Monday, October 19, 2020

Tales from the Darkside Binge: Opening Montage


One of the best horror anthologies of the mid-1980s boom was the syndicated, low-budget entry Tales from the Darkside (1984 - 1988). Though it lacked the big budget of Steven Spielberg's Amazing Stories (1985 - 1987) and the re-vamp of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1985 - 1986), the tales were often authentically frightening, not to mention inventive.  

The introductory montage for Tales from the Darkside reveals the pitifully low-budget (especially compared to Amazing Stories, which featured an introductory montage with a score by John Williams and early computer-generated effects). And yet, the very basic, blunt nature of this intro seems to suggest something important about the series.  

Forget the bells and whistles, Tales from the Darkside is dedicated to scaring the hell out of you. A big budget isn't necessary. This is back-to-basics simplicity.

The montage opens with views of clouds in the sky. This should be a light, happy image, but one view of clouds appears to have been superimposed over another, and so there is a sense of layers here. That's significant symbolically, since the intro's narration establishes that there are actually two worlds: the world of sunlight and the world of darkness.  

The shot of the clouds, slightly overlapping, seems to hint at this duality right out of the gate.



Next, we see a selection of pastoral images.  These are views of our "brightly lit" reality. 

We see the tips of trees as we look up in the sky.  We view a field, a covered bridge, and a babbling brook.

All these images suggest harmony with nature, and a feeling of well-being.  The imagery is positively bucolic.





But now, an interesting shift.  

The next image, on first blush seems bucolic like the others, but there's something askew.  

The tree branches on the left-hand side of the frame seem to be jutting into the picture, spoiling the view of nature. They could be visually "read" as a hand, actually, or worse: A claw. 

And the uneven nature of the split-rail fencing also suggests a world not quite in balance.




As the narrator speaks of an underworld, we move -- tracking -- through a gray woods of extremely tall and narrow trees.  

There is a slightly de-saturated or silver sheen to this imagery, and we get the visual sense of a dangerous place. 

Since the very beginning of human history, the forest or woods have been associated with creatures and spirits, so it is appropriate that this silvery forest becomes the tipping point, as it were, to reaching "the darkside."


Next, with a bargain-basement -- yet wholly effective -- video transition, we flip open a door and fall into the Dark World, a negative image heavy on blacks and grays.


The world we see in the following image is a mirror image of the bucolic images we saw before, perhaps close enough to recognize as being familiar, but with a focus on dark spaces and objects.  

This idea carries importance in terms of the series. The anthology often features (like The Twilight Zone), individuals who unknowingly slip from our daylight world into this...dark side.




Next, our title card.  We see the series title scrawled in blood-red letters over a black-on-black view of the Darkside world.




So there you have it: this introductory montage is simple, effective and scary, much like the series itself. Great, expensive special effects aren't really necessary, and this introduction fosters an aura of uncertainty and discomfort...on a budget.  

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