You get a lot of people complaining that too many horror films these days are filled to the brim with "cheap" jump scares, and while this can be true, what about the "expensive" jump scares? Yes, a film that's full of pathetic jump scares can be very underwhelming, especially when you're left sitting there with your eyes glazing over the screen without so much as a flinch. Crafting an effective scare that has the power to make you leap out of your seat takes some serious skill. Some say that jump scares are cheating and that good horror films should terrify you with their imagery and ideas, but personally I do like a good jump scare if it's done well and purposefully. A good jump scare is like a good joke — you need a good long build-up before a killer punchline.
It takes quite a lot for me to jump but the following scenes below did actually make me leap out of my skin. I know a lot of people are going to be like, "Why isn't The Exorcist III on the list? That's like the scariest jump scare ever man." Well, it's not on the list because I haven't seen the film yet, alright? Besides, every self-respecting thrill-seeker knows that scare so let's make way for some other lesser-known ones. If you're ready to skim past the ones you don't want spoiled, then grab that pillow and let's get hopping like rabbits at 10 absolutely pant-wetting terrifying jump scares.
10. The Gift — Shower Shocker
What a lovely surprise The Gift was — the film itself is a gift to us all, if you will. Nothing was on TV one night and so I decided to skip to my local cinema and catch The Gift, not knowing really anything about it, and coming out delighted. It's a really involving and gripping little thriller that exploits the talents of Joel Edgerton, who writes, directs, produces and stars in the film. Joel certainly knows how to conjure up a jump scare too! My cinema had quite a few grannies in it, so I was quite concerned for their wellbeing when this shocking shower jump scare occurred. The anticipation for something to pop up combined with the loud sting is incredibly jarring and sure to shred your nerves.
9. Candyman — Mirror Mash
Ah, the film which inspired us all to stare at ourselves in a mirror and say "Candyman" three times and then force us to take a long, hard look at our sad, crazy faces. It's a fantastic horror film with a terrific heroine and a big heart. Admittedly, more than one scare did almost give me a heart attack, but I think it's the mirror scene that made me jump the most. It's the moment we've all been waiting for — our heroine looks into the mirror and says the film title three times. Nothing happens. We think she's safe as she carries on with her routine for a few seconds until BAM! A rotten hook-hand bursts through her mirror and gives us all a massive fright. Again, it's the sense of anticipation which makes this scare so shocking. We're expecting a jump scare and then it catches us off guard as soon as we think we're safe.
8. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me — Oh My BOB!
I won't apologize for this list being David Lynch heavy because this is a list about good jump scares and he might just be the king of them. They're not used often in his filmography but when they are, they're some of the best that there's to offer. The Twin Peaks movie is a shockingly underrated horror film which genuinely has the power to horrify. It follows the infamous Laura Palmer on her last seven days of life and it makes for some powerful viewing thanks to David's masterful direction and Sheryl Lee's extraordinary performance.
I've seen the film three times now and this scene always manages to make me jump! The always frightening BOB character makes an unexpected appearance behind Laura's drawers and makes us all wet ourselves. It's one of those moments when your eyes scan the screen and you think you see something in the corner but David makes sure to zoom into it and your popcorn goes flying at the revelation.
7. Insidious — Lipstick Surprise
I don't think that James Wan has ever surpassed Insidious. Yes, The Conjuring and its sequel are great, but Insidious has that extra bit of imagination and loveliness to it. It's also actually really quite scary! While the hidden tap-dancing boy is my choice for scariest scene in the film, this scene features the best jump scare.
James Wan isn't always successful at doing an effective jump scare, but this one is a masterclass. We're lulled into a false sense of security having just come out of a creepy flashback sequence from Barbara Hershey's monologue about the lipstick demon. Nothing can pop out now, right? Wrong! Without any warning, the demon makes a sudden appearance behind Patrick Wilson. The fact that this comes after a brief comfortable silence makes the scare all the more jumpy.
