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"A prologue in a horror film! What's the worst that could happen?"

A measurement of time which appears to have originated at Television Without Pity of how long it takes from the start of the episode to the first body turning up. A show such as CSI will have a very short Start to Corpse time, with something like Poirot occasionally exceeding half an hour of a two-hour program. A similar concept is the Start-To-Cure time, made most famous by House; although the name is a little misleading, it's a measure of the time it takes from the start of an episode to the first specific treatment that would act as a cure if the unlucky patient indeed had the disease it was a cure to. In mystery novels, this is a page count.

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If the Start to Corpse time is short, it's often in the form of a Downer Beginning. May involve Joggers Find Death.

The name is based on the computer gaming equivalent, the Start-To-Crate time. There's also another similar concept in video games known as Press Start to Game Over.

Not to be confused with an actor starting to "corpse", or crack up when they're supposed to have a straight face.


Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • The second page of The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service. The first page is an establishing shot.
  • Played with in Gosick. The very first line, twelve seconds into episode 1, is a shaman's proclamation that a man is going to die. Thirty seconds later, we get a shot of several corpses. Rabbit corpses.
  • Murders in Case Closed often occur by the end of the first chapter of a case. For the anime it usually depends on how long the case will be: if it's only one episode, expect a corpse to show up in 7-8 minutes. If it's two episodes or longer, you can expect one to be popping up at the end of an act break.
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    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Big Chill also managed an StC of zero with the opening credits showing the dressing of the corpse for the funeral. However, this is only clear in retrospect; it's deliberately filmed to resemble a getting-dressed-after-getting-busy montage, so the apparent StC (at least for the initial audiences) is a bit longer.
  • Sunset Boulevard. The corpse is the opening shot.
  • Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer has a naked female corpse in the opening shot, with no music.
  • The 1970s film version of Murder on the Orient Express had a Start To Corpse time of less than five minutes because it started with some of the Armstrong tragedy. The TV-movies run closer to a half-hour.
  • The Deadly Spawn opens with two campers getting killed by the aliens. Then we meet two other characters, who also get killed by the aliens. Only then do we meet our actual main cast.
  • The Beast of Yucca Flats opens with a woman being murdered and then some implied necrophilia. This has nothing to do with the rest of the movie and is never mentioned again. The Beast of Yucca Flats is a terrible, terrible movie.

    Literature 
  • With the cover having a skeleton on it, and being called SKULduggery Pleasant, you'd expect a fair few deaths. A guy dies on the first page.
  • The Charlie Chan mystery The Black Camel gave us one chapter in the POV of the murder victim before she got quickly killed off.
  • The eponymous murder in Murder in Lamut takes place around three-quarters of the way through the book. Just about everything in the earlier chapters is the three main characters enduring the politicking of various nobles competing for an honor that anyone familiar with the series already knows will be given to somebody who doesn't appear in this book.
  • Agatha Christie wrote many novels which had a long Start to Corpse time. (In Endless Night, one of the most extreme examples, the murder doesn't happen until nearly 3/4 of the way through.) In response to occasionally being criticised for this, she had a character in Towards Zero deliver a lengthy speech on how a murder is the culmination of a murderer's plot rather than the instigating point, and thus should come as late in the book as possible. The title of Death Comes as the End also refers to this.
  • In Warrior Cats, a series where Anyone Can Die, the series' first death occurs fairly close to the start of the first book, on page 33.
  • The early drafts of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone had the Potters dispatched quite cavalierly in the first chapter. Then J.K. Rowling's mother died. In the final version, the Potter's deaths are only mentioned, towards the end of chapter 1.
  • The Cat Who... Series: Given the folksy nature of the series, it's not surprising that many of the books in it have a fairly long start to corpse. Even in the first book of the series, before the setting moved to the homely Moose County, it's page 88 before word comes down of a murder, and the book is only 216 pages long.
  • This is rather variable in the Cormoran Strike Novels:
    • The Cuckoo's Calling opens with the news stories on the death of Lula Landry, but it's believed to be a suicide. Cormoran Strike is hired to investigate it as murder by the killer.
    • The Silkworm opens with what is believed to be a missing persons investigation into the disappearance of the writer Owen Quine, but around the end of the first part of the novel, Strike discovers his brutally murdered body.
    • Fairly on in Career of Evil, Robin is sent a severed leg. The body is discovered later.
    • In Lethal White, Strike is visited early on by a man named Billy with mental issues who tells him that he witnessed a murder when he was a child. He is later approached by Jasper Chiswell to investigate a blackmail case and it isn't until a fair ways into the book that Chiswell is killed.
  • John Putnam Thatcher: Often, the murder (or at least the first murder) occurs around a quarter of the way through book. However, there are a few books, such as Green Grow the Dollars and (despite initial indications) Come to Dust where no one is murdered until around the halfway point. In contrast, in Going for the Gold, there's a dead body by the end of the first chapter.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Monk, usually the time period is within two to three minutes from the start, and before the opening credits. Some are exceptions: for instance, in "Mr. Monk Gets Hypnotized," "Mr. Monk on Wheels," and "Mr. Monk and the Bully," the body doesn't show up until halfway through the episode.
  • Poirot occasionally exceeds half an hour of a two hour program.
  • Columbo averaged fifteen to twenty minutes from Start to Corpse because it took that long for the murderer to commit the murder. This applies to both one-and-a-half-hour and two-hour editions.
  • Law & Order and spinoffs average about 30 seconds, as the Cold Opening shows either someone finding a body, witnessing the murder, or it cuts to them being the victim and the cops standing over their body.
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit has a Start-To-Victim time very similar to other Law And Order shows, but averages out to a significantly longer Start-To-Corpse time, as many victims are sexually assaulted or kidnapped but not (yet) murdered. Not only that, but in some episodes no one is killed at all.
  • The first season of Castle has a corpse in the first shot of each episode. Starting in season 2, it depends on whether it goes Law & Order cold open, or with a Castle family moment open. Either way, the wait time isn't very long.
  • Similarly to Castle, The X-Files would almost always open a show with an unfortunate victim dying in some mysterious way in the first scene.
  • In episodes where Red Shirts die in Star Trek: The Original Series, the first death usually happens within the opening five to ten minutes, sometimes a little longer.
  • An awful lot of Doctor Who stories open with someone being killed by the menace of the week.
  • Psych often has the corpse show up near-exactly midway through a story about a crime that is not murder, to the point that it often feels tacked-on: corpses thrown Just Because into a story that doesn't really call for one at all and was more interesting before the standard murder investigation stuff took over.
  • The first person on screen in any episode of Supernatural is usually dead within a minute.
  • In a 2-hour episode of Foyle's War the murder can be as late as 45 minutes into the episode.
  • Bones almost always has a cold open showing a random person discovering the body within the first few minutes. The show actually developed a bad habit of just opening with Booth and Brennan already on the scene discussing the recent developments of the interpersonal subplots of the cast (read: exposition). They got over it thankfully.
  • Varies on Midsomer Murders, from 30 seconds to around 15 minutes (in rare cases up to about 30 minutes). In at least one case it took about 45 minutes (IE, half the running time).
  • Police Squad! may be the only show with a negative time, as the special guest star is killed off during the opening credits.
  • In The Mentalist, the victim is nearly always dead already at the outset, and often the episode opens at the scene of the crime. So, pretty much 0 seconds.
  • It's normally between three and five minutes on Criminal Minds.
  • It varies on Lessons for a Perfect Detective Story in some episodes (such as the first) it begins with the police being called to the crime scene. In the hot springs episode it roughly ten-fifteen minutes as Fujii befriended the victim before her death and in another episode, there was a two-five minute scene where Tenkaichi witnessed the murder (the finale had the same time amount).
  • Grimm in most episodes has the crime-of-the-week occurring in the teaser, so if it's a homicide, five minutes StC maximum.
  • Most episodes of Supernatural will start with a Cold Open, introducing us to a new character and then having them be murdered by the Monster of the Week.
  • Although Twin Peaks is not a case-of-the-week format show, the first episode does open with Pete Martell finding a corpse, naked but wrapped in a tarpaulin, on the beach outside his house.
    She's dead! Wrapped in plastic!
  • There was a good chance of this on any of the four CSI shows.

