jump scare
Are jump-scares effective?

Jump scares in horror movies were once used to fantastically shock viewers. Now they’ve just become a cheap cop-out.

As a kid, I couldn’t stand the thought of suffering through a two hour film full of jump-scares and terrifying imagery, not to mention the nightmares that would follow. I think most of the people who knew me then would know that I couldn’t stand horror. Whenever my family watched a horror movie in the living room, I always had to camp inside my bedroom and binge youtube videos until they finished. But then I grew up, and I realised that I didn’t hate horror films. I actually rather love them.

I just really hate jump scares.

Now don’t get me wrong, jump scares are a fast and efficient tactic that gets audiences jumping out of their seats. It’s very effective, when done properly.

For example, the Insidious franchise has been able to manipulate jump scares very well and adds to the overall suspense of the atmosphere. But it’s not the shock and loud noises that gets me, it’s the flawless cinematography and terrifyingly crafted makeup that makes the franchise so scary. The jump scare merely adds to the effect.

Stuff of nightmares…
Source: Washington Post

And that’s inevitably the problem with many horror films nowadays. They don’t know how to incorporate a jump scare properly and merely use it as a handy gimmick, a hack. The filmmakers can’t be bothered to build suspense and tension the right way, so they resort to simply giving the audience a large surprise.

That’s not what horror is about. If I wanted to get frightened I could get one of my mates to jump out at me.

There are reasons behind why the jump scare tactic doesn’t work.

Jump scares simply don’t add to the tension and suspense that a horror film needs to build constantly.

In a standard horror film, the atmosphere needs to be established from the very start and the suspense needs to slowly and gradually develop. With every unsettling scene, with every developing storyline, the film is slowly and steadily building towards a climax, the peak of the tension. That’s why the ending is the filmmaker’s final ‘punch’ before it drops off. If you ask me, that’s how good horror films are written.

The concepts of jump scares ruins any pre-built tension that exists in the atmosphere. Instead of constantly building towards the climax, jump-scares give a sudden jolt of surprise before allowing audiences to have that sense of relief after. All the suspense that they have worked so hard to develop was instantly ruined once people start laughing it off with their friends.

To explain this, please refer to my very well drawn diagram below.

jump scares horror movies
A very well-drawn graph on how suspense builds. Source: Ethan Do

Of course, that’s not to say that horror films can’t have jump scares.

I’m going to keep referring back to the Insidious franchise, because that is one of the few movies I’m still hesitant to watch nowadays, even though I can sit through The Conjuring or other Blumhouse films in cinemas.

Now, Insidious is no stranger to jump scares, in fact I reckon it’s one of the movies nowadays that are heavily reliant on them. But it’s utilised in a very smart way.

As soon as a very well built up jump scare occurs, the scene continues to develop further and further, accentuating the suspense of the scene and making for a very terrifying movie.

For a majority of films, the tension is wasted on a false scare, like a cat or a possum jumping out. Or perhaps it’s wasted on a poorly executed jump scare that was less than well-deserved.

Compared to more recent films that have plagued the cinema screens, older films used to be much more suspenseful and not as half-assed.

Think about every iconic horror movie that people still love to this day, like The Shining, Psycho or even The Sixth Sense. How heavily reliant were they on jump-scares?

Recently I’ve started catching up on old horror movies, and I’ve noticed how drastically different they were from movies nowadays. It’s a shame that I’m part of a generation where we’ve grow accustomed to generic and not scary thrillers.

Less reliant on jump-scares and more dependent on genuinely creepy imagery. Source: Google Images

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not someone who despises jump scares and think that they are a stupid gimmick to scare audiences. When done correctly, jump scares can really add to the tension in a scenario and the overall fright in a film.

It’s just that, more often than not, people simply don’t understand this concept and don’t know how to use it properly. It’s become a quick and easy hack to get people jumping out of their seats.

At the end of the day, this is what I’m trying to say. Don’t use jump-scares if you don’t know how to use them properly. It’s a waste of everyone’s time, especially the people behind the project.

I love all things film and pop-culture. I make puns sometimes too.