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10 Jolting Jump Scares That Don’t Feel Cheap

Not all jump scares are created equal. We’ve sussed out ten of the best.
Jump Scared
By  · Published on October 14th, 2019

5. Chest collapse in The Thing (1982)

This jump scare couldn’t possibly be cheap because there’s absolutely not a single moment in The Thing that feels cheap. With the iconic defibrillation scene, John Carpenter saw Alien’s chestburster and said “Hold my beer.” Norris (Charles Hallahan) suffering a heart attack is just the beginning of the end when his chest rips open and devours Cooper’s (Richard Dysart) arms before transforming the man himself into a monstrosity. It’s a glorious testament to the film’s practical effects that this jump scare is genuinely thrilling and frightening, not to mention it conjures a feeling of fear that lingers long after the credits. I’d like to see CGI do all that. (Anna Swanson)

4. Bag lurch in Audition (1999)

If you go into this depraved masterpiece from director Takashi Miike with no prior knowledge of the film, you would be forgiven for thinking it was a romantic dramedy. What begins as a story about a widower, Shigeharu (Ryo Ishibashi), and his new squeeze, Asami (Eihi Shiina), forming a relationship eventually turns into a nightmare. As it turns out, Asami isn’t exactly stable. Earlier in the film, we learn how wicked Asami is when we see a body bag moving in her apartment. Later on when Shigeharu discovers it, however, the bag appears to be lifeless. He kicks it a couple of times and nothing happens, and then, out of the blue, the person in the sack suddenly darts toward him. It’s a perfectly executed jump scare, but it’s only the beginning of the terror that’s in store for the poor bastard. (Kieran Fisher)

3. Shears in The Exorcist III (1990)

This jump scare is a perfect model for how to simply, but effectively, create a sense of dread and how to then have it pay off. The camera is stationary as we watch the goings-on of a nurse’s station and then, just when the anticipation has reached its peak, the music, camera work, and editing all join forces to scare the bejeezus out of even the most seasoned horror fans. The quick zoom in on a shear-wielding demon nun, the jarring score, the brilliant cut-to a beheaded statue — it all tells us everything we need to know about the murder that’s happened and it does so without actually showing a thing. We’re left to fill in the gruesome details and, as always, our own imaginations are home to the scariest ideas of all. This is what a good jump scare does: it spikes your adrenaline and allows your own nightmares to overtake your emotions. (Anna Swanson)

2. Chumbucket surprise in Jaws (1975)

Three men on a boat. There’s the ol’ sea dog captain, the young rich kid scientist, and the dutiful cop who’d rather be anywhere else. They’re all outsiders, and they’re all hunting an obscenely large, child-snacking shark for different reasons. By the third act of Jaws, Steven Spielberg has already induced a lifelong fear of the deep in his audience. His job here is to lull us into a sense of pleasure, where we can enjoy the bickering love affair brewing between Quint (Robert Shaw), Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), and Brody (Roy Scheider) before he really gives us the goose. The landlubber lawman is tasked with chumming the waters, muttering his contempt for the know-it-all-Navy-man with a “Come down here and chum some of this shit.” The moment he turns away from the ocean, big bad Bruce pops his dome past the surface, and Brody fills his pants with all that brown. We’re gonna need a bigger boat and a fresh pair of drawers. (Brad Gullickson)

1. Introducing: Leatherface! in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

Texas Chain Saw Massacre Scare

There’s nothing quite like a whole 35-minute opening act of just build-up. By the time we get to the homestead tensions are running as hot as the sweltering Texas sun. Kirk and Pam wander off to seek out a local swimming hole but find only dust, and then, of course, they find the house. Spying a spluttering generator, Pam waits while Kirk enters through the unlocked door to inquire about gas. While Pam is recoiling from the porch-side human teeth, Kirk enters the house to find a taxidermist’s paradise, jogging inside (why?) only to trip and come face to face with a mallet-wielding Leatherface. The exchange is swift, startling, and the beginning of one of cinema’s most memorable and terrifying character debuts. But Leatherface’s introduction does not end with Kirk, Pam’s encounter with the hulking cannibal is just as sudden, horrible, and gut-churning. When that meat locker door slams open, your stomach drops. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. (Meg Shields)

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Based in the Pacific North West, Meg enjoys long scrambles on cliff faces and cozying up with a good piece of 1960s eurotrash. As a senior contributor at FSR, Meg's objective is to spread the good word about the best of sleaze, genre, and practical effects.