5. Jaws – Ben Gardner’s Boat
Most of what makes the film Jaws work is actually how anti-jump scare it is, after all, we see the shark’s POV for half the attacks so we not only see them coming, but know exactly when they are about to happen. Obviously it’s the suspense of watching it happen that makes it so goddamn scary, and also makes what jump scares the film does have that much more unexpected.
The obvious would be the shark’s brief ‘hello’ to Sharif Brody that results in the ‘bigger boat’ line – but if I had to choose from this film it would absolutely have to be Ben Gardner’s one-eyed head popping up on Hooper as he inspects the shark’s giant tooth. As you will see in that video up there – the idea was so last minute that it was shot in the damn film editor’s swimming pool, but boy was it worth it. It comes at just the right point in the film to really spread the scares out.
4. The Ring – “I Saw Her Face…”
OK, really mean, guys. Seriously – this is so freaking cheap as a scare, but I can’t really deny it either because… well… holy shit. There is absolutely no way to see this one coming. The best part about this scene is watching it with people who haven’t seen it before and watching their reaction.
It’s not even the quiet conversation juxtaposed with the jump inducing sounds either – it’s what we see, the image of that mangled face curled up in the closet really haunts you. It’s just so… tormented. I think it’s that twisted face that makes this more than just one of those cheap YouTube scare videos where you stare at something for like a minute and then they splice in a loud noise and scary face – this was clearly something the filmmakers put time into and knew was going to be a very important scare of the film. After all, after you watch this scene you never really feel safe for the rest of the movie because you literally never know when something’s going to jump out.
There are a lot of things in this movie that couldn’t compare to Ringu, but this was by far a superior jump scare than anything in the original.
3. The Exorcist – Spider Walk
I think this counts… Sure, it wasn’t in the original release because you could see wires holding the actress up, but thanks to later advancements they stuck it in the rerelease. You know, I’d probably put it on this list if it never made the rerelease anyway; it’s really freaky.
You know the moment the mother turns around that she is looking at something real messed up, and it’s nice that they give us that brief moment where she sees it but we can only speculate. Then of course we know exactly what she means when she says ‘Oh my God’ as we watch Regan use stairs in probably the least efficient way imaginable. And the noise she makes at the end! It’s like the cries of a thousand old people as the blood drips out of her mouth. I love it as a jump because it’s not a fast one – it doesn’t jump out at you in terms of sound or editing or anything like that because it doesn’t need to; a girl descending stairs upside down and twisted backward is really enough to make your heart skip a beat without any extra stimulus.
2. Insidious – The Demon
I certainly didn’t choose this for my number two because it was the first time a movie has done this kind of scare before – let me make that clear. The reason this is so high in my mind is because if there were ever a textbook on making horror films, this would be in it; it is the best example I can think of for the jump scare formula.
I’ll explain – first you have unsuspecting quiet daytime dinner table scene, it’s safe. Then the shot itself, which if you notice, throughout the scene gradually sets itself up by getting closer and closer to the subject’s head, but it’s gradual enough that we don’t suspect anything by it. Then the woman’s scary story about the demon, cut in with visuals of her story – that’s key. We have two worlds presented here – a safe one and a scary one – and we’re going back and forth. We don’t’ expect any jump in the safe one because we think that point of the horror is in the story she is telling, not the world where the story is being told. It sets us up perfectly for comfort, then shock. And of course the shock chord itself – it’s an original but effective sound in that it isn’t typical to jump scares, but not alien to them either. It’s perfect.
Oh and that dude’s face is wicked scary. He looks like Darth Maul after spending a year in a Russian prison or something.
1. The Exorcist III – The Nurse’s Station
I’m not going to sit here and try to tell you that the third Exorcist film is good. Watching it, I can say that it’s not the worst film I’ve ever see but also not particularly remarkable as a horror movie either. But there is a shot in it – the shot you’ve hopefully just watched – that has stuck with me since my sister first showed me this film as a kid. For half my life I didn’t even know what movie it was in, but I remembered that hallway. Finally when I started digging up examples for this list I stumbled upon the scene once more and thankfully my childhood memory did not distort how incredibly scary this single uncut shot is.
That’s why I love it too – no cuts, they didn’t need editing for this scare; just a really mundane buildup followed by a fast zoom and horrific screeching sound effect… that and a knife wielding sentient bed sheet. OK maybe that’s not exactly what that is – but the getup is part of the freakiness because it’s so bizarre but so basic at the same time.
There are so many elements to this scare that feels unconventional to me – you don’t see many fast zooms incorporated into most jump scares, and yet this shot shows just how effective they can be. I think the simplicity of all the movements made is the key here – simple blocking with the actors, a simple camera shot, and a simple camera move – not much is going on, but it all puts together a great moment of fright.
Of course, I know there are some really good scares that I missed. After all, I started with like 20+ examples written down… so tell me, what are some of your own favorites?