The Problem With Jump Scares
For those not in the know, a jump scare is literally a scene in a film in which the sole purpose is to make the audience jump in fright. Like the cinematic equivalent of a ghost train, jump scares have been found within horror films for decades, and are the crowning point of some of the finest scenes in the genre.
Think of the 1974’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and the introduction of Leatherface; a young man walks into a house, stumbles, and suddenly, metal shutter doors fly open and the killer appears. Cast your mind back to the ending of the otherwise mediocre Friday the 13th, where just as our heroine appears to have survived, hands shoot up from the water and pull her down below. Take a look at 90% of horrors and you will find at least one jump scare in the mix. Jump scares are a vital part of horror films, and can be used to perfection; but in recent times, it seems jump scares are losing their edge, and becoming, dare I say it, redundant.
The problem really occurred to me when watching 2011’s mega hit Insidious. Now, while watching Insidious, I thought that it was great fun; it had multiple fine jumps, along with a few completely predictable ones. The troubles started after viewing; when trying to recall why I found Insidious so enjoyable, I realised I couldn’t. I couldn’t grasp what made Insidious a good horror experience. I could vaguely recall the scenes, but couldn’t really understand why I found it scary at all. And that is when it struck me; jump scares, once the film is finished, are meaningless. They only work in the moment, and once it’s gone, the fear can’t be replicated.
I’m not knocking jump scares altogether; as I said in the introduction, some of the best scenes in horror history are jumps. What I have a problem with is a film being based entirely on jumps. You see, to be a truly scary horror film, it is all about the atmosphere. Think of The Shining, and the ominous stillness of the Overlook Hotel, or Suspiria, and the sinister theme playing throughout the Academy corridors. All the scariest films have a scary atmosphere, a feeling of tension and unease, and that is what everyone remembers once the curtains close.
Most modern horrors haven’t grasped this concept, as the majority seem to think if you make your audience jump, you’ve got a classic. This is most certainly not the case. As someone who has seen a stupid amount of horror films, I have seen nearly everyone variation on the jump, and very rarely do they work anymore. For me, the pinnacle of my utter frustration with this predictability came during the interminable The Woman in Black, during which I found around two moments somewhat scary, and predicted the rest of the jumps. Gaps next to windows, slowly building-in-volume strings; I have seen it all before, and I am tired of it. To truly scare a person in 2013, you have to do a lot more than say “BOO” every few minutes.
I am not calling for the end of the jump scare, far from it. Instead, I am calling for the return of the genuinely surprising jump scare. Instead of throwing in a dull, predictable shock every few minutes to keep the hyperactive teenage audiences interested, take your time, and build up to the big pay-offs. Create an atmosphere of dread that lingers after you’ve left the cinema screen, rather than giving some scares during. It’s time we diehard horror fans got more proper horrors, to watch over and over again, and more importantly, be scared of over and over again. That’s all we deserve.
By Harry J. Ford
Follow Ford On Film on twitter: @Ford_On_Film
Like Ford On Film on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/FordOnFilm/