A jump scare (often contracted to jumpscare) is a technique often used in horror films, haunted attractions, 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. 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 late 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, and the aforementioned example serves more as a big reveal, which had already been a common element of the dramatic structure in other narrative forms (i.e. literature, theater).
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 the alley, accompanied by a loud hiss and screech; this technique of a jump scare from an object that is actually non-threatening became known as "the Lewton Bus," after the film's 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.
In Yakuza 2 a side mission features the protagonist being given a video tape by a strange NPC. They take this to a video shop and watch it. This video contains an internet screamer style video where a blank background is replaced by a sudden appearance of a pale faced woman with dark hair reminiscent of Samara from the ring. This sets up a side story with supernatural themes.
The exercise video game Wii Fit Plus contains a game called Lotus Focus (Zazen on European releases), in which the player must sit still with their back straight and focus on a candle until it burns all the way down (which takes no more than 180 seconds). The player will occasionally hear strange sounds that will try to distract them. The score is how long the player can keep the candle lit. If the player moves too much (almost even in the slightest), a large, white kanji will abruptly flash on the screen, accompanied by a loud voice shouting "Katsu!", which will end the game.
Super Mario Party uses jumpscares in Don't Wake Wiggler!, a 4-player minigame. In the minigame, players must carefully and slowly move their Joy-Con from left to right to pet a sleeping Wiggler without waking it up. Turn by turn, a player wins points each time the Wiggler is pet. However, at a random point, the Wiggler abruptly wakes up in anger, causing the player who wakes it up to lose all the points they have achieved.
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.
One of the most famous examples of an Internet screamer is The Maze created in 2004 made by game developer Jeremy Winterrowd. Disguised as a computer game, the player uses the mouse to move their cursor 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 become so close together that it becomes very difficult to avoid touching them. At this point, players will often position themselves closer to their computer screens in an effort to aid their performance. When the player reaches a certain point near the end of level 3's maze, regardless of whether the wall is touched or not, a picture of Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair) from The Exorcist appears with two extremely 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 an incredibly loud scream. The ad was removed shortly afterward for violating the site's "shocking content policy".
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