The 19 Craziest Jump Scares In Horror Movies
The jump scare is one of the easiest, laziest, and most maligned techniques in horror cinema. For decades, it's been used by directors as an easy way to get a cheap scare, and usually involves a long stretch of silence interrupted by a sudden loud noise. These moments doesn't necessarily make a movie scary, they just mean that audiences are momentarily surprised.
But in the right hands, and deployed at the right moment, the jump scare can be a highly effective device. The most skilled directors use them to add to the tension and intensity of a movie, letting an audience know that anything could happen at any given moment. Whether it's a monster appearing from the shadows, a hand from under the bed, or something in the background making a sudden movement, the best jump scares are hard to forget.
So here's our look at some of the most memorable, effective, and terrifying jump scares in horror history. Hold on tight!
19. A Tale Of Two Sisters (2003)
Like many Asian horror movies, this creepy South Korean film relies more on atmosphere and dread than big jump scares. But there's one great moment. The movie's creepy stepmother sees a hairclip on the floor of her kitchen. She bends down to pick it up and a hand suddenly appears from under the sink and grabs her.
18. The Orphanage (2007)
Director JA Bayona is currently terrifying audiences with Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, and 10 years ago, he was doing much the same with this outstanding Spanish-language chiller. There's a great, totally unexpected scare in the scene where main character Laura sees a woman hit by a bus. She goes over to the body and picks up a key hanging around neck. Suddenly, the woman grabs her arm and a sheet falls away from her head to reveal her horrendously mangled face.
17. The Thing (1982)
Director John Carpenter deserves much credit for being able to make his audience jump, even when anticipating something terrible in almost every scene. With a shapeshifting alien having infiltrated The Thing's arctic science team, anyone could transform into a hideous creature at any time. But it's still a massive shock when the character Norris--who has seemingly just suffered a heart attack--reveals himself to be the alien. As Dr Copper is about to use a defibrillator on him, Norris's chest splits open to reveal a set of massive fangs, which proceed to bite the poor doc's arms off.
16. The Descent (2005)
Much of The Descent takes place in the claustrophobic darkness of a cave network, in which a group of friends encounters a race of subterranean monsters known as 'crawlers.' We are introduced to these creatures in seriously scary style, via the point-of-view of a night camera it moves between the characters, revealing one standing right behind the group.
15. Insidious (2010)
Director James Wan might rely on traditional techniques to scare his audiences, but he's damn good at it. While both The Conjuring and Saw have their moments, his best scare is in Insidious. It's simple but highly effective. Two characters, played by Patrick Wilson and Barbara Hershey, are having a conversation across a kitchen tale. Wan cuts between the two throughout--but then Hershey hears a strange sound. The director cuts back to Wilson to reveal the movie's red-faced demon now standing right behind him.
14. The Shining (1980)
Stephen King is famously dismissive of Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of his classic novel and the liberties it took with the story. One of the biggest changes is the cruel, unexpected death of Halloran, the friendly chef who shares a "shining" ability with young Danny Torrance. Having spent much of the film travelling through terrible weather conditions to the Overlook hotel to save Danny, he is shockingly dispatched by Jack Nicholson and an ax within minutes of stepping into the hotel.
13. Candyman (1992)
Bernard Rose's adaptation of the Clive Barker story is one of the best horror movies of the 1990s, and it features a knock-out scare. Throughout the movie we are told that the vengeful, demonic former slave Candyman can be summoned by saying his name five times into the mirror. The main character Helen is not stupid enough to do that, but it doesn't matter. She opens a bathroom cabinet from which a terrifying hooked hand emerges. Like many of the scares on this list, this one works because of the eerie silence and carefully paced build-up that proceeds the big fright.
12. It Follows (2014)
The acclaimed It Follows shows that you don't need lavish special effects and camera trickery to terrify--you just need a great concept. In this case, it's literally being followed by a terrifying entity in human form. If it catches you, you die. One of the biggest shocks comes as a girl stand in a hallway. Suddenly, from behind, the looming figure of a tall, scary man appears, lurching towards her from out of the darkness.
11. REC (2007)
The Spanish quasi-zombie movie REC uses its handheld first-person technique to great effect. With much of the film set in the darkness of a tenement building, knowing that infected residents could appear at any point helps generate some incredible tension. The biggest fright concurs when one character is looking around an attic to check if it is a safe place to hide. The camera almost completes an entire 360 degree turn, before suddenly revealing an infected kid waiting to attack.
