5. The Hitcher (1986)
Pouring rain, a long drive, and one hitchhiker, what could go wrong? Well, everything, if we’re talking about the horrific beginning to Robert Harmon’s 1986 film. Second by second, this opening scene builds tension, from Rutger Hauer revealing what he had done to the last person to pick him, up to his horrifying question of, “Do you wanna know what happens to an eyeball when it gets punctured?”
The scene continues for minutes as Hauer’s character holds a knife to the kid’s face, controlling him, keeping you on the edge of your seat as you can only sit and wait to see what happens, only for it to end as the kid seems to have gotten away for good from the hitchhiker as he throws him out of the car. A brilliant and creepy beginning for a film that’s intense and showcases why Rutger Hauer is one of the best.
4. Black Sunday
Mario Bava’s horror classic opens with a stark black-and-white scene with many hooded figures raising torches, waiting for the execution of a suspected witch. It begins with the possibility that this killing is wrong, and simply done based on false merits that all changes right before the brutal death.
Right as the black masked man places the ‘mask of Satan’ on her, she curses the men (one of whom happens to be her brother) in the name of Satan, cursing his line of kin, and they place the spiked mask over her face. With lightning and thunder booming throughout the scene, and the constant whirling of the winds, this scene’s sound designs heightens the fear and the darkness of it, elevating it to its deadly and bloody conclusion.
3. 28 Weeks Later
The opening scene to “28 Weeks Later” might be the most intense one on the list. Opening in a boarded-up house showing what seems to be a family having a meal, right away we can tell that this moment may be too good to be true. Soon, a young boy can be heard as he pleads to be let in, banging on the door, and they of course do so.
As the boy recounts who he was running from, we see one of the people who were eating begin to peak through the boards to see if anything else is out there, and right as she goes back for a look, a zombie smashes through the window and bites down on the woman’s arm. What happens from here is a horrifying and a kill-filled chase through the house as multiple bloodthirsty zombies plow through the home.
What really makes this scene so terrifying and memorable is the ending, where the soon-to-be main character Don must choose between saving his own life, or possibly dying with his wife and the kid. Don, acting more or less within his fight or flight mode, jumps through the window leaving both, and darts down the path all while being chased by another horde of zombies.
As he makes his escape on a boat, we’re left with the dead silence of the river, the boat’s motor working over time, and the panting Don, as he tries to come to terms with what had just happened and what he had done. The scene holds a lot of emotion and terror, and leaves us with the question of what we would have done in that scenario, making it all the more chilling.
2. The Stepfather
Before he was John Locke on “Lost,” Terry O’Quinn played a man named Jerry Blake who went from family to family, changing his identity each time and becoming a part of the family before he brutally murdered them. “The Stepfather,” while not the most memorable of the 80’s horror films, packs a lot of punches and a lot of that is thanks to O’Quinn’s performance.
The opening scene shows a man washing blood from his hands and shaving an unkempt beard. Seamingly normal, we have no reason to suspect that anything too crazy has happened, as he picks up toys and makes his way down the stairs. As we follow him, we begin to notice pictures tilted, and bloody hand prints smeared on the wall.
Then we see an entire family brutally killed in the living room, even the younger child: a great introduction to an insane human. What truly makes the scene so powerful is the complete calmness of Jerry as he simply grabs his suitcase and happily walks down the street. The complete lack of emotion we get from O’Quinn in this scene only sets up that this is someone you hope to not run into, and that this was probably not his first slaughter.
With the slasher genre and horror in general becoming a stale parody of itself, it was in dire need of something new and fresh to bring it back to its roots. Luckily, in 1996, that’s exactly what it got. Directed by Wes Craven, “Scream” is one of the best horror films of the past few decades and helped reinvent the horror genre. The film, while good in its own right, probably wouldn’t be as shocking without the opening scene.
The simple beginning shows a teenage girl, played by Drew Barrymore, home alone waiting for her boyfriend so that they can watch a movie, as she gets a call from a mysterious person. Not only does this set up a brutal sequence of events, but also where we get one of the most quoted film lines of all time: “What’s your favorite scary movie?”
Playing on horror ideas already with the pretty blonde and her being home alone, the film takes what could be a moment filled with laughable horror gags and descends it into true horror, as we see her boyfriend gutted and the killer invading her home.
Chasing her around her home, we actually see that this masked killer is not invincible as he gets beaten up a few times by Barrymore before she is brutally killed herself and hung in the front yard for her parents to see. The shocking death of Drew Barrymore within the first 10 minutes is a well-created twist, and sets up the violent future that the town of Woodsboro is about to face.