The 25 scariest opening scenes in horror-movie history
October 26, 2016 4:10 AM   Subscribe

With Halloween right around the corner, and Horrors Weeks in full swing, The A.V. Club is counting down the scariest, creepiest, and most nerve-shredding opening scenes in horror-movie history. Bonus: Karin Slaughter recommends 7 thrilling, disturbing mysteries written by women.
posted by valkane (37 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Ghost Ship. I never expected to hear of that movie again.
posted by Literaryhero at 4:19 AM on October 26, 2016 [5 favorites]

Was not thrilled but was a little disturbed by Karin Slaughter's list as the article seemed to imply that Patricia Highsmith, Marcia Muller and Ruth Rendell/ Barbara Vine (among many, many others) never existed and this whole women write something other than cozies is a new thing that Gillian Flynn invented.
posted by dannyboybell at 4:49 AM on October 26, 2016 [6 favorites]

Under the Skin should've been here.
posted by rock swoon has no past at 4:53 AM on October 26, 2016 [5 favorites]

Oh god, The Conjuring. My wife loves horror movies, but is terrified by them. Like, covers her eyes and cringes the whole time. We saw that one together in a pretty packed theater. She was sitting next to a burly, tough-looking guy in a leather jacket with biker patches on it.

They both had their eyes covered for most of the movie.
posted by uncleozzy at 4:57 AM on October 26, 2016 [7 favorites]

I'm one of those craxy people who for years argued that Scream 2 was better than Scream because it was the more polished film. Conceptually, it may be stronger but Scream 2 doesn't have the one thing that Scream does: that opening scene. The fact that Scream is more unpolished gives it its power. Scream was such a huge deal when I was in high school that when Scream 2 came out it was the talk of the town; such a big deal that when this girl irked me in class one day I try to spoil the movie by snapping back at her "Mickey's the killer in Scream 2. And Jackie from Roseanne!." And she was like, Who is Jackie?

Last year I rewatched all of the Scream movies for Halloween. Yes, even Scream 3 and don't you dare say anything negative about Scream 4, you monsters, it is a post postmodern cinematic meta (cinemetaic?) masterpiece (metasterpiece?). I had completely forgotten how raw and chilling that opening scene of Scream was. I've seen Scream a dozen times and I was still on the edge of my seat hugging my sleeping cat to protect me.

It's terrifying because it feels so very real.
posted by guiseroom at 5:07 AM on October 26, 2016

Ghost Ship. I never expected to hear of that movie again.

Having near heard of Ghost Ship beyond seeing the cover art somewhere (Netflix? At a Blockbuster? No idea), let me take this moment to say what the fuck was that?
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 5:15 AM on October 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

So like was Ghost Ship a ship of ghosts or a ship that was a ghost? Or both?
posted by guiseroom at 5:20 AM on October 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

It's mentioned in the AV article but just to pile on a bit one today is better with sound than James Wan.

The next time you're watching one of his films pay close attention to what's happening with the audio in whatever creepy scene is taking place. It's an underrated aspect of the mechanics of film horror/tension building that he really is an absolute master of.
posted by NervousVarun at 5:21 AM on October 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

Ghost Ship was entirely forgettable, aside from the opening scene and all the people getting sliced in slow motion. In fact I don't even remember the rest of the movie at all. (Potential spoilers?) I think there might have been a little girl ghost or something in one of the state rooms? I guess the whole thing was very vaguely based on the Mary Celeste or something.

I did own it own DVD but that was because the box art was awesome. Terrible reason to spend 10 or 20 bucks or whatever, but there you go.
posted by Literaryhero at 5:43 AM on October 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

Oh and yeah, Scream. Man, oh man do I love that movie. It is still terrifying 20 years later.
posted by Literaryhero at 5:44 AM on October 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

Scream 2 is my favourite as well. Bigger, scarier, more polished for sure, although I agree the opening isn't as strong. Scream 1 drags for me, I feel like they're in that house for years at the end. Scream 4 is pretty brilliant as well, I really need to watch it again.

Scream 3... has a weird Hollywood tone I like and Parker Posey is always fun. But the only thing I really love about Scream 3 is the recreation of Sydney's bedroom, complete with the closet door that prevents the bedroom door from opening. A fantastic detail.

I've been hatewatching the Scream series and man oh man it's awful.

