Opening scenes of a horror movie often predetermines wether the overall structure of said film will ultimately go on to reel in audiences or not. If we're being honest, viewers can actually tell within the first 10 minutes if a horror movie is going to be worth their time. The significance in capturing a viewer's attention is found in the meat of an opening scene (the content, formatting, structuring, etc.); it sets the atmosphere and tone of a film.
Most opening scenes start off ordinarily, with the central character (or characters) in a completely normal state of mind; at home watching television, engaging in extracurricular activities (oftentimes sex), or just popping popcorn. Starting a film off in this manner reminds viewers of the fear in normalcy, and how it can be easily shattered, setting the stage for the frights to come. A good opening horror movie scene often reminds us that in all actuality, these characters could either be us, someone we know, or someone we love, and this sentiment sticks with us as we continue to watch. In this, filmmakers are able to utilize moments of suspense in order to reel us in. These are some of the best opening scenes in horror movie history.
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6/6 Scream (1996)
So, no one ate the popcorn.
In one of the best opening scenes of all time, West Craven's '96 slasher blockbuster Scream pays homage to the '79 classic, When a Stranger Calls. From the start, we are introduced to Casey Becker (Drew Barrymore), a suburban teenaged girl who's in the kitchen of her home, making popcorn. As she prepares for a night of scary movies, Casey receives a series of phone calls from a stranger that she first takes to be a prank.
In her continuous interactions with this strange guy (who we now know to be Ghostface), he makes her aware that he knows exactly who she is, along with the fact that he knows she's home alone. From torturing and quickly murdering her boyfriend Steve, to giving her the option of playing a game in an attempt to save her life, Ghostface ultimately kills Casey, but it's the way in which he kills her that is so horrific and unfathomable.
Related: How Scream Perfected the Art of the Cold Open
Once we notice that Casey's parents are arriving back to the family's home, we also see Casey less than inches away from approaching them, in order to signal there's an intruder present. Already wounded by Ghostface, she's unable to speak and is struggling to walk. As Ghostface grabs Casey away so that her parents aren't able to see her, he finishes his pursuit and kills her. As viewers, we feel for Casey because she was so close to reaching her parents before facing her abrupt demise. Not to mention, Casey's mother listening to her daughter take her last breaths over the phone will stay in the mind of viewers forever.
5/6 Halloween (1978)
John Carpenter's Halloweenis often considered the blueprint for the modern horror movie, so it makes sense that its opening scene would be the blueprint for how to start a horror film off on the right track. The movie begins by taking us back to Halloween night in 1963, when a young Michael Myers brutally murders his older sister. In this fantastically executed long shot, we are walking through this scene with Michael, from the villain's perspective. As the younger version of him appears to be in a zombie-like mental state, we see him grab a knife from out the kitchen, walk up the stairs, place his mask over his face, and kill his sister. Emotionless, his cadence never shifts from an enraged state; he is calm from start to end. In this way, the terrifying nature of the villain is presented from the very start of the film.
4/6 When A Stranger Calls (1979)
"Have you checked the children?"
Babysitting is scary enough, but couple that with an unidentified man calling to calmly ask "if you've checked the children," and it has to send chills down the spine of anyone. The action of home invasion movies are beyond alarming because they're so relatable and realistic, and the fact that this is depicted so well within the first five minutes of When a Stranger Calls is perfectly scary, setting the tone for what's to follow. The thought of anyone not being safe, even in a home they are familiar with, is too much to keep the lights off.
3/6 Silence of The Lambs (1991)
Running through a secluded area never looked more frightening.
The beginning of Silence of The Lambslooks rather typical and ordinary, and that itself is the creepiest aspect of all. As Clarice (Jodie Foster) is sprinting through the woods, in a setting that appears to be an everyday morning run, the choice of musical score, close up camera angles, and foggy surroundings leaves the viewer to wonder what could possibly happen next. The thematic perfection of the opening is especially significant, as well, as Jonathan Demme's film is largely about Clarice running headfirst toward work in an effort to run from her own personal nightmares. In this excellent example of a film score of the '90s doing the heavy lifting, the pivot from subtlety to a more theatrical escalation lets viewers know to be on high alert.
2/6 Jaws (1975)
Chrissy, what are you doing?
As humans, we evolved out and away from the ocean without any gills, so we should probably stick to land; besides, from the looks of this film, sea creatures are beyond tired of us invading their space. Steven Spielberg's classic film Jawsshook audience members to their core from the very start of the picture. Jaws successfully made people afraid, not only of sharks, but of the water itself. The generally frightening aspect of the opening is not just the demise of Chrissy, but the buildup from the shark's angle combined with the classic minimalist score from John Williams. While viewers are strategically placed underwater (through a series of camera angles), we see Chrissy floating at the surface as the shark makes its way towards her. It's terrifying because we all know the inevitability of what's to follow.
Related: Texas Chainsaw Massacre Movies: How to Watch in Order of Release Date
1/6 The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Casually hanging out on a tombstone, nothing to see here people.
It would probably be an honest statement if someone had said they'd never been more disturbed in life than when watching the opening scene of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Beforethe film begins, we are brought to a black screen, with a narrator (John Larroquette) conveying to the audience the significance in the overall plot. Using a 'ripped from the headline,' documentary-style approach which still has people asking today if The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was real, the opening sets the gritty, realistic stage for what's to follow.
We are immediately exposed to a series of still images and flashing lights, where there appears to be parts of a corpse's lifeless body, before cutting to an incredible viasua tableaux of a corpse propped up on a tombstone, holding the dead body of a child as the camera take a very slow zoom. From a single perspective, it feels as if viewers are plunged into a hostile, terrifying environment, and the fear barely lets up after this masterpiece of an opening scene.