The S From Hell: a documentary by Rodney Ascher

Remember the Screen Gems stylized "S" logo that appeared at the end of such great TV shows as Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, The Monkees, and Partridge Family? My old friend Rodney Ascher was so traumatized by that graphic that he made a documentary/horror film about it, based on interviews with other "survivors" of The S From Hell.


  1. so I noticed that the title cards at the beginning were in helvetica, but the credits at the end were in arial. that’s a far worse offense to me that the seemingly innocuous screen gems logo.

  2. Its nemesis is the 1970s screaming, spinning, tribal ‘SPECIAL’ logo for CBS Special Presentations that got me so damn fired up as a kid I thought I’d explode with anticipation as it reached its crescendo.

    We interrupt normal, mundane, bullshit adult programming to bring YOU something so kick ass it deserves drums from the opening sequence of Hawaii Five-O. Then on with Charlie Brown Christmas specials and the like! YES!!!

    And.. of course in the 80’s I pretty much went into orgasm with this HBO Presentation intro. It even had an HBO documentary on the making of it, hahaha…

    Parts of it still gives me chills… lol

      1. I found the “making of” video of that 1980’s HBO Presentation intro. Did you see the “hookers on the corner” in the model city??? Hahaha…

        It was actually quite an involved process and according to the HBO doc it was one of the most precisely constructed model cities ever built (up to that time at least).

        They made the chrome HBO logo out of actual chrome… even those light tracers were.. well, REAL traces of light from fiber optics going across an open shutter…

        The days before CGI could handle any of that stuff. I think every CGI kid in school should watch this.

        I’m wondering, does anyone know how they kept the image of the camera and other stuff from reflecting in the chrome HBO logo? I’m baffled.

        1. Okay, I’m baffled that they even made a real chrome logo model. I try imagining the marketing team brainstorming session: They had a choice of cool, epic concepts like a 3D cityscape, a sunset, the vastness of space, a giant rotating chrome logo and multicoloured lasers… And checked the ‘all of the above’ box. What glorious substance were they all ingesting? I gotta see that documentary :D

          And as far as understanding the ‘logo-creeps’, I’m thinking it might be a bit like synaesthesia: You either perceive it or you don’t.

    1. Cowicide — kudos to you for your account of the CBS “Special” logo; my response to it was just as Pavlovianly over-the-top as yours.

      As for the “S from Hell” documentary, I couldn’t really identify with it, as I always found the Moog jingle that accompanied the logo quite soothing, much as I did the very similar PBS jingle of the day:

        1. Haha… I always wanted to reanimate the SPECIAL to say SATAN instead and keep all the same music and effects. A friend of mind in the band Vulvaboy came up with that one.

    2. I agree. When I was a kid regardless of what crappy movie was coming on HBO, that intro scene made it seem like the greatest thing in the world was about to happen.

      Kids today aren’t going to get that feeling. The HBO intro is that two second long static and then “bing”. Now they have DVRs, so watching a show isn’t an event any more. It used to be a big deal for me to be allowed to stay up late, and watch the Muppet show. And now shows don’t even have theme songs. They try and fit so many commercials in, that the closing credits for one show play during the opening scene of the next show.

    3. Me too, that rotating fading SPECIAL really got me going, because I knew I was going to see something like Frosty the Snowman. Then for some reason it lost its lustre, either as I got older, or the specials started getting lamer.

  3. To me, the logo just looks like an Escheresque optical illusion of a toilet paper roll.

    A good visual representation of the conundrum of whether the TP should hang by the wall or away from it.

    As such, the crappy chime is kind of fitting.

  4. I’m totally going to watch this again at 3am, when really tired and woozy. That was freaking weird/funny. As a young kid, I also found certain seemingly random shapes, including some logos and typeface, strangely eerie. It seems relatively common: There are several amusing ‘creepy logos’ compilations on YouTube.

  5. Phhbbt…there’s nothing horrifying about this logo. It’s just a dumb little logo at the end of a broadcast, so what. I once did 37 versions of a logo for NBC. Now that’s horrifying!

  6. The Mark VII sweaty hand holding a chisel and swinging a hammer was one of the best production logos. Chiseling is a “craft”, you know. Just like…Acting.

