I have spoken of my contempt for Jump scares before. The majority of jump scares used in cinema, are cliche, forced, and not effectively scary. They may make you jump for a second, but they have no lasting effect. Bad jump scares often have no point in the movie. They make no sense in the context of the story. So instead of building up the tension, it breaks immersion and ruins any chance of me being afraid.
But there have been examples of them being used effectively. A good jump scare is not random. It isn’t some cheap attempt to scare people. It lasts in the viewer’s mind for the duration of the movie. it not only shocks the audience, but elicits true horror. There is a reason for it to exist besides making the person watching jump out of their seat. It defies expectations. Too many jump scares are predictable, you know exactly when they are coming and how they are coming. Good jump scares start to make you fear the silence, fear the lulls. They keep you tense before the scare, during the scare, and then afterward.
So here are the 5 jump scares I thought were the most stupid, but also the 5 I thought were the best use of this film trope.
Worst Jump Scares
5. Poltergeist (2015)- Jump Scare overload
Ah, the clown scene. The original movie has an iconic scene with a clown, which we will get to later. So, of course, the remake has to have one as well. But instead of living up to the original, which was slow, tense, and unexpected, this one was fast, boring, and completely predictable. Everyone watching knew this was coming, they even put it in the trailer. But what they didn’t show in the trailer was all the random jump scares that were also in this scene before the main one.
Here is the thing, when you just show jump scare after jump scare, we have no time to be afraid. Nothing lingers, nothing builds up, it is just a string of sudden jolts and loud sounds. The people who made this movie do not understand what horror is, and they thought that they could just scare people by throwing a ton of crap at the wall.
4. The Wickerman- Truck on a boat?
I couldn’t find a stand-alone version of this scene, but luckily it is the first scene in this supercut of “highlights” from the Wickerman.
What is this? Why? For context, in case you haven’t seen The Wickerman, earlier in the movie, Nick Cage’s character witnessed that girl get killed after a truck hit the car she was in. That scene was stupid as well, but this is just hysterical. it combines the idiocy with the “it was only a dream” jump scare, with a new type of idiocy of a truck somehow running someone over on a boat.
They can’t even get the sound editing right. If they really wanted to do this dumb scene, they should have at least synced up the truck with the boat horn. I assume that is what triggers the daydream since it sounds like a truck horn. But the boat horn lingers for too long and is dying by the time the jump scare of the random truck happens. And then Cage does not even have a proper reaction. Everything about this scene is wrong. It shouldn’t exist in the first place, but they couldn’t even get the bare essentials done in this scene. What saves it from being even lower is how short it is, and how utterly detached it is. It is clear it was intended to be a jump scare, but it has no effect. it barely feels like it happened, so it doesn’t hurt the movie as much as other bad jump scares do. Not that there is much to hurt, but we aren’t judging the movies, just the individual scares.
3. The Descent 2- Monster poses for the camera
This as the best video I could find of this jump scare. It has subtitles, and the jump scare is not to the end of the clip, but it stills serves the purpose of showing the scare.
This fits multiple categories of bad jump scares. One, the pose for the camera scare. Why is the creature making that pose? What is the point of coming out of the hole like that? It also is cheesy, one last jump scare to roll in the credits scare. These types of scares are almost always completely useless. Not to mention the creature, and the way it is lit, looks awful.
The Descent 2 pulls this same posed jump scare multiple times in the movie, and it is cheesy every single time. The first movie was so effective in how the lighting worked. The film takes place in a dark cave, so they find clever ways to light it. It is night vision, or matches, or lighters. The lighting never feels unnatural, and how dark it makes the creatures scarier. Every creature in this sequel, including the one in this jump scare, is lit up really bright, not only making it look less scary, but also showing how poor the effects are.
2. Prom Night- Oh no, the bad guy in the mirror
What this video doesn’t show is that it is a fake-out scare. It is another, It is only a dream scare.
The mirror jump scares are among the cheapest and lazy ways to do a jump scare. It has been done to death, to the point where anytime someone opens a bathroom mirror, every person in the audience is ready for the jump scare. It used to be effective, back when it was original.
Prom Night pulls this same scare twice, and both times are fake scares. Earlier in the movie, it happens when she closes the mirror and suddenly her friend is there, and then this happened at the end movie. Neither makes any sense. How would these people get behind her like that without being noticed, and why would they want to. It is thee types of logic fails that kill immersion. Not that I was immersed in this movie, but had I been, this would have killed it.
Do something new, find a new way to do jump scares. Because no one is scared by mirror scares anymore. Predictable things are not scary.
1. Unfriended- Cheap looking, and pointless
These other four jump scares re dumb, but this one re-defines the word. For one, it is yet another jump scare into the credits. But it also makes no sense in the context of the movie.
