Halloween in June Editorial: Modern Horror and Jump Scares

What makes a piece of horror media good? The answer, of course, is not the same for everyone. Some people say that horror needs a good story. Others say that horror needs good atmosphere. Still others say that horror is nothing without a good scare. And that’s what today’s article is all about: Scares. Specifically, the state of scares in modern horror.

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Jump scares are nothing new in the horror genre. From the first frightful film, there were always moments meant to startle the audience, to make them jump. I would argue that almost every piece of horror media (yes, even books) relies on  at least one jump scare at some point. There are so many jump scares in movies that, sometimes, there are even false jump scares. You think nothing is gonna be in that closet? SURPRISE! CAT! (Seriously, cats in horror movies are the stealthy ninjas of the jump scare.)

People have been arguing about the legitimacy of jump scares for a good long while now. My opinion? Well, a good jump scare is like a good fart joke. It’s a lot better if you use it sparsely, and usually much better used if it’s completely unexpected. And there in lies the problem in modern horror: EVERY scare is now a jump scare.

I’ll explain using the worst offender in this argument: Drag Me to Hell. Dear god, what a terrible movie. It has a terrible message, terrible characters, terrible acting, and, most tragically, TERRIBLE SCARES. I defy anyone to tell me one moment in this film where the scare isn’t ruined by a jump scare with a loud noise. You think the movie’s going to finally get subtle and focus on atmosphere, but nope! JUMP SCARE! Every. Single. Time. If you use jump scares this often, not only will it lose its effectiveness, it just gets old and the audience will start to expect it.

Counter point: Paranormal Activity, the first one. This is one good movie. Not because of it’s characters (Micah is annoying), not because of the story (kinda generic), but because of the subtlety of it’s scares. I mean it, the scares in this film are damn near perfect. It only has maybe 2 jump scares in the whole thing and they’re both at the end. The rest of the scares rely on subtle shadows, fabric moving, hair being blown around by nothing. It’s perfect.

Bottom line: Jump scares are as old as horror cinema. The only reason people see them as a problem now is because they’re used too often now. There are some damn good jump scares and there are some that are terrible. (A pop tart? A POP TART? REEEEEALLY?) But I will admit that they can be used very effectively. Just watch out for those violins in the background music. They ALWAYS come before the jump scare.

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