As for opening scenes not on the list, I don't really remember much about Jeepers Creepers, but the baddie's truck appearing behind our heroes' car, getting closer and closer unbeknownst to them until it violently rear ends them and sets the plot in motion has stuck with me forever.
posted by yellowbinder at 6:20 AM on October 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

The original Texas Chainsaw Massacre NOT in the 25 scariest opening scenes? C'mon AV Club, you're better than that.
posted by marxchivist at 6:21 AM on October 26, 2016 [4 favorites]

I've seen Ghost Ship! Several members of my family decided we should sneak into another movie after the one we paid for finished, and it was the only one that was starting at the right time.

This gave us a striking lesson in instant karma, and we didn't really do that again.
posted by figurant at 6:29 AM on October 26, 2016 [11 favorites]

My roommate downloaded Ghost Ship when it was current. So ... 1 Mbps on a good day, BitTorrent barely a thing, lousy compression, HTPC was a hacked-together MythTV box. We worked so hard to watch that piece of garbage movie on the TV.
posted by uncleozzy at 6:41 AM on October 26, 2016

Ghost Ship is a godawful movie, but that scene totally belongs on this list as it's tense and terrifying and cruelly, inventively gory.

I was glad it made this list because it's always been one of my go-to examples of great scene/terrible movie.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 6:49 AM on October 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

Scream did have the best opening, but Scream 2 wins over the rest of the genre for the "What's your favorite scary movie?" / "Showgirls" line.
posted by Zonker at 7:01 AM on October 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

Scream is the Pearl Jam's Ten of 90s horror: definitely good, but hard to enjoy for what it is now that we've lived through an entire generation of terrible imitators.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:04 AM on October 26, 2016 [10 favorites]

Whoa there! Ghost ship has not one, but two good scenes in it. The scene where, in the present day, the main character witnesses all of the past events unfold in front of her is pretty well done. Other than those scenes, yes, horrible crap fest.

If I had any kind of stick-to-itiveness, I'd have a well loved but little known blog about all sorts of lovely cinematic ideas that got wasted on absolutely crap films. Those two scenes from Ghost Ship, the absurdly enjoyable "gun katas" from the Christian Bale crapfest Oblivion, and a number of other ideas that just deserved a better movie.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:20 AM on October 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

The opening scene of 28 Days Later is one of my all time favorites. It is so suspenseful and eerie when Jim is wandering around deserted London screaming. (Cillian Murphy can do no wrong, imo) I thought it is was scarier than 28 Weeks Later which is the one discussed in the article. Both are worth watching though!
posted by Hop123 at 7:34 AM on October 26, 2016 [6 favorites]

Whoa there! Ghost ship has not one, but two good scenes in it.

Three. There is the scene where the black character, played by the great Isaiah Washington, who has been talking about his girlfriend throughout the movie, shows a photo of her, and it's just the worst sort of Glamor Shots by Deb photo imaginable.
posted by maxsparber at 7:42 AM on October 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

Ok, who is up for a Ghost Ship rewatch? We might as well just get it over with.
posted by Literaryhero at 7:52 AM on October 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yeah now I really want to see Ghost Ship. If only for that girlfriend picture.
posted by yellowbinder at 7:55 AM on October 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

the absurdly enjoyable "gun katas" from the Christian Bale crapfest Oblivion

I'm afraid you are mixing up your crapfests. The Christian Bale crapfest with the gun-kata and mandatory prozac is Equilibrium. Oblivion is either a Tom Cruise crapfest that's basically just unenjoyable at any level, or a non-crapfest Bethesda RPG from the mid 2000s.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:31 AM on October 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

The Opening alone makes Equilibrium an acceptable movie, also the use of strobes to make the fun flashes more exciting was awesome.

Plot and Acting be damned, it was a visually exciting movie. Being a visual medium, excellent visuals and visual storytelling do make a good movie.
posted by NiteMayr at 8:41 AM on October 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

After a recent re-watch, I would add An American Werewolf in London to the list. That whole opening sequence just gets everything right. (And features a young Rik Mayall in a small wordless role, to boot!)
posted by Atom Eyes at 9:59 AM on October 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

The scene where, in the present day, the main character witnesses all of the past events unfold in front of her is pretty well done.

You mean aside from the ├╝ber-90s-Nine Inch Nails-ripoff music?

