The Top Ten Horror Movie Opening Sequences

Evan Slead ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

There’s nothing more important than the hook of an opening scene in film. Sometimes it can be brilliant enough to suck the viewer in and force them to forget that what they’re watching isn’t real. This talent is especially effective in the horror movie genre. With the it being Halloween, here is a list of the top ten best opening sequences from horror films of past and present. The criteria for the collection came from their overall audience reception, effectiveness in establishing the mood of the film, and most importantly, how terrified it leaves the viewer.

10. The Shining (Stanley Kubrick)

Jack Nicholson in The Shining. Photo Credit: Warner Bros.
Jack Nicholson in The Shining. Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

A controversial movie to say the least, it’s undeniable that the opening sequence of Kubrick’s loose adaptation of the Stephen King novel is effective. The camera begins by slowly looming over a lake, taking the viewer to the cliffside road to follow a car. The magnificently haunting score lays over the scene instantly giving it the feeling of foreboding. The entire film deals with unseen forces, and this ghost-like camera flying over Jack’s car is just the preamble to what comes next.

9. Ghost Ship (Steve Beck)

Still from Ghost Ship. Photo Credit: Warner Bros.
Still from Ghost Ship. Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

Ghost Ship was definitely not a horror movie to that would make it into the vault of must see classics. However, the opening scene is still extremely memorable. A beautiful woman croons on a cruise ship for a ritzy party full of old money socialites. The scene focuses on a young girl that has to endure a scenario that everyone can relate to: a big boring party, boring adults and no other kids her age to play with. Once a razor wire snaps and takes out the entire crowd, she’s even more alone than before. It’s a shocking and crazy opening that gave hope for a fun horror ride. Unfortunately, the rest of the film did not deliver.

8. The Conjuring (James Wan)

Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga in The Conjuring. Photo Credit: Michael Tackett/Warner Bros.
Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga in The Conjuring. Photo Credit: Michael Tackett/Warner Bros.

This opening was so effective that it spawned its own standalone movie Annabelle, out now. Wan’s The Conjuring was a very solid horror film overall, and this opening sequence set the stage brilliantly for the rest of the film. In the credits alone the unnerving overture brings chills to the spine. This leads into the story of the doll “Annabelle” and how it terrorized two young nurses. It was a nice way of introducing not only the feeling of the film overall, but the plot following the Warren’s. A little demon possessed doll that won’t go away? “Demon spirits don’t possess things; they possess people. It wanted to get inside of you”. Chilling.

7. 28 Weeks Later (Juan Carlos Fresnadillo)

Rose Byrne, Jeremy Renner, Mackintosh Muggleton and Imogen Poots in 28 Weeks Later. Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox.
Rose Byrne, Jeremy Renner, Mackintosh Muggleton and Imogen Poots in 28 Weeks Later. Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox.

There have been countless great openings to zombie films, but 28 Weeks Later took a concept that is usually explored later in apocalyptic stories and placed in the forefront. Viewers are introduced to a group just trying to make their lives as normal as possible being holed up in a farmhouse in the middle of an infected world. As the world is established and the tension rises, the infected do in fact overrun the house. The father is confronted with either running out and saving himself or attempting to save his family. These kinds of decisions are a common plot point in zombie stories, but it was an effective decision to place that at the beginning rather than later on in the film. The most interesting part being that the man decides to let his family die and runs to save himself. It brings up a lot of emotional response in the viewer as well as asking a lot of questions for the future. The imagery of the infected chasing him to river is haunting and a nice parallel to his selfish decisions coming back to bite him later. Literally.

6. When A Stranger Calls (1979) (Fred Walton)


The epitome of an urban legend put to screen, the 1979 When A Stranger Calls contains one of those most impactful sequences for the horror genre. A young woman is babysitting two sick children while their parents go out for a night on the town. Instantly relatable to most viewers due to the suburban setting and babysitting job, the sequence pushes the tension to max level as each mysterious phone call comes. The line “Have you checked the children?” plagues Carol Kane as she attempts to feel safe in the house. The idea that someone is watching and waiting to cause harm to you at night is a universal fear that is tapped into brilliantly. The clinching moment comes when the police call her to explain that the mysterious calls are actually coming from inside the house! GET OUT CAROL!

5. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) (Wes Craven)

Robert Englund in A Nightmare on Elm Street. Photo Credit: Zade Rosenthal/New Line Cinema.
Robert Englund in A Nightmare on Elm Street. Photo Credit: Zade Rosenthal/New Line Cinema.

