Jumpscares: Yay or Nay?

Image by Sammy-Williams from Pixabay

Ah, the times from childhood when I played the Scary Maze Game (this is the link to it, yes, there’s a screamer) when tricked by my friend (may she rest in peace, miss you Ashley </3) that it was a normal maze. I had jumped up so hard that the chair I was sitting in went flying. Pranks like that were fun, though they made my heart skip a beat. I was a wimp when I was younger, too, easily afraid. Hell, I cried at the age of ten to avoid going on a roller coaster. Times have changed where I have grown much more brave, but when it comes to screamers, eh… I don’t prefer them.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good jump scare–when I opt into it. For example, if I’m going to a haunted house, I know that people will be jumping out at me, and I’m due for a fright. I expect it. It’s classic in a haunted house. Some might argue it’s classic in horror movies as well, but hear me out (and these are just my opinions).

I’d rather be frightened less by jump scares and more by the creepy elements of the movie itself. For example, the contorted creatures of Silent Hill were a lot of fun to see, and the faceless, limbless things really freaked me out. The soundtrack itself was also eerie, and got me more than just jump scares. Another movie, The Ring, utilized jump scares that I enjoyed when younger, but today I’d find the random creepy imagery from the video tape itself to be more creepy simply because it’s more of a journey into the unknown.

This isn’t to say I hate all jump scares, either. My lover and I have an ongoing joke where he’ll get me to jump in one way or another, because I’m a very jumpy person. I get surprised easily, which leads to fun games like that. But I know my lover and expect it (even if I still don’t in those short seconds of not knowing what’s going on), and he’s there for me. I allow it and enjoy it, whereas in a random setting, it’s just not as fun.

I would say this article is therefore related to unexpected jump scares. I know there’s some semblance of expectation during creepy videos on youtube, for example, or horror movies, but I just don’t like that. I think horror stories in a paranormal or realistic sense are much more effective without the use of jumpscares to drive a point home. Granted, something like the Crooked Man scene is an exception to this rule:

And, honestly, that’s because of the buildup of tension. Jumpscares can work, but they work better when you expect them. I know that sounds counterintuitive, but it’s not fun being frightened without the buildup. You jump, then you move on. Having tension crawl up before the finale provides a much more memorable fright.

Therefore, when it comes to jump scares, I feel they can be effective in some settings, but also are very much overdone. A horror element can’t exist solely on jump scares, I feel, and be entertaining. They need to be planned out with a ton of tension for me to really feel and remember it, and some movies did that really well. Just inserting a sudden scream with a scary face isn’t going to cut it, and might just annoy people, to be honest.

A healthy mix of horror elements in a piece of media will help viewers or readers remember it more this way than just relying on shock value, in my personal opinion.

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