Ah, who am I kidding. That's a fun schlockfest.
posted by gottabefunky at 10:15 AM on October 26, 2016

One of the nice things about Ghost Ship are the opening titles and music, which are more suggestive of a Rock Hudson/Doris Day vehicle than a horror movie. The sudden introduction of the horror aspect is a nice "huh, wha---?" moment.
posted by SPrintF at 11:00 AM on October 26, 2016

When there's something strange
In the shipping lanes
Who you gonna call?
The ghost guard!
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:59 AM on October 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

Ghost Ship on FanFare.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:16 PM on October 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Christian Bale crapfest with the gun-kata and mandatory prozac is Equilibrium

Ugh. Yeah, that's right, I wasn't entirely sure which one it was, but then again, they're both kind of awful?
posted by Ghidorah at 2:17 PM on October 26, 2016

Equilibrium is definitely entertaining enough on a visual/action level to be worth watching despite the mediocre story and world-building.

Not too scary, though, unfortunately. ;)
posted by tobascodagama at 2:37 PM on October 26, 2016

Halfway into Ghost Ship. The opening was jawdropping, the movie looks gorgeous, half the characters are irritating morons. It's pretty weak if slightly better than expected. But the girlfriend picture is worth it.
posted by yellowbinder at 4:43 PM on October 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

Equilibrium was fun, plot-related puppy and all. Gun katas!

Oblivion had a wonderful Melissa Leo performance, but it sort of missed the interesting (to me) question about the knowledge and motivation of one of the female leads. It sort of got near it and then just ignored it. (because why would we care about a female character's motivations, I guess?) Vg arire npghnyyl rira nfxf, arirezvaq nafjref gur dhrfgvba bs jurgure Pehvfr'f zvffvba cnegare unf nal xabjyrqtr bs jung'f ernyyl tbvat ba. Vg sryg yvxr vg vzcyvrq gung znlor gurer jnf fbzr hacyrnfnag onetnva bs ure trggvat gb or jvgu uvz ohg qbrf fur xabj gung'f jung'f tbvat ba? It also has a great image described by Morgan Freeman's character.
posted by rmd1023 at 6:35 AM on October 27, 2016

An interesting list with a few missteps.

It made me want to watch THE PACT - at least until I saw that it was recommended by the same person who recommended the American remake of RING.

Unfortunately, the American remake of RING is terrible. The start is merely medioce, with none of the grimy low-budget intimacy of the original's opening. The real problems come at the climax: it cuts away from the climactic scene! All the tension and energy drains away. It would be difficult to conceive of a more misjudged piece of editing. The remake also clumsily foreshadows the climax by having a fly "come out" of the video screen, thus undermining the nightmare logic of the original ending (which did not need justification or explanation - it was instantly understandable and created a wonderful, purely frightening sense of reality breaking).

And, of course, being an American movie made between 1980 and 2010, the RING remake exonerates the father. In the original, it is Sadako's father who hits her with a 2x4 and knocks her into that iconic well. In the remake, it is rewritten to be her mother (for no apparent reason).

The opening of THE HALLOW is quite good - a family move into a really grotty Irish cottage and while the father is going out exploring he comes across the corpse of a deer. It's striking and yet somehow also the kind of thing that happens in the country. Sadly, the rest of the movie devolves into a dumb zombie movie - running, shouting, gribbly monsters (with an uninspired design). There was something interesting there.
posted by lucien_reeve at 9:38 AM on October 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

Gun-kata in Ultraviolet (by the same director as Christian Bale's gun-kata movie) is pretty good too. For Gun-kata.
posted by valkane at 1:06 PM on October 27, 2016

lucien_reeve, honestly, I'd like to enjoy the original Ring more than I do, but it's just so horribly dated, and it suffers from the 1980s Japanese films look like soap operas film quality. That, combined with the decision to flip the film to negative whenever Sadako 'attacks' makes the movie nearly unwatchable to me. The American remake (which I prefer, I know you don't), however, is a gorgeous, well filmed movie, where the quality of the filming adds to the movie, rather than being so dated as to make it unwatchable. Of course, mileage may vary.
posted by Ghidorah at 4:36 PM on October 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm with Ghidorah on this one. Normally, I come down squarely on the side of originals over remakes, but not in this case.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:52 AM on October 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

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