Jump scare

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Basic principle of a jump-scare in its early form as a Jack-in-the-box. Illustration of the Harper's Weekly magazine from 1863.

A jump scare (also written jump-scare and jumpscare) is a scaring technique used in media, particularly in films such as horror films and video games such as horror games, intended to scare the viewer by surprising them with an abrupt change in image or event, usually co-occurring with a loud, jarring sound.[1][2] The jump scare has been described as "one of the most basic building blocks of horror movies".[2] Jump scares can startle 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,[3] or can be the sudden payoff to a long period of suspense.[4]

Some critics have described jump scares as a lazy way to frighten viewers,[5] 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.[6]

In film[edit]

Cat People (1942), which featured the Lewton Bus technique, considered the first jump scare.

Though not intended as a scare, the film Citizen Kane (1941) included an abrupt scene transition of a shrieking cockatoo. According to Orson Welles, this was intended to startle audience members who might have been beginning to doze off towards the end of the film.[7]

While editing Cat People (1942), Mark Robson created the jump scare, in which quiet tension builds and is suddenly and unexpectedly interrupted by a loud noise, cut, or fast movement, startling the viewer. In the film, Alice is walking home along a deserted street late at night, and realizes Irena is following her. Alice begins to panic, running, and the silence of the night, the contrast between light and deep shadow, shots of the fearful Alice, and the intermittent clacking of high heels set up suspense: abruptly, a bus enters the frame with a loud unpleasant noise, scaring the viewer. The jump scare device is sometimes called the Lewton Bus after producer Val Lewton, who used it in subsequent films.[8][9] Prior to the 1980s, jump scares were a relatively rare occurrence in horror movies; however, they (in particular the Lewton Bus) became increasingly common in the early 1980s as the slasher subgenre increased in popularity.[10]

Carrie, released in 1976, has one of the first modern jump scares.[11] The scene in which Carrie’s bloodied arm abruptly emerges from the soil 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.[12]

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.[13]

The 1980 film The Shining is known for its "misplaced" jump scares, whereby director, Stanley Kubrick appears to subvert horror conventions with seemingly banal occurrences which coincide with a dramatic cymbal crash preceded by a tense orchestral build up. Such instances include the appearance of a title card announcing "Tuesday" or when Jack Torrance, the film's main antagonist removes a sheet of paper from a typewriter.[14]

The 2009 film Drag Me to Hell contains jump scares throughout,[4] with director Sam Raimi saying he wanted to create a horror film with "big shocks that'll hopefully make audiences jump."[15]

In video games[edit]

Resident Evil is often cited as an early 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.[citation needed]

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 were not a sufficient tool for scaring players.[16][17]

The 2014 video game franchise Five Nights at Freddy's was described as "perfect for live streaming" in part due to its use of jump scares.[18]

In advertising[edit]

In 2004, K-fee (Kaffee), a German caffeinated energy drink company, released nine television advertisements that feature peaceful footage, such as a car driving through a green valley, or two people at a beach. A zombie or gargoyle then pops up on the screen, along with a loud, high-pitched scream, potentially scaring the viewer. At the end of each advertisement, the slogan, "So wach warst du noch nie", which translates into English as, "You've never been so awake", appears on the screen, simulating the effect the energy drink will have on its consumers. Four radio ads were also released such as a Christmas story and a meditation audio, both in German and English, with the last intended to expand the brand to the United Kingdom.[19] Three "less caffeine" commercials were released, featuring a man in a monster suit or a man dressed as a teddy bear, minus the screams. These commercials received many complaints from German viewers, resulting in their ultimately being pulled from television. English commentator Rhys Production 11 interviewed two of the actors who starred in the commercials, Brad Johnson and his brother Adam Johnson,[20] who revealed that the company originally used puppets "to create scary objects". After this plan did not work, the brothers themselves starred in the commercials.[21]

YouTube prohibits jump scares in video advertising. In August 2018, a video marketing The Nun depicts the iOS device volume icon muting before the titular character appears with an incredibly loud scream. The ad was removed shortly afterward for violating the site's "shocking content policy".[22]

Internet screamers[edit]

An Internet screamer or simply, screamer[23] is an image, video or application on the Internet that has a sudden change designed to startle the user.[24] They often include a scary face with a loud scream.