    Theater 
  • Arsenic and Old Lace gets metafictional with this trope. Mortimer has to say about a play he's reviewing, "When the curtain goes up the first thing you'll see will be a dead body." By a coincidence that causes him to do a Double Take, he sees one immediately after saying that.

    Video Games 
  • The video game The Last Express has you encountering the corpse of your dead friend almost immediately after boarding the train. Even better, you are already wanted by the police and you are the first person to find your friend's body.
  • Yahtzee Croshaw's adventure series The Chzo Mythos developed a modest running gag out of this. While the first episode, 5 Days a Stranger, passed several days before the first body was discovered, subsequent installments reduced the delay ominously until Trilby's Notes, which began with an exceedingly gruesome murder in the first scene. Amusingly, his novel, Mogworld has the protagonist die in the prologue.
  • In Police Quest: Open Season, the corpse of Hickman is discovered immediately at the beginning. A minute later, you find another corpse in a dumpster.
  • The first episode of Umineko: When They Cry has a start-to-corpse time of roughly four hours, taking its time to introduce the 18 people on the island and a few pieces of the Jigsaw Puzzle Plot before getting down to the main murder mystery. Of course, once the corpses start coming, they start coming fast.
  • In Persona 4, Saki Konishi's corpse is found on a TV antenna 2-3 hours into the start of the game, which is still before gameplay starts properly. Saki herself discovered the reporter Yamano's body in the same manner before that, but it is not shown.
  • Clock Tower: The game runs on the rule of Schrödinger's Gun, but generally your first corpse will show up within the first 5 minutes of play, unless you're specifically trying to avoid it to unlock an alternate ending.
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    Visual Novels 
  • In most of the cases in the Ace Attorney series, the corpse shows up within the first few minutes of the case. Of course, as attorneys, the main characters of the games usually aren't pulled in until a body shows up and someone gets arrested for the murder.
    • Special mention goes to the first case of the first game, in which the corpse is the very first thing the player sees.
    • The second case of the second game is a rare exception, where Phoenix actually interacts with the victim for a bit before he gets killed. Naturally, he's a jerk.
    • The average Start-to-Corpse time actually seems to have increased with each successive entry in the series. Some cases can have several minutes of looking around and talking to characters before the respective lawyer, and sometimes the audience, learns of a crime.
    • The longest Start-to-Corpse time is in the second case of the third game. The body isn't so much as mentioned until nearly halfway through the case, after the conclusion of a separate, seemingly unrelated larceny trial.
  • In the Danganronpa games, the corpse tends to turn up midway through each chapter. The rest of the chapter is then dedicated to figuring out who did it in a class trial. The exception is the final chapter of each game, which instead focuses on exposing the mastermind behind the killing game.

    Webcomics 
  • Bearmageddon's STC is fairly high. It initially seems like another 'slacker' comic until we spot the mangled police cruiser.
  • By the fifth page of Wingless the protagonist is already dead.
  • Kill Six Billion Demons doesn't waste any time letting the audience know how bloody it will be. The first decapitation occurs on page six.
  • TREVOR: The webcomic opens with a shot of Trevor’s hand, after he collapsed on the floor dead, and Dr. Maddison looking on through a door.

    Web Original 

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