Let’s look at all the problems. 1. When the computer screen goes down, the image doesn’t change. Her webcam is on the top of her laptop, the image should be going down as well, but it stays the same. 2.How is Laura Barns ghost doing this? The whole process of how she closes the laptop but then isn’t there behind it looks off. Was she hanging from the roof? If so, why? Why did you make so many dumb choices here? 3. Why does this scene take place outside the context of her laptop screen, when the entire movie before it was all on her laptop screen? You couldn’t find a way to film this where the ghost attacks her but it is still filmed through the webcam? 4. Why does she kill the other people by making them kill themselves, but then just attack Blair?
This movie was bad, but there were better ways to end it than with this cheap jump scare. As we see, Blair’s entire life has been ruined. Everyone knows that she was the one who posted the video causing Laura to kill herself. Plus her lying just got all of her other friends killed over the course of this movie. I mean she just outright lied before this scene and told Laura that it was her boyfriend that posted the video, causing him to die. She could have realized that she no longer wanted to live with herself and make the personal choice to kill herself. Not coerced by the ghost of Laura, but choose to do so. Even if you didn’t want to go that dark. You could have forced Blair to live with everything she did. She doesn’t kill herself but has to go to school and deal with the consequences of how awful a person she is as she turns into a pariah. Or, you could have just had her possessed and kill herself like everyone else. Anything would have been better than this.
Best Jump Scares
5. IT (2017)
IT was not immune to having a couple lame jump scares. It forces sound cues into scenes that do not need them. But overall, it was a very effective horror film.
This projector scene contained a great Jump Scare. What makes this scene so great is the buildup. If Pennywise just randomly popped out of the screen with no warning, it would have been lame, but the parts leading up to the jump scare built tension so that there could be a payoff when pennywise jumps out of the screen.
This scene is so creepy. The way the projector starts to show slides of Bill’s dead brother then starts to move faster and faster, before Pennywise appears on the screen. Then disappears off the screen, only to then pop out. They use a sound cue, but it did not really bother me here. The sound cue was not overbearingly loud, it blended into the scene. What is more important, is that the scene did not just end after the scare. Pennywise stuck around and continued to be scary.
Plus, within the context of the movie, it makes sense that Pennywise is trying to scare people. Sometimes it makes no sense that a killer is just messing around with the characters, but the movie explains why Pennywise does this, so it makes sense.
4. Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring
This is not from a horror movie, but Lord of the Rings uses this jump scare more effectively than most horror movies ever had. I cannot speak for others, but this scene stuck with me throughout the entire franchise. It is a reminder of the corrupting power the one ring has. The thought of it turned sweet Biblo into a monster for a second. Gollum also serves as that reminder, but we do not see much of him before the ring, and even after just seeing the Ring Gollum/Smeagol was ready to kill his friend for it, so it is not as drastic of a change.
This scene was scary, it made sense, and it weighed on the movie. There are jump scares that are scarier, but few that stick around as long as this does.
3. The Shining
Here is a good example of using a score to set up a jump scare. I like how the score builds up the tension before the movie delivers the scare.
I also loved the camera work.Stanley Kubrick was infamous for being a perfectionist, and perfections are what he got with the camera work here. I love how it lingers behind Danny in the scene. I love how far away the two girls are, so they are a little out of focus at first.
The scene is creepy as hell even without the jump scare. The jump is the seasoning on an already scary scene.
2. Sixth Sense
For as bad as M Night movies would become, Sixth Sense is still a pillar of the genre. While this scene may not be as jolting as other jump scares, it is masterfully crafted.
It is easy to see why people thought M. Night was the next big thing after watching this scene. First, the foreshadowing with the breath starts the tension. But it gets better from there. The camera work is near perfect. I love the way it pans across the tent, as the clothespins start to be removed. it draws your eyes to the bottom right corner, and then that is where the ghost appears.
Everything is set up right, and then it has the payoff. It doesn’t need some loud sound cue to scare you. It does need sudden jolting cut. It pulled off the jump scare simply with a panning camera. In a movie with many quality scares, this was the best one.
1. Poltergiest (1984)
We talked about how the remake did this scene wrong, now let’s talk about how the original got it right. First off, this clown is way creepier. The pasty white skin, and that big smile, that itself is scary. But more importantly, the direction of the scene understands how to craft horror.
The scene is much crazier. While the clown scene in the remake was frantic and loud, this was still and often quiet. The camera lingers for an uncomfortable amount of time on certain shots. When it does move, it does not jolt like in the remake, it slowly creeps across the room.
The scene keeps us guessing. We do not know where the clown is. The remake basically tells us where the clown is, so it does not get the same effect. Everything the remake did wrong, this scene does right. It is tense, creepy, and unexpected. When we finally get a payoff, it lives up to the build up. More horror movie makers need to take cues and remember how movies like Poltergeist build up slow deliberate