Horror is a tough genre to master and one that continues to be reinvented in cinemas of various languages.
Given that this style of cinema plays on the mind as well as emotions, the beginning is very important as it sets the premise.
Many films, over the years, have exhibited scenes that grabbed our throats from the very start, through various cinematic tropes.
So be it the camera shots, stories or technical aspects, here are some of the most unforgettable Horror opening sequences!
One of the oldest horror films in Bollywood, Mahal is a classic and a trailblazer for the ‘Gothic’ genre in Indian cinema The black-and-white gradient only enhances the enigma.
This Kamal Amrohi directorial revolves around a man (Ashok Kumar) who moves into an ancient mansion and learns about his previous life.
Things take a turn when he gets visions of a woman claiming to be his lover (Madhubala).
The opening credits consist of a rainy night, with the constant wind howling and an eerie baritone voice narrating how the infamous ‘Mahal’ is a symbol of painful love and ill fate. A testament that simplicity can be spooky.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Low budgets can truly command creative content and a testament to that is Tobe Hooper’s film, which is of course iconic.
The film follows a group of friends who fall victim to a family of cannibals while on their way to visit an old homestead and it has presented us with the most grizzly villains ever – Leatherface.
The beginning consists of a text scroll, laying out the movie’s “maybe-based-on-a-true-story” credentials and that itself is quite terrifying.
But then those camera flashes, shocking us to life with grisly images of decomposing eyes and other grotesque visuals, immediately grabbing viewers by the throat.
Halloween is horrific because it delves into how a mentally challenged child evolves into becoming a dreaded serial killer. The creme-de-la-creme of all slasher films.
Jack O’Lantern has never been more foreboding and accompanied by John Carpenter’s foreboding musical theme, immediately grabs viewers by the throat.
From a wide shot of the only lit house in a dark street, the sinister piano shots and the camera moves along with the mysterious assailant.
The binocular shot capturing nothing but the terror on the victims’ faces is a harrowing commencement of bloodshed that is to unfold.
When A Stranger Calls (1979)
This one cuts to the chase. Ominous music playing in the background as a lone babysitter sets off to work from a dimly lit street.
But then after a lengthy chat with her friend, the phone rings. A man’s croaky voice repeatedly asking “have you checked the children?”
Until this film, the sound telephone ringing never sounded so foreboding. Plus, the anonymity of who is on the opposite side of it makes it all the more mysterious.
The 2017 adaptation of IT might’ve been a box-office gala, but nothing ever beats the eerieness of the miniseries by Tommy Lee Wallace.
Of course, we all know about the infamous Georgie scene, but the opening of the series is no less creepy.
A young girl is shown to be cycling on a street cheerfully singing ‘Itsy Bitsy Spider’ but as she pulls into her home, the devious pennywise clown appears amidst clothes hanging off the rotary line.
The wide camera shot of Pennywise hiding behind the flapping clothes slowly zooming in on the shocked girl is a parent and child’s worst nightmare.
This Ram Gopal Varma classic will always be regarded as Hindi cinema’s initial endeavour at bringing ‘horror’ to mainstream attention.
The opening is the worst nightmare. Mini is dropped off in a desolate village and the camera shakily follows her every move, even a close-up shot of her horrified expressions as the camera travels towards her only emphasises the mysteriousness.
Furthermore, the upbeat 80s style of music unexpectedly matches with the eerie setting. The camera is like a sinister entity encroaching on the protagonist, foreshadowing her fate in the film.
The Scream franchise by Wes Craven will always be the trailblazing fusion of pop-culture horror and slasher genres.
Mise-en-scène within the first franchise beginning is solid. It begins with High school student Casey (Drew Barrymore) getting a random phone call from an unknown person.
But then, that initial flirtatious call suddenly turns sadistic and dark, where she and the boyfriend’s lives are at the stake of a Horror movie trivia.
Dim lights, night setting and a close-up shot of popcorn bag popping contribute towards the ominous events that are to unfold. A literal killer of a conversation.
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
The Blair Witch Project by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez is undoubtedly a renaissance for the Horror genre, paving way for the ‘found footage’ style.
A black screen appears with simple text highlighting: “In October of 1994 three student filmmakers disappeared in the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland while shooting a documentary…A year later their footage was found.”
This is then cut into a muddled view of Heather, followed by various other unsuspecting shots of other characters, as they set off to produce a documentary on Urban Legend of ‘Blair Witch’.
The eeriest part about the opening and film is it being touted as a true story and the realistic approach. It lowers the curtain between fictitious horror and reality.
The film starts with a group of college students enjoying a picnic in a forest in Ooty. A girl, Nisha (Mink Brar), in jest, runs into the woods which mysteriously lets out a hair-raising scream.
It is then revealed she inexplicably attacked her boyfriend like a monster and was rushed to the hospital.
Just before dying, her face and demeanour change completely – where a supernatural, deviant spirit possesses her. The silhouette of this is incredibly alarming, even today.
A mysterious male voice talking about fate and how this mansion plunged him into the jaws of death, sets a foreboding tone, almost how Rod Sterling used to in The Twilight Zone.
We then see an inhabitant move into it. Soon things get sinister as paranormal incidents occur – the scariest of it all – the bloodcurdling scream of a man, banging against a door.
Just imagine yourself as this inhabitant, surrounded by nothing but isolation, darkness at a time that is untouched by technology. What would you do?
The Conjuring (2013)
We as a society discount the idea that the supernatural exists and real-life can be extremely terrifying. The Conjuring is a testament to that.
After a brief blackout, a zoomed-in shot pans out to the demonic Annabelle Doll, staring coldly at the camera.
We then hear the horrific ordeal of how the possessed doll terrorised a young girl and her family.
The subtle scares, harrowing background score by Joseph Bishara and dark filters add to the vintage creeps. The text scroll providing contextual information makes it eerier.
Get Out (2017)
When we talk about horror, it is often the supernatural that gives us the chills. But nothing is more disturbing than the atrocities inflicted by humans to other humans.
Get Out is a rare gem where it amalgamated rampant issues like racism (and class disparity) with the horror genre. Jordan Peele creates a revolutionary hybrid that requires a thesis, more than an article.
The opening scene shows a black man walking on a dark street on the phone, with dimly lit lampposts and suddenly, kidnapped.
Wide shots of the scene and Flanagan and Allen’s ‘Run Rabbit Run’, indicating the harrowing incidents that are to emerge in the movie. The mise-en-scene is very much on point!
Horror stories usually impact us after the credits have rolled and when our mind absorbs the spooky occurrences.
But ultimately, it is the beginning that haunts us the most, for years to come.