Relax, set the mood, and let the eerie eerie credits roll.
By Meg Shields · Released October 8, 2021
October is defined in Webster’s dictionary as “31 days of horror.” Do not bother to look it up; it is true. Most people consider it to highlight a horror movie a day, but here at FSR, we have taken it an eerie notch or nine by celebrating each day with a top ten list. This article on the opening credits of the best horror movies is part of our ongoing series 31 days of horror lists.
You know what they say: you only get one chance at a good first impression. And by impression, of course, we mean “scaring the hell out of your audience right out of the gate.”
Horror movies, perhaps more than any other genre, thrive on the mood. A spooky cinematic excursion may have a piece of cheese for a budget, but if atmosphere is right, anything is possible. And the best way to set the mood is to grab your audience by the throat right from the jump. Why waste an opening credit sequence just on credits. It’s an opportunity to let your future victims, uh, I mean seere know what kind of carnage they have signed up for.
So what does a horrible opening credit sequence do store rather than just well? There is no safe recipe. But hiring Bernard Herrmann (or pretends to be Bernard Herrmann) seems to be a pretty solid strategy if the list below is something to go by. Stimulating, abstract imagery is also a plus. And a visually striking title card never hurt anyone.
So what do you say? Will the pump in your blood become a big horror movie with an opening credit sequence? If so, keep reading for a look at the top ten opening credits in horror that Anna Swanson, Brad Gullickson, Chris Coffel, Jacob Trussell, Rob Hunter, Mary Beth McAndrews and myself voted for.
10. Se7en (1995)
Over the years, David Fincher‘s films have become known for their clear opening title credits, from the whirlwind journey Kampklubis introduction to the smooth opening of The girl with the dragon tattoo. But what stands out about Se7enopening credits are how much their mere existence displaces the film. Designer Kyle Cooper, working in collaboration with frequent Fincher partners Angus Wall and Harris Savides, captured something at once repulsive and breathtaking. The idea behind the credits was to see serial killer John Doe prepare for all that is to come. The writing in his journals and the matching review of the credits create the impression that what we see is under the control of a character we do not encounter until the third act.
While Se7en begins as a detective-driven investigative thriller, it ends as a straight-up horror film. Perhaps with more understated credits, we would be less ready to acknowledge that the study’s goals are deeply disturbed, even by psychological thriller standards. But when this opening comes under the skin – we literally see John Doe peeling his fingertips – it’s clear Se7en is not your grandmother’s mysterious movie. (Anna Swanson)
9. Alien (1979)
In space, no one can hear you unite, uh I mean, scream. Ridley Scott‘s sub-genre-defining sci-fi horror show brought a distinctly cruel corporate edge to the outer realms of outer space. Instead of sleek tech-colored spacesuits and daydreams in the atomic age, Scott smashed his fateful blue-collar astronauts with dirt and sweat. The only slenderness given to this vision of the future lies in HR Giger‘s slick alien design … and its title card. IN Alien‘s first moment we hover over a forbidden planet. Abstract white shapes appear, just as split as the doomed crew on the Nostromo. Enclosing the screen from the outside in, attached to the gaping center, the pieces slowly come together. Slowly but surely, they form a simple word that indicates the purest notion of Otherness. Sans serif has never been so disturbing. (Meg Shields)
8. This Night I Will Hold Your Body (1967)
The score screams on top of a collage of nightmarish images: tarantulas, skeletons, fire, meat, etc. The visual race ran so fast that you try to trace what appears in the previous film (At midnight I take your soul) and what the hell is about to take over your life in this movie. It’s not a melody you hum; It is a sonic assault you are trying to drive from your brain the moment it ceases. As horror movie opening credits go, the first four minutes of This night I will possess your corpse is designed to ignite a panic attack. And that puts you at the forefront of the rest of the film. Your heart rate now belongs to the director / writer / composer Jose Mojica Marins, and the jerk rejoices in his power. You are his doll; just be glad he picks your strings and does not cut them. (Brad Gullickson)
With cinematography by a skilled Swedish medical photographer Lennart Nilsson, the opening sequence to Brian De Palma‘s Sisters is an unpleasant mixture of the satanic and the sacred: two fetuses, produced foreign, impressive and devilish under Nilsson’s macro lens. As the titles roll and the embryonic people threaten, the fear of sound is trashed up to a height of fever thanks to the screaming strings of Bernard Herrmann, whose plinky, swooping score gives each close-up an eerie sense of monstrosity. A montage of scary fetus close-ups is the perfect way to start a movie at the intersection of Hitchcock, giallo and the psychosexual sci-fi fare from David Cronenberg. Sisters embodies essential 1970s genre film evil. And what could be more painful than giving the unborn a tangible sense of threat? Thanks for dulling it up, Brian. (Meg Shields)
6. Halloween (1978)
If nothing else, the many different horror movie opening credits sequences gathered here are a tribute to both the art form and the value of declaring your film’s intentions right from the start. While some are addicted to new graphics and images, and some actually provide an early insight into the world of film, others take a more simplified path. The opening to John Carpenter‘s iconic slasher belongs in the latter camp as it pairs a unique image with your first exposure to the maestro’s brilliant running theme.
Darkness gives way to a jack-0 lantern, a flame of a candle flickers inside. And as Carpenter’s synthesizer pulls you in with heightened excitement, the camera tracks ever closer to that eerie grinning face. Finally, with only one eye visible, the light goes out and we plunge once again into the darkness. We all know what’s to come, but the tone – from the excitement to the autumn atmosphere – has already been established with nothing but a slow dolly zoom, an orange fruit and a now legendary music track. Geni. (Rob Hunter)
Related topics: 31 Days of Horror Lists, Horror
Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior contributor to Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How’d They Do That ?, and Horrorscope. She is also the curator of One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer for hire. I can find screams about John Boorman’s ‘Excalibur’ on Twitter here: @TheWorstNun. (She her).