5. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
“The film which you are about to see,” John Larroquette says in an Orson Welles impression that just sounds like John Larroquette. And with that, we’re officially introduced to Tobe Hooper‘s seminal classic. Text slowly rolls across a black screen as Larroquette continues his narration, setting the stage for one of the most genuinely terrifying films to ever exist.
As the narration comes to a close, the black screen is interrupted with a camera flash, revealing a gruesome scene. Grave robbers in Texas have started to dig up the dead, turning their decomposing bodies into shocking works of art. The camera slowly pulls out on one of the grisly depictions, rotting in the sweltering Texas sun. We cut to blood-red as the film’s title appears on the screen. Classic. (Chris Coffel)
4. Re-Animator (1985)
How do you follow up the best cold open in genre film? Why, with one of the best opening title sequences in genre film, that’s how! Designed by Robert Dawson (who would go on to make, among other things, the title sequences for the Austin Powers films), Re-Animator tells you what kind of a movie you’re in for right from the jump. After the late-late Dr. Gruber erupts into a bloody mess, Dr. Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) explains himself: he didn’t kill him, he gave him life! Smash cut to black. Hell. Yeah. Listen, if you’re not hooting and hollering at this point you’ve strolled into the wrong screening, pal.
Neon medical illustrations fill the screen in a morbid but undeniably joy-filled spectacle that aptly sums up Re-Animator’s whole deal. There’s an old saying that goes “if you’re going to steal, steal from the best.” And that’s exactly what composer Richard Band does, nabbing the anxious, sawing strings of Bernard Herrmann’s Psycho score with the delicious addition of a kick drum. We’ll bask in the glow-stick haze of that title card any day. (Meg Shields)
3. Psycho (1960)
Evoking the lines on the highway leading reluctant bank robber Marilyn (Janet Leigh) out of town with a duffle bag of dough and into the psychotic arms of Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), Saul Bass’ opening credits to Psycho position the audience exactly where Alfred Hitchcock wants us: on the edge of our seats.
Visually, Bass’ work here is patently simplistic. Stark lines enter the frame to reveal the opening credits like a puzzle piece being solved in front of our eyes. What energizes every streak across the screen is Bernard Herrmann’s pulsating score, driving anxiety and dread into the viewer that just never gets old no matter how many times you’ve listened to Perkins purr, “We all go a little mad sometimes.” (Jacob Trussell)
2. The Thing (1982)
Sometimes the simplest credit sequences are the best. And that’s definitely the case for John Carpenter’s 1982 film The Thing. It opens quietly, with Ennio Morricone’s haunting score ever so gently starting to drone as plain white text appears on a black screen. The credits roll, nothing special, but again, Morricone’s score full of deep foreboding notes make something so innocuous feel absolutely horrifying. Then, the film cuts to an alien spaceship crashing through Earth’s atmosphere, and the title The Thing rips onto the screen as flames lick the letters.
That quiet score is contrasted by the cacophony of the title revealing itself, just as the Thing itself ruins the quiet solitude of the men at the research base. These two minutes are indicative of the entire film’s tone, from the power of its score to horrific disruption of expectations. The film itself is a masterclass in building tension and it starts with its opening credits. (Mary Beth McAndrews)
1. The Shining (1980)
It’s become a bit of a cliche: an aerial shot of a lone vehicle, weaving through dense woods as the opening credits crawl. And to be fair, it’s an elemental image well worth replicating. What better way to convey a descent into the unknown? Into hostile wilderness? And into the dark, abiding recesses of an already fragile psyche? As Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) navigates the treacherous mountain path, imposing mountains, lakes, and meadows threaten to swallow him whole; an agoraphobic expanse whose menace is made plain by the electronic organ of Wendy Carlos.
Glacier blue text arrives, bottom-up, as the camera whips by like a bat out of hell. (Some of these helicopter shots were originally filmed for the hallucinogenic stargate sequence of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and here, the terrain feels no less alien and oppressive). The Shining’s opening credits waste no time unsetting us to our core, endowing a scenic voyage to a job interview with all the forbidding warranted for the ominous, violent nightmare to come. (Meg Shields)