More so than any other genre, horror films have to grab their audience within the first few minutes to avoid anyone becoming lost or uninterested. Scary horror movie opening scenes are the pinnacle of the genre, and there are a few that really shock the viewer and not only convince them to invest their time in the film but throw them so completely off-kilter that it's impossible to guess what's coming next.
There are myriad ways to grip an audience and leave them wanting more, but the scariest first scenes in horror films all do something interesting and unique, whether it's establish a tone that presides over the rest of the film or simply offer a shock that's so upsetting the audience can't forget it. Each of these opening sequences is powerful in their own right, but they make for better viewing once you watch the rest of the film and know where the writers are going.
Are you brave enough to face the most unsettling opening scenes in horror movie history?
Wes Craven is a director who knows how to use an opening scene to his advantage. In the inaugural A Nightmare on Elm Street, Craven creates an ominous and surreal tone that the audience can't escape for the rest of the film. By opening the film with an oddly lit and strangely edited dream sequence, Craven is able to ramp up the unsettling nature of the story without having to explain himself.
Even though the audience spends the opening minutes with a character who won't make it beyond the first act, they also learn everything they need to know about the plot: There's a monster who lives in your dreams and uses your subconscious against you.
Actors: Johnny Depp, Robert Englund, Heather Langenkamp, John Saxon, Lin Shaye, + more
Directed by: Wes Craven
George Romero doesn't waste any time thrusting the audience into the depths of despair with his directorial debut. The opening scene of the film is one of the most economical in the history of cinema simply by the way it establishes that our main character is in the middle of nowhere. Does the unsettling music put you on edge? Totally, but even if there were no audio, it's clear that something is very wrong.
When Barbara and her brother drive to rural Pennsylvania to put flowers on their father's grave, they're confronted by a man who's clearly just crawled out of the ground. After he smashes her brother against a grave marker, it becomes obvious that Romero isn't messing around. The opening sequence introduces you to a fairly fun, albeit annoying character, and then dispatches him in about five minutes.
In Night of the Living Dead, anything can happen and anything can go wrong.
Actors: George A. Romero, Duane Jones, Bill Hinzman, Karl Hardman, Judith O'Dea, + more
Directed by: George A. Romero
The opening scene to The Stepfather features one of the all-time greatest shocks in horror cinema. The film opens with the titular stepfather washing blood from his body as he changes his appearance. It's not immediately obvious why it's upsetting, we just know that someone changing their look while covered in blood means they're up to no good.
When the stepfather finally goes downstairs, the scene reveals a pile of chopped-up human remains in the living room. The audience is left with the knowledge that the character on screen is truly disturbed and undoubtedly our villain.
Actors: Terry O'Quinn, Shelley Hack, Jill Schoelen, Blu Mankuma, Stephen E. Miller, + more
Directed by: Joseph Ruben
The opening sequence of 28 Weeks Later is empty and silent, but it doesn't stay that way for long. The first six minutes of the film accomplish more in the way of establishing tone and subverting expectations than most full length features. In just two set pieces - a family dinner and a zombie strike - 28 Weeks Later establishes that the world is a wasteland, everyone left alive is paranoid, and there are no relationships worth giving your life for.
Though the infected are frightening enough, the audience learns to fear sound in 28 Weeks Later thanks to this opening scene. We come to understand the only moments of respite occur when the audio dips below audible levels; but as soon as the score kicks in, it's time to cover your eyes.
Actors: Rose Byrne, Idris Elba, Jeremy Renner, Imogen Poots, Robert Carlyle, + more
Directed by: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo