/Answers: Our Favorite Horror Movie Jump Scares

Jacob Hall: Mulholland Drive

While I was tempted to go with a more traditional horror movie for this list (James Wan really does know how to milk jump scares for all they’re worth), David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive features the single most startling moment I’ve ever seen on screen. I can barely stand to watch the YouTube embed above. It’s crawled under my skin. It’s embedded itself into my brain. It upsets me on a visceral level.

And yet the whole thing is so simple! And in a movie that is otherwise not frightening in the traditional sense of the word (although it does explore plenty of disturbing psychological avenues that deserve a deeper, richer conversation than I can provide here). The set-up is simple: two men share a meal in a diner. One tells the other of a nightmare he had, where he encountered a terrifying figure behind this very establishment. They go investigate. They find the figure. We, the audience, promptly shit our pants.

How does this scene fit into the larger fabric of Mulholland Drive, a wildly experimental film that Lynch expanded from a failed television pilot? That’s never made especially clear by design. But what the scene does do is create a sense of dread that permeates every single scene in the rest of the movie. Nightmares are real. They’re behind the diner. They’re waiting for you. And while the rest of the film trades in unsettling darkness instead of jump scares, this one lingers in the background. You know it’s out there.

Hoai-Tran Bui: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

It’s no secret that I haven’t watched a lot of horror movies. And since I used one of my few jump scare experiences on a previous /Answer on Scary Movie Scenes, I was kind of at a loss for this /Answer. Not wanting to go down the rabbit hole of horror movie YouTube clips, I wracked my brain all day and finally settled on that one time Lord of the Rings gave me one of the biggest jump scares I’d seen in a movie theater. Don’t tell me you didn’t yelp a bit, too.

The scene arrives midway through Peter Jackson’s epic fantasy film, when the fellowship seems to have finally found sanctuary at the Elven town of Rivendell after days of horror and hardship. The film’s gritty tone had returned to the comfort and soft greenery that Hobbiton introduced us to at the beginning of the journey. Then it’s revealed that the aging Bilbo Baggins, who had departed Hobbiton for one last adventure before his death, is living there. Bilbo’s presence and Rivendell’s warm mysticism lulls the audience, and you and me, into complacency as Bilbo bestows Frodo with weapons and tokens from his own journey. And then the most terrifying thing that has ever happened in an epic fantasy movie takes place: Bilbo catches a glimpse of the Ring hanging around Frodo’s neck and is suddenly possessed by a greed for it, his eyes becoming sunken holes and his teeth becoming fangs. It takes place over a split second, but I still remember the trauma I felt watching it to this day. Bilbo’s moment of madness is the point where the evil became real — more so than the gaping eye of Sauron, and even more than the Ringwraiths that stalk Frodo and the fellowship. There is nothing more terrifying than a gentle, affable old man suddenly turn into the monster he escaped from.

Christopher Stipp: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2

I don’t usually stump for individual actors to earn some kind of token to show the world their greatness, but Bill Moseley deserves something, anything, dipped in gold for his performance as Chop-Top Sawyer in 1986’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. I don’t know what kind of direction Tobe Hooper gave Moseley about how to bring Chop-Top to life but his character is chilling not for how silent and impressive his presence, but just how he was the opposite of what you would get out your common everyday homicidal maniac. His was a lecherous, skin-crawling performance that still manages to raise the small hairs on the back of my neck every time I watch that movie.

Normally, I would say that if you see a scene out of context it loses its punch, but this scene perfectly introduces us to the family that counts Leatherface as one of its kin. All you need to know going in is that the movie opens up with a couple of yuppie kids tearing down the back-roads of Texas, shooting road signs, and essentially indulging in the kind of broad stroke portrayal of d-bags who deserve to be killed off immediately. The movie doesn’t disappoint, as these guys use a mobile phone (very bougie for 1986) to call into a radio station that ultimately captures Leatherface’s chainsaw tearing into these two guys. Now, the radio station plays the audio from this and to ensure that recording is never heard from again, Chop-Top is deployed to help git ‘er done.

The subsequent scene is so bizarre, so strangely lit and directed, that you feel sheer panic simply by being in the same room as this man. The bent metal hangar that Chop-Top uses to intermittently get red hot with a Bic lighter is a curious prop because its sole purpose is to dig into the side of his exposed skull so he can eat little bits of his flesh every so often. Between being trapped inside this room with the guy, knowing full well someone isn’t coming out alive…it’s almost too much to endure until that final moment when Leatherface thunders from out of the darkness. Keep in mind, too, that as our potential victim is running for her life, Chop-Top provides some of the best comedy you’ll ever see in a horror film.

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