Effective Jump Scares aka What Got ME!

An idea that has been brewing in my head for a week and then in that same week I begin working on my continual story for nanowrimo. This idea has been pushed back a few times just to make my life a bit easier but here we are, I’m finally doing this.

This week, we’ll be looking at horror jump scares but not just ANY jump scares: the jump scares that got my own heart jumping. For those who do not know, I’ve been watching horror since I was a child and maybe at 35, I’m so desensitized to anything being super gory or catching me off guard or a reaction out of me (did happen fairly recently in the first episode of Interview with the Vampire… priest, super punch, Lestat) but thinking about it, there are a small handful of horror films that definitely got me.

There are more than 10 but I narrowed it down to exactly 10 and I’ll share some honorable mentions.

Let’s look at some “effective jumpscares” AKA what got ME.


Hereditary (2018) – I’m still scarred by this film you guys. There are so many moments that are effective with jump scares or even just taking you off guard. The biggest for me is the head decapitation of Charlie. Very unexpected (even then showing the head later) and emotional. I let out a noise and jumped. jacobsladder5

Jacob’s Ladder (1990) – Underrated film in my opinion and I think we can all agree that the party scene is where the jump scare is really coming to us out of nowhere. We are watching Elizabeth Pena’s character Jezebel, dance and Tim Robbins (Jacob) has been seeing things prior. We don’t know at this point what is really going on, like are these delusions real? Are we seeing what Jacob is seeing? But under the flashing lights of the party, he’s seeing a weird creature starting to surround her as she’s gyrating and grinding on this creature. The flapping, stroking, groping and then this claw thing comes out of her mouth and Jacob jumps, I jump, everyone’s jumping!

Terrified (2018) – A great Spanish horror if you have not seen it. I think it may still be on Shudder. The premise of Terrified is supernatural events occurring in a neighborhood and it culminates when a child is hit by a public bus. And as terrifying as the scenes are with the child’s corpse “re-animating” or how our perception changes with angles. But for me, there’s a moment later into the film where a character is approached in a vehicle and the way it’s framed, you don’t know what you’re looking at until it’s too late.

Black Sabbath (1963) – An anthology film with Boris Karloff narrating, famed Italian horror director Mario Bava in charge, it doesn’t get any better right? WRONG. The third story, “The Drop of Water” is one that is so bizarre and so creepy. The jump scare(s) are the facial expressions and the beautiful gradient lighting. blacksunday1

Black Sunday (1960) – I’m sensing a theme here with Mario Bava and jump scares. Barbara Steele is beautiful, her face is stunning. It’s even more stunning when it’s full of holes and her face is a blank stare into the camera. Not once, maybe twice, but definitely there is something shocking about a face that just stares at you.

Jaws (1975) – The jump scare I’m thinking of does not have the shark involved. It is underwater and it’s murky, we kinda can’t see much; we the audience watching with Richard Dreyfuss’ character as he’s under. The decapitated head popping out, very unexpected when you’re looking to find a shark lurking around the corner. No, just a poor victim’s head.

The Conjuring (2013) – It’s the game scene, playing hide and seek but it’s hide and clap. Lili Taylor (Carolyn) is playing a game with her daughter, and I don’t want to give too much away but I feel the trailers gave it away. I don’t know if I can handle being in the dark with the smallest flame and someone claps behind me. NOPE. scream_4

Scream (1996) – The Wes Craven directed film has quite a few jump scares throughout it, a lot of it are music cues but I think the best one is in the opening sequence with Casey (Drew Barrymore) and her being terrorized over the phone. It’s the framing of Casey hiding behind the television and not expecting something to be thrown through the patio glass doors, taking her and us off guard. 

It Follows (2014) – It’s the hallway scene, point blank period. The ominous male figure coming up behind the friend in the darkness, it’s very memorable.

Seven (Se7en) (1995) – I would consider this into the umbrella of horror (it is a crime/thriller, drama) and there are some horrifying moments in this film. Sloth, one of the deadly sins shown with a man who looks disgusting (is disgusting), chained to a bed, heavily emancipated and thought to be dead. But he’s not. And he gasps and it’s so scary like what the fuck, how are you still alive?!?! paranormalactivity1

Here are some fun honorable mentions that are worth watching on your own time!
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 (1986)
Paranormal Activity (2007)
It (2017)
Lake Mungo (2008)

Jump scares is an old technique used, most famously with William Castle and his various works within a movie theater (gimmicky): see The Tingler, House on Haunted Hill. They can be found in video games, memes and reaction videos but when done effectively and not overused in horror, they can become memorable.

What film(s) had your favorite jump scare? Leave a comment below!

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