A jump scare (often shortened to jumpscare) is a technique often used in horror films, haunted houses, video games, and Internet screamers, intended to scare the audience by surprising them with an abrupt change in image or event, usually co-occurring with a frightening sound, mostly loud screaming. Common in film since the 1980s, the jump scare has been described as "one of the most basic building blocks of horror movies". Jump scares can surprise the viewer by appearing at a point in the film where the soundtrack is quiet and the viewer is not expecting anything alarming to happen, or can be the sudden payoff to a long period of suspense.
Some critics have described jump scares as a lazy way to frighten viewers, and believe that the horror genre has undergone a decline in recent years following an over-reliance on the trope, establishing it as a cliché of modern horror films.
Prior to the 1980s, jump scares were a relatively rare occurrence in horror movies; however, they became increasingly common in the early 80s as the slasher subgenre increased in popularity.. One of the earliest jump scares was used in The Phantom of the Opera (1925), when Christine removes The Phantom's mask; however, silent films did not really lend themselves to the technique. The first significant jump scare from the sound era is from Cat People (1942), as Alice is being chased down an alley and a bus suddenly appears at the end of alley, accompanied by a loud hiss and screech; this technique of a jump scare from an object that’s actually non-threatening became known as “the Lewton Bus,” after the film’s legendary producer Val Lewton. One of the most significant and impressive jump scares of the black and white era was from Howard Hawks' The Thing from Another World (1951), when the creature attacks immediately upon the characters opening a closed door.
1976's Carrie has one of the first modern jump scares. The scene, which occurs at the end of the film, is credited as the inspiration for the use of a final jump scare in the 1980 movie Friday the 13th, to show that an apparently dead villain had survived.
The 1979 film When a Stranger Calls uses a form of jump scare to suddenly reveal the location of the antagonist to both the protagonist and the audience. Film writer William Cheng describes this as causing a "sudden vanishing of the protective walls surrounding the film's protagonist", in turn giving the viewer at home a sense that the intruder is also somehow closer to them.
The jump scare from the 1990 film The Exorcist III is considered by horror fans (in a 2017 article on a Reddit thread) to be the most famous and scariest jump scare in movie history. In the scene, a nurse enters a room in a hall, while a guard walks by in the background. As soon as she exits the room, locks it and begins to leave, the camera quickly zooms in, and a figure clad in white and wielding large scissors suddenly walks out of the room and kills her offscreen, along with loud chord music.
In video games
Rescue on Fractalus! may be the first video game to use a jump scare. In this first-person fly-through game, the navigator attempts to find and land to pickup other downed pilots. Some of the pilots are aliens in disguise, who would suddenly jump into view, roaring and trying to smash into the cockpit.
Resident Evil is cited as the first modern video game to use jump scares. The player, during the course of the game, walks through a hallway where the music begins to lower. About halfway through the hall, zombie dogs will suddenly leap through the windows and the music will peak in volume and intensity.
The video game Daylight was described as being a "vehicle for jump scares", and though reviewers praised its successful use of jump scares, they commented that as the game wore on jump scares alone weren't a sufficient tool for scaring players.
An Internet screamer, or simply screamer, is a video or game on the Internet that has a sudden change designed to jumpscare the user. Screamers have been popular since at least 1996 with some of the best known appearing at that time.
An early example of an Internet screamer is The Scary Maze Game created in 2004 made by game developer Jeremy Winterrowd. Disguised as a computer game, the player is supposed to use the mouse to move into a red square along a given path without touching the walls. As the player progresses, the walls get closer together, making it more difficult for the player to avoid touching the walls. At first, if the player accidentally touches the wall it will lead back to the start menu and the player has to start over, but once the player reaches level 3, the walls get so thin it becomes very difficult to avoid touching them. When the player reaches a certain point near the end of the maze, regardless to whether the wall is touched or not, a picture of Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair) from The Exorcist appears with two loud screams.
YouTube prohibits screamers in video advertising. In August 2018, a video marketing The Nun depicted the IOS device volume icon muting, and the titular character appears with a scream. The ad was shortly afterwards removed for violating the site's "shocking content policy".
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