  7. For me the CBS “Special” theme was to TV what the United Artist theme was for the theater. The revolving UA logo with the few piano notes leading into full orchestration always filled me with anticipation – especially at the beginning of a James Bond flick.

  8. I’m so confused!

    Feel free to rib me if I missed the joke, but did people actually find the S logo/music scary?

    The linked tribute sites seem pretty sincere….=/

  9. I thought the short was very funny and clever.

    I find the combination of sound and logo interesting. It is a powerful memory tool when use right. And when used wrong.

    I’m a big fan of the Sopranos. When ever I watch the HBO logo and white noise TV sound I expect the downbeat of the song “Got himself a gun” right after it. Anything else seems wrong.

    The sound of the Xbox classic starting? Too loud. Horrible.
    The sound of Hulu starting? Nice.
    The sound of Microsoft windows starting? Oppressive
    The sound of Intel chips? Monoploistic.
    The sound of Yahoo? 1999

    What do those sounds evoke in you?

  10. I was creeped out by that logo as a kid (after every episocde of the Monkees), so that documentary was just about hysterical. It was more than genius… it was subgenius.

    But what do I know? That damned Indian with the tear in his eye fucked me up back then, too.

  11. I find it impossible to watch the opener for 20th Century Fox and not anticipate hearing Star Wars music right after it.
    Also- what Cowicide said.

    1. How about the THX promo sound?

      Oh Gawd… I screwed around with that THX promo sound in the 90’s by adjusting its pitch and stuff and (at least with the large subwoofer setup and audio system I had) it actually did end up making some pals and I physically ill. Created an unsettled feeling in our stomach and hearts. Generalized nausea. I threw the audio file away. [not being sarcastic]

      It wasn’t the legendary, urban-myth “brown note”… but it sure seemed pretty close in some ways.

      By the way, if you really slow down parts of the intro theme for Nightline, you get a pretty interesting tune to work with with break beats.

  12. I have no idea if this is a sincere satire of a childhood phobia or a satire of a logo dude didn’t like, but I’ll tell you what, if any kid of that era wet their pants over that logo, I can’t imagine how they didn’t foul themselves completely from watching the first 20 seconds of the opening of Ultraman ( I think the happy cheezoid theme song that followed was the only thing that kept me from feeling the terror from that nightmare double swirl visual and the horrifying old-school electronic music.

    1. Yeah, The Ultraman opening got to me, too… as did the opening of “The Hilarious House Of Frightenstein”

      How about the Westinghouse “Group W” Logo? Looked like a sharp, 3 bladed knife, to me.

    2. Amusingly enough, I remember the opening to Ultraman disturbing me a little. In fact, I remembered it last night pretty distinctly when I sat down with my son to watch a couple of episodes from the DVD collection we just got. :)

  13. For me it was the music on the Rankin-Bass logos at the end of so many classic specials (Rudolph, etc.) that gave me nightmares. There was just something about it that seemed to say, “Uh-oh, you’re in trouble, now….”

    But there were so many great ones, too. Add this one to the PBS, CBS Special and HBO intros:

    When I was in sixth grade we were shown a video of some stage production in the library that happened to be an ITC Productions joint and when that logo came on, the whole place went nuts: yay, the Muppets!

    1. YES. The Rankin-Bass theme! I feel so vindicated, not only that this documentary has validated my childhood fears, but that someone else shared my specific fear!!

      I used to run out of the room whenever the end of a Rankin-Bass special approached, fearing the horrible, demonic jingle. I had nightmares about it that often woke me in the middle of the night!

      My day just got so much brighter. Thanks!!

  14. Honestly, I had a hard time watching this. It brought up some seriously repressed memories of my tv viewing in the mid 70s. Nothing was more soul crushing than following up a beautiful half hour of cartoon pablum with this 5 second bit of absolute existential emptiness. Looking back the tv programmer must have been schooled by the carriage driver to Pleasure Island in Pinocchio. “You had your fun. NOW PAY FOR IT!!”

    Funny how I never saw the logo as an S when I was a kid. My dad was a printer. I always thought it represented a nonsensical printing press.

    Great video but only the victims will understand.

