Happy Halloween everyone! Look outside, can’t you see it? Children stopping door to door grabbing candy. The night coming just a wee bit earlier than normal. And horror movies are screening all across the world. While some love to celebrate Halloween on just the thirty-first of October, others live and breathe the holiday all month. I know I have. I’ve been consuming as much horror material as I possibly could, and it’s really easy to distinguish the fantastic horror films from the lackluster one. Simply put, a great horror movie has a great intro.
It should go without saying that a great intro would make a great movie, but in an age of dwindling attention spans, like it or not, movies need to make an impact within the first five to ten minutes or risk losing their audience. This rings all the truer for horror movies. Unless you can convince your audience that this movie is going to be terrifying and scar your dreams, audiences won’t care. There are plenty of great horror movies that terrify you from the get go, but for my money, nothing could disturb you more than the introduction to The Witch.
If you’ve never seen the movie, imagine it as a version of The Crucible except there actually are witches cursing New England Puritans. It’s a very dark and raw horror movie that isn’t afraid to put up a plethora of disturbing images and metaphors, but the introduction ranks up there as being particularly shocking, even by today’s standard.
After a family leaves a Puritan settlement due to religious differences, they create a farm in the middle of the woods that seems fairly normal. The father hunts, the children tend to the animals, and the eldest daughter, Thomasin, is playing with her infant brother Samuel. First shot, Thomasin playing Peekaboo with Sam. Second shot, Sam smiling at Thomasin. Third shot, Thomasin going for another round of Peekaboo, but we’re held on for an extra frame to see a puzzled expression creep onto her face. Fourth shot, Samuel is missing.
It’s all played so matter of factly that you’ll wonder what happened to Samuel as well. As Thomasin begins to search for him, we gets shots of the dark, imposing woods and hear some strange and mysterious noise come from the darkness. As we creep further in, we discover an old woman beating something in a corner, naked as the day she was born. It turns out that she took Samuel and murdered him for a spell. Yes, The Witch opens up with a case of infanticide. I know some horror movies will kill dozens of teenagers like nobody’s business, but there’s something extra visceral and upsetting about watching a newborn be murdered that refuses to get out of my head. It’s upsetting. It’s shocking. It’s an intro that shows The Witch isn’t your typical horror movie, and one that still sticks with me to this day.
Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (1922)
INT: Library, top floor, night. A lone student searches the dusty top shelves for a solitary film. She finds what she’s looking for and settles down to an apparently innocuous evening…
Two years ago, I embarked on a lone, foolish mission: to write a dissertation on F.W. Murnau. I was so naive; if only I knew what awaited. Part of my research process led me, on a cold, dark night, into a chilly library top floor. I delved deep into the film section, found Murnau’s seminal work, and sat down with my laptop. Not giving a second thought to the increasingly noiseless room, but bent purely on my mission, I put on my headphones and pressed ‘play’.
[Cut to: EXT Library; cue organ, thunderbolts, wolf howling across campus, screaming, maniacal laughter.]
Nosferatu was one of the first horrors of the silent era, making it uniquely terrifying. For the opening title, it flickers open to a candlelit view of an old book, in which we read “A Chronicle of the Great Death in Wisborg, anno domini 1838.” In great, cursive script, it continues: “Nosferatu. Does not this word sound like the call of the death bird at midnight?” It’s a real page-turner, and it just gets creepier.
What’s most alarming about the bone-chilling setup is the way it transitions into footage, but how the sepia tone somehow makes every character seem as if they’re the living dead. It’s even creepier if you add your own music (silent film soundtracks were usually played live, thus any recordings were at the discretion of the distributor). Me? I decided to listen to Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor’s suite from Peer Gynt, which freaked me the heck out when Max Schrek’s Count Orlok appeared to suck the life out of defenseless Ellen. Sure I finished my dissertation and moved right along, but have a feeling that intense, pit-of-the-stomach dread I had while watching Nosferatu will continue to haunt me for life. — Sian Francis-Cox
I wonder what it was like the first time people saw this movie in cinemas. They sit down and those credits start with John Carpenter’s iconic music playing as the camera zooms in on a lone pumpkin.The score keeps pulling you in, as the camera slowly pulls in to show what looks more and more like a figure made out of the nose and eye of the jack o’ lantern. We then cut to a cool fall night. We are in the first person view of someone, although something might be more appropriate. They spy through the windows and proceed into the house. Now we see the hands of a child grab a butcher’s knife. The child sees his sister’s boyfriend leaving, after he set some kind of speed record, and goes up the stairs. All the while the score is sitting in the background dancing on your nerves. He puts on his mask and The Shape is born. He then stalks into his sister’s room and introduces her to the pointy end of the kitchen knife. He starts breathing heavily, now fully transformed into the monster he will forever be. He calmly walks outside and it is finally revealed, for certain, that this is a 6 year old child who has just slain his sister and shows no remorse or even emotion as he is unmasked. The shot pulls out leaving you with the impact of what just happened.
This opening stills get me and I’ve seen it more times than I can remember. Iconic is the only way I can really describe the way that this film opens. People who have never seen Halloween in its entirety remember this opening. The single take, the score, and the dread are all just putting you on edge as you are made to be an observer or accomplice to what is happening on screen. Michael Myers is one of the mainstays of the slasher genre and this is beginning is one of the things that sticks with people when they think of this character. This is my favorite first scene in a horror movie because from the get-go it hits you with the unexpected and sets the perfect tone for everything that follows. — John Morey
This one is cheating a little, but whatever. The shower scene in Psycho is probably the most effective example of horror in film ever conceived. That it also happens relatively early into the film and removes the main protagonist from the story is extraordinary. Nothing like this had ever been done in films at that point, but the way in which everything is filmed still holds up remarkably well. Director Alfred Hitchcock didn’t just create a new genre of film, he basically declared himself a master of it.
