/Answers: Our Favorite Horror Movie Jump Scares

Matt Donato: [REC]

Not all “jump scares” are created equal. In the worst – and most frequent – cases, filmmakers fail to introduce organic terror before going the route of 1,000 cheap jabs (cat jumps into frame, face pops out of nowhere, etc). Effective horror earns the right to hit us with a quickie jump scares and scatters them sparingly; devilish injections that manipulate time, pacing and safety. A title like [REC] minimizes the frequency of outright jumps – especially for found footage – yet when utilized, fear penetrates any sense of laziness. Danger from left field, supplemental to thematic tension or already heightened dread.

In one particular scene, only Ángela Vidal (Manuela Velasco) and her cameraman Pablo remain living (we assume). They reach Father Alberta’s penthouse, discover the Niña Medeiros origin, and just as they begin searching for a way out – WHAM! An attic hatch in Alberta’s “workshop” flies open. The perfect “DON’T GO UP THERE” moment. Even Pablo knows this – so he doesn’t go up. He uses the camera, AKA us, to investigate what may be scurrying above. “I’ll record what’s up there and we can look at it.” Right. Fuck you, Pablo.

The camera periscopes, and slowly starts rotating 360 degrees. Our hearts increase thumpage, knowing that any opportunistic filmmaker is about to throw a nasty genre punch. The camera keeps spinning, almost hitting a full turn. We begin to think “maybe there’s nothing up here,” which is exactly when a small “infected” child lunges at the camera for a PERFECT scream. Directors Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza know exactly how to toy with our fears, pushing us to the brink of discomfort while squeezing every last drop of horror from their leap-out-of-your-seat scare.

I’ve seen [REC] some 10 times over and that moment still puckers my unmentionables. Take note, movies-that-do-lame-crap-like-end-with-something-lunging-at-the-camera (except you Paranormal Activity, you’ll always be perfect to me).

Ben Pearson: Deep Blue Sea

Deep Blue Sea may not qualify as a traditional horror movie, but its key jump scare – the one in which Samuel L. Jackson’s character is interrupted mid-speech by a shark who bursts out of the water and eats him – is one of the biggest jolts I ever experienced in a theater. Watching the scene again now, it seems obvious that something crazy is going to happen because of way its framed and the constant cutting back to Tom Jane’s face (as if in anticipation of his reaction), but I think the scene’s masterstroke is making the jump scare take place during a close up shot. By bringing you in closer to Jackson’s face, director Renny Harlin subconsciously makes us feel like the character is safe; jump scares often happen in wider shots, so the fact that we’re right in there with Jackson when that shark leaps from the water enhances the scare – the movie has to cut back to a wider shot for us to even fully comprehend what’s happening. The CG definitely looks goofy eighteen years later, but as an unexpected scare, it still works wonderfully.

Vanessa Bogart: The Conjuring

What is scary? Haunted houses. What is scarier? Basements and cellars in said haunted houses? What is scariest? Being locked in said basement of said haunted house in the pitch darkness. Just add a creepy child’s voice and some clapping ghost hands and you have a recipe for a heart attack. The Conjuring is arguably one of the best horror films of the last 20 years, so successful in its story and characters, that the fear was made worse by sympathetic proxy. I first saw The Conjuring at a German movie theater, and as it turns out, fear is a universal language. This film so masterfully pulls off the age old jump scare, that I was nervous to write this. Merely thinking about those hands and that clap sends a chill down my spine, and no matter how many times I watch this movie, I always jump.

Harkening back to the early days of horror movies, the set-up to the scare is simple. You know something is about to happened. A strange noise in the night draws Carolyn (Lili Taylor) out of bed. She hears kids running around playing a game, but her own children are asleep. The noises lead Carolyn downstairs. Tension is building. Something is about to happen. The creepy basement door opens on its own with a creak (classic), followed by a literal “dun dun duuuuunnn” being played out on an out of tune piano down below (this should be cheesy but it isn’t). It has been quiet for too long. You have now resigned yourself to the fact that you are about to jump. You hold your popcorn steady and you prepare your heart for inevitable arrhythmia. She turns the light on in the basement, your ears fill with the familiar high-pitched tones (right on cue).

Quickly, things go from tense to terrifying. Carolyn yells down towards the noise, “Whoever’s down there, I am going to lock you in now!” Boom. The door slams in her face, sending her tumbling to the cellar floor. Was that the jump scare? You are still tense. But why? It’s quiet. You realize that it isn’t over. A creepy ball rolls across the floor. The music intensifies. The light goes out. You hear a child’s laughter. Carolyn is trapped in the dark, lighting match after match for some sort of salvation. The music is replaced with her shaky breaths. “Hey wanna play hide and clap?” Silence. Fear. Two ghostly grey hands. Clap. Clap. 

OH. MY. GOD. 

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