When I was a child and the world was young and we all watched movies on VHS, there was one logo that would always scare the hell out of me. And now, thanks to the good folks at Cartoon Brew (both writer Jerry Beck and his passionate, long-memoried commenters), I now know that I was not alone, and that the logo has a name.
It’s the “Neon Mickey,” which opened Disney videos from 1978-84 (YouTube knows everything, provided it’s sufficiently trivial). It’s Mickey as a neon grid, rays of light emanating from his hollow outline while inappropriately martial brass marches in and out of minor keys at a really loud volume. By the time it finally emerges from the minor key into a major resolution, it’s too late. I was not happy.
What reminded me of all this is “The S From Hell,” a documentary short from director Rodney Ascher set to premiere at Sundance about people traumatized by the vintage ’60s Screen Gems logo. A staple at the end of “Bewitched” and “The Monkees,” it’s not a logo I was familiar with, but it jogged my memory about past logophobia.
I’m not talking about intentionally unnerving stuff, like the awful Lynch/Frost Productions logo that went off after every episode of “Twin Peaks,” which is clearly meant to be abrasive. I’m talking about what bookended all that ’80s and ’90s VHS; as commenter “Marbles” correctly observes, “at no point was the aggressiveness more prevalent than the 80s, when I was a runt. People were running wild showing off with early CG, so everything was very loud and bold.”
Some of this stuff was just disorientingly noisy, so bright it made you suspicious (like the Carolco logo, which looks like blue lasers carving out layers of “C” on their own initiative, and which is the opposite of comforting when preceding, say, “Terminator 2,” in which hostile computers attack us all. Or the Mandalay Entertainment logo (skip to 0:20) — who, pray tell, thought it was a good idea to precede a movie with a tiger running straight for the screen? Memories of the MGM lion would make any right-thinking person tense up and wait for the attack that never comes.
Other logos, though, weren’t just frightening for my easily impressionable childish self; they’re bad ideas all round. Who knows how anyone could think it a good idea to hire Jerry Fielding — the dissonance specialist behind “Straw Dogs” and other light-hearted Peckinpah fare — to compose the utterly unnerving jingle for a United Artists logo from the ’80s? Then there’s the Kartes Video Communications logo, an ominous crawl through outer space, with letters advancing as if they were a ship misplaced from an “Alien” movie — and this, introducing “Rugrats” videos? Just watching it makes me feel like I’m stoned and listening to black metal, something I’ve never done in my entire life.
There’s plenty more where those came from — there are websites for logophobes and a whole subculture of people who like to speed up logos unnaturally, then slow them down to where everything sounds like a David Lynch nightmares. If those logo creators only knew.
[Photos: The “Neon Mickey” of Disney home video from 1978-84, Buena Vista Home Entertainment; Screen Gems; Lynch/Frost Productions; Carolco; Kartes Video]