I have to mention the cheating bit because the shower scene does happen towards the end of the first third of the movie. We spend quite a bit of time with Marion (the main character) before Norman Bates is introduced and subsequently kills her. This isn’t like other examples on this list where the immediate intro leads into a thrilling death scene or scary moment. Psycho takes its time building up that tension, but the first 20 or so minutes breeze by. It honestly does feel like it could stand up as a cold open to the movie with little or no explanation and still be shocking as hell.
At any rate, Psycho is exceptional. You should definitely watch it. — Peter Glagowski
Exte: Hair Extensions (2007)
As a bald guy, I’m always suspicious of hair. My follicles dried up and all growth fled my skull, because it knew I was wise to its schemes. The jig was up, and my tangled mess of locks cut a hasty retreat. Hair can’t be trusted, and whenever I see too much in a confined space I take special note.
If only the two security guards who open Exte were bald (and therefore incredibly smart) like me. They open a shipping container filled with entirely too much hair–haystacks of twisted black tangles heaped to the ceiling. Not only that but it stinks like death. That there’s some dangerous hair. Cue a guard getting too close to the hair only to have the pale mask-like face of a corpse fall from the endless maw behind him. Also, a tiny bell is tied to the hair that lets out a very creepy tingle. My shorts are damp, and we’re good to with what I would consider the greatest hair-based horror film of all time. — Kyle Yadlosky
The Evil Dead (1981)
The opening of The Evil Dead isn’t some fantastic kill or truly horrifying moment but it establishes a tone and style that not only defines the film but much of horror film making since then. Director Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell made the movie on a shoe string budget and yet helped define horror cinema for decades to come and the opening sequence shows exactly why.
We start with the signature “evil” cam flying through the woods with a disturbing sound playing over the background. By now this kind of shot is cliche but when audiences first watched the film it would have been groundbreaking. This is intercut with shots of a group of 20-somethings driving in a car and shots of a truck driving down the road towards them. Clearly these things are going to intersect and Raimi steadily ramps up the speed of the cuts and the off-kilter nature of the shots, as the three get closer and closer to each other. Ignore Campbell’s campy acting (or don’t, it’s wonderful) and you have a master class in editing, shooting, and directing. Everything you need to know is given to you in under two minutes, including a filming style that just hadn’t been seen in horror before.
To modern audiences this opening sequence might not seem anything special but it still works. The best slasher/horror films get you into the action quickly without the need for extensive exposition or character set up. That’s exactly what The Evil Dead does with this scene. There’s evil, it’s after these people, nothing else matters so get ready for the blood to fly. (Also, this is the first scene with The Classic, one of the best Easter eggs in all of cinema.) — Matthew Razak
The Ring ( 2002)
When The Ring first made its debut way back in 2002 (almost twenty years ago) you had many Samara’s running around that Halloween. The idea of a haunted video tape that will kill you in seven days in the late days of Blockbuster captivated many. When you first tune into The Ring you aren’t really sure what you are getting into, two teens are clearly having a sleepover discussing random things and then the “tape” is mentioned.
As the night goes on we get a few jump scares with one teen admitting she actually watched it seven days ago. Although the first seven minutes of the film start out pretty slow, it builds tension and piques the viewers interest wondering just what is going to happen. The little things such as the television turning on by itself, something clearly following the lead actor in the home, and just this eerie feeling draw you in. Don’t take my word for it, just watch the clip above.
This movie remains one of my favorites because the idea of a demon spirit using modern technology to kill was a relatively new concept. Sure, it has some really cheesy moments that CinemaSins is really good at picking at but looking back it had great special effects for 2002. The Ring proved it wasn’t just “another teen movie” although it starts out like one. If you have never watched it I highly recommend you do this Halloween, that and its sequel The Ring Two. Just beware of any sketchy files now since VHS is basically a relic of the past. Who knows maybe Samara will come back with a haunted YouTube Clip? — Tarah Bleier
So that’s Cure.
Kiyoshi Kurosawa might only be the second most-famous filmmaker with that name, but I think you’d be hard-pressed to find one more capable of creating the sort of enthralling mystery present in Cure. What might puzzle or even amuse a (sick and twisted!) audience initially starts to confuse, and then perhaps make some sense. Then Cure starts to really give you chills.
It’s a slow burn, to be certain. Yet for all the horror I’ve seen, there are few films that have me leaning forward, utterly engrossed, and really captivated with just how unsettling this downward spiral is. Cure doesn’t provide easy answers for what occurs in its story, with hypnosis and the unconscious mind playing heavily into the actual substance. And the bizarre nature of its genre tropes instigate a detective-like drive in its audience, maybe more disturbed by the lack of answers than if they were to get them.
As a police procedural and social commentary, Cure shows Kurosawa’s knack for dissecting the Japanese psyche. What Cure also shows is that the filmmaker is incredibly gifted in playing the film’s themes of hypnosis and suggestion with his audience, lulling you in with brutal violence that is detached from being visceral or exciting, and instead just comes across as haphazard and unpredictable. There’s no fun to be had with Cure‘s bloodletting, and keying the audience in early on that this is a film that deals with the most heinous of crimes while keeping itself at arms length from any excitement maybe prompts your curiosity: What is this driving at, and do I want to know? — Sam van der Meer