time when fluttering images could fuck up your TV viewing. The horror!
What Makes it so Scary: It’s the mental trip involved, putting yourself in a place where your TV could actually become sentient and take over your viewing habits for an hour. While there are no more vertical holds for it to use as threats, it’s only a matter of time before this is a reality. Keep your inner minds on lockdown, folks.
Never ones to shy away from unintentionally giving children nightmares for all times, TV producers Sid and Marty Krofft threw a lot of fantastical ideas out there in the 1970s and 1980s, and one of them was a show about a kid who enters a magical world where all of the characters are living hats. The recognizability of Butch Patrick and Charles Nelson Reilly couldn’t stop the anti-inspirational madness of these giant hats with hopes and dreams and motivations.
What Makes it so Scary: Okay, so this is probably isn’t all that scary for everyone, in the same way that Willy Wonka isn’t scary to everyone. (Especially with a theme song that explains everything.) But as soon as that giant hat appears in Mark’s room and he heads into the titular land of nightmares, that’s when I start thinking about Mark’s parents assuming he’s been kidnapped.
Nick is a Cajun Country native, and is often asked why he doesn't sound like that's the case. His love for his wife and daughters is almost equaled by his love of gasp-for-breath laughter and gasp-for-breath horror. A lifetime spent in the vicinity of a television screen led to his current dream job, as well as his knowledge of too many TV themes and ad jingles.
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