Some may call it a cheap plot device, while others with clattering teeth wait for it. This is no doubt horror movies today tends to rely heavily on this herd to scare audiences. While this may be a way to give the intended response to the tip, jumping fear can and was effective. What makes a jump scare work is properly set up, followed by a valuable payout. Nevertheless, there were too many films that set up a scene improperly that ultimately had no shock value. The absolute worst of the worst includes the best friend playing a joke about the protagonist, a bird flying past the frame, or a cat jumping out of the darkness. This is an inexpensive way to inject an unpleasant sound effect into a scene to force a visceral response. While it may be effective for a moment, the tension of the scene is gone. There is no mystery or suspense because the filmmakers formed the audience to expect everything.
In the course of film history, however, there have been many series where the jumping scare has been used properly. Whether through silent tension or a powerful and unexpected moment, notable horror movies pay equal attention to what comes before and after. The atmospheric set-up and terrible tension of a scene is where the abomination enters, and then the leap fright is the release of tension. It should and has been used as a cathartic way to alleviate the anxiety that quite a few minutes.
The art of the jump scare comes down to timing. Too little time before the jump can prevent the balloon tension and interest from blowing preventively, while too much time for audiences can be tedious as they begin to fear. Along with timing, factors such as sound, lighting and camera placement are all important to scare a jump. The following movies and series have used these tricks and performed some of the most effective jumping anxiety in horror.
9 The Enchantment
The bedroom scene in this modern horror classic proves how clever it is James Wan | is behind the camera. His positioning of the frame’s lines and how he builds up the tension in this scene alone makes him stand out among the masses. Most important is how he shows us the whimsical figure on the closet before impressing on her gruesome face. That impression is accompanied by a terrifying sound effect that made audiences jump out of their chairs. What makes this scene work is that we knew what we saw was frightening, even before the movie told us so. We see it with our own eyes for two seconds in pure silence. Then The Enchantment set our assurance by releasing the tension and closing the scene efficiently and perfectly.
8 The Exorcist III
While the sequels will never match the masterpiece that is the original film, The Exorcist III expands on the doctrine and has some prominent fears (at least more than the abysses continued). The most infamous sequence plays out in one long shot down the aisle of the hospital. It’s a very quiet few minutes, with apparently nothing happening but something just feeling down. That tension of what can happen causes our brains to play with our tricks; as author CK Webb put it: “Sometimes things in our heads are far worse than anything they can put in books or on film.” Asking ourselves “what is going to happen” causes more fear than just watching something play out in real time. The anticipation builds up as the nurse walks from room to room until she is followed, and her shift is finally cut short … no pun intended.
Sinister is a movie marketed as a shock festival. It was an ambitious movie with a unique concept that films themselves use to generate scare. By seeing Ellison (Ethan Hawke) old movie characters showing carnage after massacre, let’s empathize with him in these moments. Although we know he poses no imminent danger, we still feel his anxiety of not knowing what to expect on these tires. One in particular displays a lawn mower used in a way that was certainly not intended. It is so unexpected and built up over a long period of silence. The perfect combination to set awkward expectations, followed by an explosion of extreme horror that ends this series in true terror.
Ari Aster’s masterpiece will set a precedent for how atrocity should be carried out. The last ten minutes of Hereditary is essentially a whole spring fright set up by two hours of tension. Inside the final scene, however, we see Peter (Alex Wolff) being unknowingly peeked at by his obsessed mother. He walks around his quiet house while she hovers over him … and us. What Aster achieves is a suspense tactic established and proven by Hitchcock himself – leaving the audience aware of something the characters are not. It is simple but highly effective in creating tension. When Peter comes upon his burnt father and it seems as if all hope is lost, his mother bursts through a dark corner of the wall in an unexpected leap that closes the deal.
The classics can never go unnoticed. What Alfred Hitchcock achieved in this whole film by not showing everything, leads to more shock value than putting it all on screen. Again, the imagination is more powerful than any other practical or special effect ever shown on film. Although this film is more gentle in terms of its visuals, it still endures with its cold soundtrack and shocking undermining of narrative structure. As the detective wanders around the Bates’ house, the tension builds with the increasing score until that iconic Bernard Herrman track arrives. Mrs Bates sticks out of the darkness and cuts the detective into the ordinary sight. Shocking for the time being, but what makes it stand out is how the soundtrack is ironically the instrument that plays our emotional state. We ride the wave that music produces for us, and it is still effective after many decades, tirelessly and unpleasantly imitated to this day.
4 Lights out
Adapted from a priced horror card of the same name, Lights out is technically astonishing in its execution. The Darkness is a horror filmmaker’s best friend because it allows them to take advantage of cheaper practical effects and allow them to play tricks on the viewer’s mind. But everything comes to a climax when our main characters (Teresa Palmer, Gabriel Bateman) are trapped in the dark basement and find our side character Bret (Alexander DiPersia) in a battle with the unknown. With only his cell phone as his guide, the darkness around him is his biggest threat as it is the path for the violent entity to maneuver the room. The realistic figure is horrible and scares us every moment because we expect it to be anywhere and anytime. This is one of the few films that relies almost exclusively on jumping fear and yet works perfectly.
The original [REC] is one of the most frightening footage movies found of all times. The movie uses its limitations to its advantage, as the single camera can not cover every corner, and abomination thrives on the invisible and unknown. The sequence at the end of the film is particularly intense, as we are only shown what remains in the light; we are well aware of the predatory monsters lurking in the dark, but they can be anywhere. This movie is chaotic at heart and during its run we start to expect the chaos to continue. During moments of silence we are then left completely restless. When the cameraman climbs the attic stairs and searches the room for any kind of answers, he is met with a carnivorous creature who has been waiting there all along. We see it when he sees it, and it’s right in our faces, and we jump too.
2 Paranormal activity 2
While the franchise has become quite commercial, there are memorable moments in some of his episodes, specifically in the sequel to the hugely popular Paranormal activity. One of the most notable series takes place in a kitchen. There is pure silence while Kirsti (Sprague Grayden) simply goes to work in the room in full daylight. That is, until the whole kitchen explodes and every cupboard and drawer flies open. Metal pots and pans fall into this brief but powerful burst of paranormal energy. This memorable series gives Kirsti and the audience quite a sudden push that continues to this day, demonstrating that ‘the jump’ is often the most effective amidst banality.
While more realistic and dramatic in its subject matter, Se7en is widely regarded as a horror film for its visceral and disturbing depiction of crime and serial murder. While law enforcement officers come across the rotting corpse of another victim, we must assume that we have seen everything that is visible at the moment. However, the dead body is not completely dead as a single, frightening cough is enough to shock viewers and everyone in the room in a frightened leap. What is more frightening than that moment of shock is the thought of how this person survived in such a state of decay. The jump scare is the catalyst for a train of thought and considerations that leaves us disturbed every time.
Edoardo Vitaletti’s first film The Last Thing Mary Saw is part of a recent religious turn in horror, exploring the theology of disturbing evil.
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