‘The Dark Pictures Anthology: The Devil In Me’ Brings Exciting Changes To The Series [Preview]
Horror fans have to start somewhere. You don’t just watch a VHS copy of cannibal holocaust and immediately start loving the genre (or at least I hope not), which is why Gateway Horror is so important. Like training wheels for scary media, these stories are meant to introduce audiences to the genre’s recurring tropes and iconography without necessarily running into nightmare fuel. That being said, many horror fans confuse this sentiment with the fact that Gateway Horror can’t be scary, which simply isn’t true.
The ideal Gateway Horror story works on many levels, with creepy elements light enough to avoid traumatizing the casual viewer, but ideas scary enough to entertain even the most jaded horror hound. For me, the perfect example of this extremely difficult balance is that of Cartoon Network Over the garden wall, a 2014 miniseries that explores the horrors of the unknown through innocent eyes. And with Halloween upon us, I’d like to take this opportunity to reflect on how the show managed to appeal to preschoolers who love singing animals. and vintage horror fans who long for gothic tales.
Created by Patrick Mc Halewho is best known for his work on adventure time and The marvelous misadventures of flapjack, Over the garden wall was a passion project that took a decade to hit the small screen. McHale first came up with the concept in 2004, though it wasn’t exactly the show we know today. Original title Tome of the Unknown, the series was supposed to be made up of standalone “chapters” about a pair of brothers who make a literal deal with the devil. This project would slowly evolve into something completely different as McHale gained more experience working on other shows.
After repeated pitches, with project proposals ranging from a three-season TV show to a feature film, McHale ended up producing a pilot episode of Tome of the Unknown in 2013. Title Harvest Melodythis lovely thread already features Elijah Wood and Collin Dean as sibling protagonists, the pair encountering a musical gathering of plant life and their natural predators. Although there are some deviations from the final show (such as the talking bird Beatrice played by Natacha Legero instead of Melanie Lynskey), all the ingredients were there for a captivating series.
Naturally, the pilot was a huge hit, Cartoon Network even released it as a short film and won numerous festival awards. The next year, Over the garden wall would eventually be released as a limited run in early November, just ahead of the original goal of a Halloween premiere. In this updated version of the story, we accompany brothers Wirt and Gregory as they attempt to find their way home after getting lost in the supernatural forest known as “The Unknown”. Along their journey, the pair encounter all manner of fantastical beings, from dancing pumpkin villagers to singing frogs – not to mention an eldritch beast that turns lost children into cursed trees.
Like the short that preceded it, the show was incredibly well received, with media celebrating it as an even bigger hit than McHale’s previous work. While most critics commented on the miniseries’ impeccable artistry, praising its visual style (inspired by vintage photographs and illustrations from classic literature) and its operatic presentation (with much of the cast backing vocals and songwriters), what I find most impressive about the series is how it contrasts moments of genuine childish fantasy with elements of pure horror.
McHale has introduced adult themes to his family work in the past, with adventure time with lots of mature side stories and flapjack hosting a series of infamous cutaway gags like this memorable, but Over the garden wall is particularly versatile in its use of cartoony presentation to mask ideas that would be legitimately terrifying if presented in any other context.
For example, there is the House-of-Leaves-like the architectural horror of Crazy Love, where Quincy Endicott’s mansion has grown so large that it has merged with a neighboring house and neither of the residents have ever noticed, each believing the other to be a ghost haunting their property. There is also the almost Lovecraftian situation of Christopher Lloyd‘s Woodsman who must keep his lantern perpetually lit in order to keep the flame in his daughter’s soul alive, not knowing that the oil that powers his lantern comes from helpless children. Hell, there’s even the Wendigo-like Beast, with his gruesome true form revealed by a genuine jump scare!
And that’s not even mentioning the scary ideas that doesn’t make it the final series, like skinless witches and monsters that make dice out of children’s bones. While a few of them were left out in an effort to keep things kid-friendly, a lot of it ended up on the cutting room floor just because the show’s first 18 episodes eventually got been reduced to 10 more manageable.
Many of these concepts on their own could have formed the basis of adult horror stories, but here they are used as a canvas to explore a childlike fear of the unknown. Although many darker ideas will probably fly over the heads of little children, like how the unknown itself is probably a form of purgatory/limbo and how the Edelwood trees are a reference to Dante Hellhorror aficionados will certainly appreciate the genre’s sly references.
However, what really Over the garden wall so special is the way it subverts these horrors by contrasting them with the show’s most endearing elements. While several of the show’s cute designs hide terrible truths, some initially creepy characters are also later revealed to have been benign throughout. These frequent twists turn the story into a chilling fable, reminding viewers that things aren’t always what they seem and that even the darkest horrors can be overcome with the right attitude.
With the show delivering a legitimately compelling narrative while looking like a vintage Halloween postcard, I think it’s safe to say that Over the garden wall remains a worthy addition to Spooky Season marathons everywhere. It’s also definitive proof that “for all ages” doesn’t mean the same as “designed for children”, and that’s why this modern Grimm fairy tale is a perfect example of Gateway Horror done right. as it embraces its wholesome elements as storytelling tools. rather than limits.