6. [REC] — Kids In The Attic
Forget Quarantine kids, [REC] is where it's at! This Spanish horror makes a case for being the best found footage film of all time. It's impossible to watch this alone in the dark and not get at least a bit scared. It's also pretty impossible not to jump in the film's final moments where we're kindly given a slow pan of the attic. It's the classic waiting-for-something-to-pop-out kind of moment and the tension is absolutely unbearable.
I can imagine most people covering their eyes as this scene plays out, but for those brave enough to keep them open, you're almost guaranteed to leap out of your skin when the little boy screams and breaks the camera light. What comes next is even scarier.
5. It Follows — The B (Not So) F G
Probably the best horror film to come out last year, although many find it overrated, I thought It Follows was a fantastic breath of fresh air. It has a unique premise (a curse where an entity follows you relentlessly) and manages to utilize it very effectively. It's actually very unsettling and full of suspense as well as having a nightmarish atmosphere of dread throughout. The scariest moment in the film has to be this terrifying jump scare though. I remember quite clearly watching this for the first time — on my own with the lights out — and jolting in absolute terror at this moment. Shivers were sent all down my spine and that image of the tall man still haunts me to this day. Apparently, the entity is played by an actor who is actually that tall! I bet he slays at basketball.
4. Sinister — Midnight Lawnmowing
Another fantastic recent horror film is Sinister. For some reason it seems that a lot of people don't think much of it but to me it's a genius and genuinely frightening slice of supernatural horror. I was really creeped out back when I saw this on the big screen and this scene had everyone in the cinema shrieking. The other tapes shown in the film have a subtle creepy quality to them, so when Ethan Hawke plays this one featuring a lawnmower, we're left confused and almost squinting at the screen, trying to work out what's going on in the blurry images. When the incredibly loud sting comes out of nowhere and the lawnmower suddenly glides over a man's head, we're left gasping and jolting in fear at the unexpected punchline.
3. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 — Leatherface Lightswitch
TCM 2 is actually a fun little flick if you prepare yourself properly for it. The original film is the holy grail of gritty horror, whereas the sequel is played for laughs. Tobe Hooper cleverly takes a U-turn and rather than repeating the first film, he tries something completely different by creating an OTT self-parody that is a blast from start to finish. What I wasn't expecting though was this incredibly shocking moment where Leatherface suddenly appears with a switch of the light. I'll never forget when I saw this for the first time and literally leapt out of my seat. It totally comes at you from nowhere, creating a spectacular element of surprise. The sudden loud buzzing of the saw is also enough to make your heart explode!
2. Inland Empire — Nikki Graceless
David Lynch's last film to date is absolute nightmare fuel. To most it's unwatchable due to the impenetrable narrative (is there even a narrative?) and hefty three-hour running time, but to weird people like me it's a masterpiece. There's nothing like Inland Empire and if you watch this film alone with no distractions then I can guarantee that you'll be transported into a terrifying fever dream like no other. There are many scary scenes in the film but this is one of the scariest. We suddenly see Laura Dern slowly running towards the camera in a strange yellow light, but there's something wrong with her face which we can't quite make out. Without any warning, her face suddenly appears right in front of the camera and we're forced to confront the unholy grin on her makeup-smeared face. It makes me jump every single time.
1. Mulholland Drive — Diner Monster
Yes, of course David Lynch, the master of the jump scare (and everything else) takes the No. 1 spot in this infamous scene from Mulholland Drive. The film has a string of sensational scenes that don't really fit into the main narrative but somehow feel like they do, and this seemingly unrelated scene at Winkie's diner is one of the best. It occurs early on in the film and adds a sense of unease that prevails throughout the film's 140-minute running time. This really could be the ultimate jump scare and I'll never forget seeing it for the first time and absolutely jumping out of my skin.
It's masterfully done as a man recounts a recurring dream he has about a monster behind a dumpster. The dream seems to seep into real life though, as the man is led outside to a dumpster behind the diner and a terrifying tramp jumps out from behind and gives the man a heart attack (as well as the audience). You need to see the scene in full for it to work properly, but you're guaranteed to have the fright of your life.
You can put the pillow down now, we've come to the end of our jumping journey.