Scream Horror Magazine

Boo-hoo: We’re Falling out of Love with Jump Scares

Posted on: May 31st, 2024

Horror has a simple premise, namely, to scare people. Exactly what’s scary in a movie differs from person to person, meaning that the genre is always an inexact science. It’s hard to please everyone with a single release.

Scary media does have its old reliable tricks. Gore, darkness, monsters, and the unfamiliarity of back alleys, basements, and woods are present in most horror films, going back to the work of Georges Méliès in the late 19th century. The Devil’s Castle (1896), The Haunted Castle (1897), and The Cave of Demons (1898) are all fairly self-descriptive.

Then, there’s the jump scare. Leaning on the idea that the unexpected is one of our greatest fears, jump scares were rightly considered trite throughout the 1990s and 2000s. By the time, the 2020s rolled around, The Haunted of Hill House director Mike Flanagan considered them “overused”. He then set a world record for the most jump scares in a single TV episode (21), with The Midnight Club.

Research from The Washington Post notes a decline in jump scares overall, with mirror and cat-related scenes of particular note. Use of the trick slumped to a low in 2021.

The same source notes that, after the millennium, remakes of older movies relied on jump scares more than their inspiration(s). According to University of Hertfordshire lecturer Laura Mee, this separated the two visions. This trend has died off recently, too.

Silent Hill
In gaming, jump scares face much the same problem. They can be a valid tactic but “cheap” and “exhausting” if misused, to quote PC Gamer. Resident Evil had creatures emerging from windows, closets, and even ovens back in its early days but strayed into visceral, action-based territory for later editions.

Horror changes by platform in gaming. Console and PC titles are where the genre shines but horror doesn’t always translate well to the smaller screen.

Mobile games like Bendy and the Ink Machine and Detention are artistic affairs to get around the feeling of detachment that comes with playing on a handheld device, while casino titles lean on the celebratory side of horror (rather than jump scares) to avoid breaking the gameplay loop. The X-Scream online slingo game is dedicated to pumpkins, bats, pitch-dark trees, and general Halloween tropes.

Just like in movies, games don’t need the jump scare. Dead Space developer Visceral Games enjoyed making the dead stand up at inopportune moments but the Silent Hill franchise preferred to make people uncomfortable. It was more about what the player thought was in the fog or the darkness than what was there, something that’s often said about the original Alien movie.

So, where have the jump scares gone? Mainstream horror has become decidedly more artistic since about 2017 and the release of Jordan Peele’s Get Out. He followed that up with the similarly off-the-wall Us and Nope. Games developer Konami is eyeing a new face for its Silent Hill franchise, as well, scrapping the eponymous town for a 1960s rural Japan.

Jump scares aren’t going away but the most basic building block of the horror genre – shouting “boo!” at the audience – isn’t as popular with fans as it used to be.

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