10. Halloween (1978)
John Carpenter's seminal slasher is a masterclass in terror, and it works because the audience never knows when masked maniac Michael Myers will next appear. The biggest shock is near the end, after Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) discovers the body for her friend Annie, placed on a bed next to a headstone. As Laurie backs away in horror, the body of Bob, one of the Michael's earlier victims, swings into shot from the doorframe behind her.
9. Mulholland Drive (2001)
David Lynch doesn't make "straight" horror movies, but there's no denying that many of his films plunge into terrifying, nightmarish territory. The Hollywood-set mystery Mulholland Drive features a sequence that seemingly has little to do with the main story, but works superbly in helping generate a sense of absolute dread. Two men talk in a diner about a dream one had, in which he saw something horrific behind the building. So the pair go outside to take a look, and after an agonising build-up, a scary-looking hobo slides into shot from behind a wall. The incredible thing about this scene is that the characters actually tell us what's about to happen a couple of minutes before it does, and it's still utterly terrifying. Actress Bonnie Aarons, who plays the hobo, later went on to terrify more viewers as the demonic nun in James Wan's Conjuring movies.
8. The Ring (2002)
For the most part, the Hollywood remake of the classic Japanese horror movie Ringu isn't as effective as the original. But there is a top quality scare, as Katie's mom tells Rachel (Naomi Watts) about finding her dead daughter in a closet. It's a quiet, sad scene, and we don't expect director Gore Verbinski to suddenly cut to the horrifying face of the girl at the moment she was discovered.
7. Poltergeist (1980)
Clowns and dolls are two of horror's scariest tropes, so it's little wonder that Poltergeist's biggest scare combines them both. Little Robbie has a spooky clown doll that sits at the end of his bed, and when the clown suddenly disappears, he makes the unwise decision to look for him under his bed. In a classic bit of misdirection, director Tobe Hooper relaxes the audiences momentarily by showing that he is not under there--before revealing that he's actually sitting next to Robbie. Boo!
6. Carrie (1976)
Some jump scares perform an important narrative role, and some are just there purely to get the audience to leap from their seats. The final moment of Brian De Palma's classic Stephen King adaptation is very much in the latter group; it's a bit silly but highly effective. Amy Irving's character Sue lays flowers on the grave of Carrie White. But then a bloody arm emerges for the grave and grabs her! And of course, it's all a dream.
5. Audition (1999)
The Japanese horror masterpiece Audition is best known for its excruciating climactic torture scene, but it also contains a terrifying jump scare. It's actually the first real scare in the movie and doesn't occur until well over an hour in--this is a film that takes its time to get to the scary stuff. But when it does, it utterly delivers. We already have our suspicion that the girl called Asami might not be everything she seems, and the movie's creeping dread pays off in the scene where she sits alone in her apartment, ignoring the phone while it rings. Suddenly, the mysterious bag which has sat in the background throughout the film grunts and moves--something or someone is inside.
4. Se7en (1995)
The fate of the Sloth, the third victim in David Fincher's serial killer favorite seems so ghastly that you don't expect there to be a second shock in store. Cops burst into his apartment the find the poor guy tied to a bed, having been there for a whole year. But the real kicker is that he's still alive, and his sudden convulsion several minutes into the scene is one of the all-time great jump scares.
3. Jaws (1975)
Steven Spielberg might be one of the cinema's greatest filmmakers, but that doesn't put him above an old-fashioned jump scare. In his shark classic Jaws, the underwater exploration of a sunken boat is interrupted by the severed, maggot-eaten head of its owner Ben Gardner floating into view.
2. Friday the 13th (1980)
While Jason Voorhees is known as the masked killer throughout the Friday the 13th series, he doesn't actually commit any of the murders in the first movie. That's all the work his mom Pamela--but young Jason does make an appearance right at the end, in one of horror's most famous scares. Alice, the sole survivor of Pamela's massacre, lies in a boat, recovering. Unfortunately, the young, deformed Jason is in the water, and in the movie's final moment emerges and pulls her into the lake.
1. The Exorcist III (1990)
Perhaps the greatest jump scare of all time. The first Exorcist might be by far the best movie in the franchise, but even that film doesn't have a moment like this. A quiet, drawn-out long shot of nurse doing her rounds on a hospital corridor is suddenly punctured by the crash zoom into a hooded figure striding towards her with a giant pair of shears, as the soundtrack shrieks to life. It's nightmarish and unforgettable.