The Most Unsettling Opening Scenes In Horror Movie History
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?
- 14,441 VOTESPhoto: 20th Century Fox
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: Robert Carlyle, Rose Byrne, Jeremy Renner, Harold Perrineau, Catherine McCormack
- Released: 2007
- Directed by: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo
- 26,734 VOTESPhoto: Universal Pictures
Jaws is only Steven Spielberg's second feature film and it's clear from the onset that he knows exactly how to mold an audience. The first scene follows a teenage girl as she swims into the ocean - which is never a good idea in a movie about a rapacious shark - and gets chomped up by the titular creature. This scene is so full of misdirects and frightening imagery that it's embedded itself in our cultural consciousness since its release in 1975.
With its initial shark feasting, Jaws gives the audience exactly what they expect, and then turns the story on its head by refusing to address the jarring sequence in the following scene. The scene gives us a reason to be afraid and then spends the next act ratcheting up the tension with the implication that it could happen again. Spielberg is both giving and withholding in this masterful moment.
Even with the fairly gruesome incident, the audience never sees the shark, but we know it's there.
- Actors: Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton
- Released: 1975
- Directed by: Steven Spielberg
- 35,375 VOTES
John Carpenter does many brilliant things throughout Halloween , but one of the first is introducing the audience to his boogeyman as a child. The opening sequence works as if it is its own short film - as many of the best opening sequences do - and manages to put the audience on edge by using the first-person camera perspective. This heavily stylized sequence takes the audience through the Myers household and ends with a vicious murder which changes the scene from an artistic opening to a pulpy climax that grabs your attention.
Like the film itself, this opening scene has garnered countless mimics over the years (even within the Halloween franchise), but it's never been topped. The image of a young Michael dressed as a clown and covered in blood is both stressful and unforgettable.
- Actors: Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis, Nancy Kyes, P.J. Soles, Charles Cyphers
- Released: 1978
- Directed by: John Carpenter
- 43,980 VOTESPhoto: New Line Cinema
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: John Saxon, Ronee Blakley, Heather Langenkamp, Amanda Wyss, Johnny Depp
- Released: 1984
- Directed by: Wes Craven
- 55,721 VOTESPhoto: Dimension Films
She's on the poster, she's in the opening sequence, her name is even over the title on the film's poster - everyone thought Drew Barrymore was going to be the star of Scream. In the 13-minute scene that opens the film, Wes Craven plainly lays out how the once firm rules of horror aren't just out the window, they've been gutted and laid to rest on the front lawn.
Barrymore's single scene threatens to overshadow the film, and Craven takes relish in twisting the audience's expectations. Barrymore is so famous that the viewers are meant to think she would at least survive the first few minutes. But since Scream is one of the first notable films to break the genre, Craven has no qualms about defeating our anticipation right off the bat.
- Actors: Neve Campbell, David Arquette, Courteney Cox, Matthew Lillard, Skeet Ulrich
- Released: 1996
- Directed by: Wes Craven
- 62,501 VOTES
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, Jill Schoelen, Shelley Hack, Charles Lanyer, Stephen Shellen
- Released: 1987
- Directed by: Joseph Ruben