An early example of an Internet screamer is The Maze (often called Scary Maze Game) by Jeremy Winterrowd in 2003.[24] Disguised as a computer game, the player is supposed to use their mouse to move a blue square along a given path without touching the walls. As the player progresses, the walls get smaller, making it more difficult for the player to avoid touching the walls, and forces the player to bring their faces closer to the screen. At first, if the player accidentally touches the wall, it will lead back to the start menu and the player has to start all over again. However, once the player reaches level 3, the walls get so thin that it becomes very difficult to avoid touching the wall, which is done on purpose to get the player more focused on the game and possibly to move closer to the screen. When the player reaches a certain point, whether they touch a wall or not, an image of the possessed Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair) from the film The Exorcist suddenly appears on the screen along with an edited sound effect of her screaming playing twice.[25]

Reaction videos[edit]

After the rise of YouTube, Internet screamers gradually transitioned from chain emails to reaction videos where people filmed as they pranked others to click on an Internet screamer and recorded their reactions or using a fictional character's screaming moments edited with jumpscare as it appears as though the character is reacting to a jumpscare. A prominent early screamer reaction video was uploaded on YouTube in May 2006 by user "Can't We All Just Get Along?".[26][dead link] The video features a boy sitting at a desk while playing The Maze. In the video, he asks, "Why can't I touch this?" and shortly after, an image of what seems to be a demonic monster pops up with a piercing scream (though it is not the Regan MacNeil one). The boy screams, hits the computer screen repeatedly and breaks the monitor, urinates in his pants, runs to the person filming him and starts crying. Since the upload, the video has been viewed over 25 million times.[27] Maze reaction videos were featured twice on America's Funniest Home Videos.[27]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ John Muir (2013). Horror Films FAQ. Hal Leonard Corporation. ISBN 978-1480366817. Retrieved 1 January 2015.
  2. ^ a b Bryan Bishop (October 31, 2012). "'Why won't you die?!' The art of the jump scare". The Verge. Retrieved 24 December 2014.
  3. ^ Danny Draven (2013). Genre Filmmaking: A Visual Guide to Shots and Style for Genre Films. Taylor & Francis. p. 52. ISBN 978-1136070785.
  4. ^ a b John Rosenberg (2013). The Healthy Edit: Creative Techniques for Perfecting Your Movie. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 978-1136040733. Retrieved 24 December 2014.
  5. ^ Lucas Sullivan. "10 horror games that don't rely on jump scares". GamesRadar. Archived from the original on 21 April 2015. Retrieved 24 December 2014.
  6. ^ Diaz, Pedro (February 8, 2015). "Why Modern Horror Movies Don't Get it Right More Often". Movie Pilot. Archived from the original on February 24, 2015. Retrieved February 24, 2015.
  7. ^ Naremore, James (22 July 2004). Orson Welles's Citizen Kane: A Casebook. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195158915.
  8. ^ "How An Iconic Scene In 'Cat People' Created The Cinematic Jump Scare As We Know It Today". 18 November 2020.
  9. ^ "Catching The Lewton Bus". 15 October 2013.
  10. ^ "Do Modern Horror Movies Contain More Jump Scares Than Older Movies? - Where's The Jump?".
  11. ^ "10 Great Jump Scares in Horror!". 18 October 2012.
  12. ^ David Konow (2012). Reel Terror: The Scary, Bloody, Gory, Hundred-Year History of Classic Horror. Macmillan. p. 354. ISBN 978-1250013590. Retrieved 10 March 2016.
  13. ^ William Cheng (2014). Sound Play: Video Games and the Musical Imagination. Oxford University Press. p. 100. ISBN 978-0199969975. Retrieved 1 January 2015.
  14. ^ "Feeling on Edge: Kubrick's The Shining Between Horror and Comedy".
  15. ^ Blair, Iain (July 1, 2009). "Director's Chair: Sam Raimi Drag me to Hell". Post Magazine. Archived from the original on August 2, 2009. Retrieved July 9, 2013.
  16. ^ McElroy, Griffin (April 29, 2014). "Daylight review: jump scare tactics". Polygon. Retrieved 24 December 2014.
  17. ^ "Daylight review". EDGE. 1 May 2014. Retrieved 1 January 2015.
  18. ^ Riendeau, Danielle (13 November 2014). "Why Five Nights at Freddy's 2 is a viral success". Polygon. Retrieved 22 January 2015.
  19. ^ Louis, Rosie (17 April 2014). "10 Of The Creepiest Commercials to Every Hit the Small Screen". Listverse. Retrieved 30 January 2015.
  20. ^ "Zombie from Terrifying 2000s Advert Has Been Tracked Down".
  21. ^ "Want to Know the Real Face of Viral 2000s K-Fee Commercial's Zombie?". 11 March 2021.
  22. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (August 14, 2018). "The Latest Ad For 'The Nun' Is So Scary, YouTube Removed It". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved August 15, 2018.
  23. ^ Osborne, Doug (17 November 2010). "What you don't want to happen when you computer prank someone". geek.com. Archived from the original on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 8 July 2015.
  24. ^ a b Menning, Chris (13 October 2010). "Screamers - The History of the Scary Maze Prank and its Cousins". urlesque.com. Archived from the original on 16 January 2015. Retrieved 16 December 2013.
  25. ^ Bojalad, Alec (October 20, 2021). "The Forgotten Era of Internet Jump Scares". Den of Geek. Retrieved 11 August 2022.
  26. ^ Scary Maze prank - The Original. 20 May 2006 – via YouTube.
  27. ^ a b Middleton, Jason. Documentary’s Awkward Turn: Cringe Comedy and Media Spectatorship. Routledge, 2013.