  15. Two more things: What does The Dr. Who Tunnel (@2:00) have to do with the S From Hell?

    Also, does anyone from New York remember when channel 11 WPIX ran those kooky ads with a guy looking around wondering what their new logo should be, with the Twin Towers in the background? Or that weird contest where some random caller was selected to play a video game broadcast live to everyone, and to push the button on the game you had to say “PIX!” on the phone — and which never seemed to work judging from the monotonous “PIX! PIX! PIX!” you kept hearing?

  16. for me its that melody note at the end. That chilling sound. 2nd the to the EBS/EAS signal.

    In the 70′ SOHIO Gasoline (Standard Oil) had a “weather sounder” that radio stations would run to give the temperature on frigid winter days. Same freaky EBS sound. It was eerie….A nuclear attack signal.

    1. Ah yes! I remember that. I grew up in Akron, and used to hear that all the time. It was kind of creepy!

    1. YES!!!! ITC ruined the muppet show good feelings – sure fire way to kill any chance of a good nights sleep for a 5 year old… no wonder i’ve never liked Stan Kenton-esque big bands:

      1. Re: ITC logo: It may have ruined the Muppet Show good feelings, but for me its big, epic music definitely *enhanced* Space: 1999. Seemed to be an organic part of the show.

  17. Ha! You pansies, only eggonstilts got it right.

    An ominous tone warns you something is horribly wrong. Then deep in the darkness, a metallic slash fades slowly into view, like the gleam from a killers knife blade. The piano notes come like the footsteps you hear behind you when you’re too afraid to turn and look. Then slowly the mysterious, metallic form turns toward you like Norman Bate’s mother. Oh. It’s just the United Artists logo and the music is OK now so everything fine. But still you think to yourself, “It says ‘Pink Panther’ and I know that’s not a horror movie. Did I walk into the wrong theater or something?”

    I don’t remember seeing this logo as a child but as an adult it made me apprehensive. Watch if you dare.

  18. I used to have a similar problem with the theme/intro to the Wide World of Sports in the early 70s. You know, with the narrator would come on and say “spanning the globe…to give you the constant variety of sports” along with that booming music in the background? And when that little graphic of a world map in sections popped up, I was weirded out by the latitude/longitude lines of the world…I was a strange child…

  19. This one didn’t bother me as much as the charging Viacom logo. In fact, when I saw the headline, I mistakenly thought this was what the documentary was about.

  20. Someday, someone will make a similar documentary about the THX “deep note.”

    My daughter, who loves Pixar, is inordinately afraid of the THX logo prior to some of her favorite films.

    1. Someday, someone will make a similar documentary about the THX “deep note.” My daughter, who loves Pixar, is inordinately afraid of the THX logo prior to some of her favorite films.

      I’m convinced it’s evil.

  21. I know this thread is probably dead as a doornail, but I have to give wgrover props for the WGBH logo– I had forgotten all about it, but as soon as I clicked his link, I remembered that freaky noise it makes, and just started laughing– it’s like, “now I get it!” Cause I didn’t understand the fuss about the Screen Gems logo at all… If that little doc had been about the WGBH logo, I’d have never made it through!

  22. oh man, i totally get it. i used to cover my eyes during the opening of the jetsons when it zooms in on earth and the screen fills with confetti and the trumpets come in.

    i don’t know why, but that, to me, was terrifying.

  23. 3/3/10
    dear Boing Boing:
    I First Saw the So-Called “S” from hell Shortly after I Was Born In 1968 and Discovered What A Television Was used For. The “S” From hell never Bothered Me As A kid Or Now 41 Years Later. Now The “Dancing Sticks” Screen Gems Logo From 1963-1966 Was Scarier. Nowadays When I See This Logo, I Realize It Wasn’t The Sticks Or the dots That Traumatized Me, it Was Frank DeVol’s Bombastic Orchesrical Score & Hal Gibney (some Said it Was Colin Male)As the spooky Announcer Stating “A Screen Gems Production/Presentation!”
    Signed, Oxford, Michigan 48371

  24. Now if you combine the “S” from Hell with the “Closet Killer” music from The Paramount tag, then you have one scary tag.

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