Wes Craven was bound to show up on this list! While being very well known in the horror genre, Craven isn’t always successful at making the entirety of his films effective or perfect. However, his arguably biggest hit A Nightmare on Elm Street introduced the world to Freddy Kreuger and Craven’s undeniable knack to make an effective opening. Viewers watch a man create a razored glove to do obviously nefarious things with, which tells the viewer that they’re in for something mysterious, creepy and pretty hardcore. From there, following Tina in the boiler room full of jump scares and atmosphere is extremely effective in setting up the brilliant concept of dreams that can kill you. “One, two, Freddy’s coming for you…”

4. Suspiria (Dario Argento)


Argento’s Suspiria is truly a punk horror film. It’s hardcore, brutal, quirky, and beautiful all in one crazy package. The opening sequence introduces audiences to the protagonist as she exits an airport terminal in Russia. The cutting of The Goblins’ wonderfully haunting score with the airport doors opening and closing is an interesting way to show that Susie is entering a fairytale-like world. From there, the notable aspect to the opening is watching a young ballerina get murdered by a witch in an expansive hotel rooftop. It’s brutal with close up shots of the heart beating as it’s stabbed, and it’s also beautiful with candy red blood mixed with gorgeous stained glass set pieces. Viewers watch horrible things happen in a beautiful environment. A truly masterful and memorable experience to launch the film.

3. Jaws (Steven Spielberg)

Still from Jaws. Photo Credit: MCA/Universal Home Video.
Still from Jaws. Photo Credit: MCA/Universal Home Video.

The final three movies could arguably be moved into the number one spot, seeing as how they all are iconic and influential in every way. Speilberg’s Jaws is a brilliant movie overall that taught audiences just how terrifying going into the ocean could be. The opening sets the stage for a brilliant monster without even letting the audience see it. A young and free woman runs into the ocean for a bit of nice night skinny dipping. Suddenly the carefree and fun atmosphere shifts to a POV of something looking at the girl from the depths. The brilliant and subtle score by John Williams begins to play as the POV moves closer and closer. Eventually the girl is thrown back and forth and pulled under the water as she screams for help. The feeling of being stranded in the ocean with the possibility of anything underneath is instantly terrifying and puts the viewer in her place. It’s instantly classic and iconic and still remains to this day a brilliant film overall.

2. Scream (Wes Craven)

Drew Barrymore in Scream. Photo Credit: Dimension Films.
Drew Barrymore in Scream. Photo Credit: Dimension Films.

Craven returned after years of so-so films to bring a revival piece of work. Scream was a love letter to all that had come before it, and the opening sets it up fantastically. Viewers are introduced to Drew Barrymore’s character, which was an excellent choice as she is an actress that can draw instant likability to audiences. She is home alone making popcorn when she receives a phone call from an unknown man. They talk for a while and it’s as if he’s flirting with her. He asks her what scary movies she likes and the conversation begins to turn. The popcorn on the stove begins to overheat to parallel the rising alarm that Barrymore feels for her safety. Eventually everything comes to its boiling point and she is brutally murdered by a masked man. Nods to Halloween, When A Stranger Calls, Friday the 13th, and A Nightmare on Elm Street are all packed into this mini opening. The directing and writing are at its peak in the first five minutes without seeming to try too hard. It was groundbreaking while also nostalgic, which is a balance that can seem almost impossible.

1. Halloween (1978) (John Carpenter)


John Carpenter’s Halloween is not only the perfect film to watch on the Halloween holiday, it is a classic that created the notes to hit for an effective opening. Acting almost as a short film, the introduction puts the viewer in the POV of a killer. They are forced to follow this unidentified person as they see a teenage couple attempt to make a fun night alone. The killer enters the back of the house to take a large butcher knife out of the drawer. They slowly stalk through the house and end up in the girl’s bedroom. The girl turns to see the person but is not overly alarmed. The killer then stabs her repeatedly and flees the house. The parents of the home drive up and unmask the killer, to reveal him to be a young, fresh-faced boy. The entire opening is filmed in two continuous shots which on a technical level is fantastic. As the viewer has to watch what happens it raises many questions subtly. Why wasn’t the girl alarmed to see a killer in her room? Who is this person? Why doesn’t he attack the boyfriend or the parents? It sets up a very mysterious and terrifying film. Thankfully Carpenter delivers with this mega successful classic.

What is your favorite horror film opening sequence? Sound off in the comments!


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