The opening act of every movie is fairly important. It is what will help set the tone for the rest of our journey, and usually, the goal is to make sure to grab you early to keep your attention. With horror movies, it is especially important because generally, after the intro, we are left with little horror for a while, so we need something exciting to help us get through what will then likely be a slower build back up. It also gives the audience a hint at the type of horror we are about to see. Some movies such as The Witch don’t really try to bring anything grand in the intro because they want the audience prepared for the slow build, so instead, it is just world-building. Some attempt to give us one of the most over the top kills so that we know what type of violence we are in for. Either way, a good intro is a good way to kick off horror. The following are a few of my favorites.
Also note, there will be spoilers, of course.
A Quiet Place
A lot was riding on this movie’s opening act. We know that the family is living in silence, and based on what we are shown, the world is not doing well. What is so important is that the intro had to show what the stakes were for the rest of the movie. Something big has to happen related to sound so that we the audience know to fear it in the coming moments, and boy does this movie nail it. After a few near misses and almost moments, the family is walking home seemingly safe after scavenging when the youngest child sets off a loud toy. The family is terrified, and the father attempts to get to him before bam; the son is gone in a blink. It is a shocking moment as a lot of horror movies will stray away from showing the death of children, but again this moment needs to show the audience the stakes. It is effective, and I didn’t hear a peep from the audience after the initial shock of “they just killed off a child in the opening moments.” It also sets up the emotional angle of the movie, which stays with the audience.
One of the longer intros on this list, it takes us through a bit of a ride to establish a lot. First, we see the women rafting, showing us the adventure group we’ll be following later and their dynamics. We get hints at Paul and Juno’s betrayal. Then we get to the meat. Sarah is in the car with her husband and their child in the back. Paul begins to drift and gets into a head-on collision with another car that is hauling pipes. We are shown that likely, Paul is dead with several pipes going through the window and a twitching hand. Sarah wakes up in the hospital and is hallucinating and attempting to run through the hospital to outrun the darkness, only to end up in her friend’s arms, and the worst confirmed, Sarah’s daughter also died. This movie is bleak, and it wants you to know that right away, because things don’t get any happier from here. Not only does it set the tone well, but Sarah running from the darkness, she imagines vs. her later trying to outrun what’s in the dark of the cave is some solid symbolism and foreshadowing. It is an upsetting opening but right in line with what you should expect from the movie.
So most of us know the iconic opening scene. Taking a page from Peeping Tom, Halloween kicks off in the first-person perspective. We are in the mask with an unknown person seeing things through the eye sockets and hearing the heavy breathing Halloween masks are known to cause. We are with the killer as they do their own peeping, grab a knife, and then stab a teen girl over and over. Cut to the mask being removed and the audience moving out of 3rd person to see… a child. It is a fairly shocking opening for a horror movie, especially for the time. Between the excellent use of first-person and what would have been an astonishing reveal at the time, this intro has earned a special place in horror fans’ hearts.
I am not the first, nor will I be the last to sing the praises of the Scream opening sequence. First, we have the Drew Barrymore, Janet Leigh trick. For those that maybe don’t know, Janet Leigh and Drew Barrymore were both cast in their respective movies (Psycho and Scream) to purposely throw the audience. They were the biggest stars in the movie, were given top billing, only to be shockingly killed off. Leigh’s death takes a bit longer to get around to while Barrymore is killed off in our opening sequence. It messes with the audience and their expectations, which both movies are highly focused on doing just that so it’s a perfect way to kick things off. Beyond that, this intro also gives the audience a great taste of what’s to come. The moments between the unknown killer and Barrymore are extremely tense and climax in what was considered excessive violence at the time, even by today’s standards it’s a bit shocking. Scream pushed a lot of boundaries with violence and had a lot of cat and mouse scenes between the killer and victim. It’s all here for us in the first moments, and it is fantastically done.
1997’s slightly lesser-known movie Cube follows a group of people trapped in a Cube. They don’t know what it is, why they are there, or even how to get out. They just know they are trying to move room to room to see what they can uncover. However, before we meet any of them, we start with a single man. Without any explanation as to why he seems to figure out rather quickly that the rooms are trapped and cleverly makes his way through a few by setting off the traps before he enters the room. Only to drop into one room, see lasers, blink, and then his body falls apart into small pieces. He failed to actually trigger the trap and got himself killed. As with A Quiet Place (although slightly less dramatically), the stakes are established right away, as is the danger of the cube. We also get a look at the small space that we will be trapped with the characters in and how well these tight quarters will be used.
It Follows is an interesting movie with a unique plot. Part of what is so amazing about the intro is that it gives us almost no information about that plot, only that something scary is coming. We start with a young woman running from… something. We know nothing about her or what she is running from. Eventually, we find her on a beach saying her goodbyes, only to cut to her broken body in what appears to be a horrific death. Whatever it is, it’s not something we are looking forward to seeing. The intro also mirrors the way a lot of the movie is shot. We have a lot of long takes, characters central located, and the “it” more often being out of the frame and almost like the camera itself chasing the characters. A very cool intro for what is a compelling movie.
These are not the only excellent horror movie intros, so share some of yours!