Some horror films work best with a build up, some of my favourites start out completely normal; the family/ lovers/friends go about their day to day lives as normal and we get to see how their lives are turned upside down by the killer/ghost/demon over the course of the film. Other horror films throw you straight in the deep end, into the world of the macabre and fear which can be a little more exciting. And a quick way draw your audience in is by a shocking, horrific and memorable opening.
Night of the Living Dead (1968): As far as opening scenes go, Night of the Living Dead is rather quick. The film opens with a brother and sister travelling to a graveyard in order to lay flowers on a distant relatives grave. Whilst there the sister, Barbara, confesses to being frightened of the graveyard and her brother taunts her by saying the man wandering the graveyard is coming for her. Little do they know that this is the first zombie that they will encounter, sparking a night-long fight for survival. What I like most about this is the way it just throws us in, we’re not really sure of anything at this point and leave audience’s guessing what’s going on.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974): As a whole, this film makes me skin crawl. I’ve only seen it the once and despite buying the DVD after my first viewing, I still haven’t plucked up the courage to watch it again. The opening sets the tone perfectly for the film; not necessarily scary but gross and twisted. I don’t mind gore but there’s just something about this film that makes my stomach churn and the way the opening is framed; with the mutilated strung up like a trophy tightly in the centre, it’s near impossible to look at anything else. Chilling and grotesque.
Black Christmas (1974): Who doesn’t love a good P.O.V opening? The way the shots cut between the party going on inside the house and the killer lurking around outside the house are a great tension builder but what does it for me is when the killer is inside; the happy party and the creepy unknown assailant finally meet. We see him make his way down the attic stairs, meters away from the guests, ready to attack. And what does he do? He phones the girls from upstairs and the pure craziness we hear in his voice is enough to disturb anyone.
Them/Ils (2006): The opening to this French home invasion film starts off with a mother and daughter arguing in a car, in the midst of the argument the mother has a minor crash and gets out to check the engine. She calls for her daughter’s help but when the daughter gets out of the car, her mother has vanished. The girl gets back in the car after hearing whispering from the surrounding woods and whilst in the car is tormented and scared by unseen figures. What’s so terrifying about this opening (and really the rest of the film) is that this isn’t just about killing people, it’s about making them scared, seeing them suffer. Which, in my opinion, is somewhat scarier.
Scream (1996): As one of my favourite horror films of all time, I can’t praise the opening of Scream high enough. It builds tension perfectly between Casey (Drew Barrymore) and the voice at the end of the phone. It launches us into the self awareness that the Scream franchise prides itself on with its horror movie trivia game that Casey has to endure to determine her fate. It has the perfect balance of humour but quickly distorts that and makes it twisted. It’s a perfect slasher film.
Carrie (1976): While this opening isn’t scary, it’s still shocking and disgusting. We’re instantly put into a position where we feel sorry for Carrie White; we’re told immediately that Carries is the absolute underdog. The victim of every bully. But in the opening we see bullying taken to an horrific extreme when Carrie gets her first period in the gym shower in front of all the girls in her class. Carrie, confused as to what is happening, thinks she’s dying and begs the other girls to help her. To their joy they take this opportunity to throw tampons at her and scream “PLUG IT UP!” As Carrie is backed into the corner, screaming for help, I fill up. I can not imagine a worse experience. I feel so bad for her and so scared for her it’s definitely an opening that provokes an emotional reaction.
The Conjuring (2012): Modern horror films have let me down recently. Frankly, I’m sick of ghosts and demons. However, The Conjuring was a really good horror film. After multiple viewings I still feel my heart racing and get a little jumpy. The opening, however, focuses on the possessed Annabelle doll and has nothing really to do with the main story. However, these first 10 minutes of the Annabelle story are better than the entire Annabelle film. It’s jumpy, scary, weird and quite unexpected. It really sets the mood for the rest of the film.
Let me know what your favourite horror film openings are or if you think I should have included any others!
Thanks for reading,
all the best,