Brow Beat

Jump Scares Make Horror Movies Work, But How Many Is Too Many?

You’ll jump too.

Warner Bros.

If you’re even a casual fan of horror movies, you know what a jump scare is. That’s when everything seems quiet—almost too quiet—and then the maniac jumps down from the tree! Or the zombie is reflected in the bathroom mirror!

Because the internet is a place of wonder, there’s a website that actually counts the number of jump scares in movies, Where’s the Jump? And one of the movies with the most jump scares in recent years is the generally well-reviewed Stephen King adaptation, It, which has 20. That puts it within slashing distance from some of the jump-scariest films of all time, like Friday the 13th (22) and Freddy vs. Jason (24).

On the latest episode of Studio 360, Jack Nugent, who makes film-related video essays on YouTube, says It went overboard with the device. “I really liked a lot about It and I think it’s paving the way for horror films in the future,” he says. “But there’s a jump scare once every five minutes. And as soon as a horror film establishes a pattern of how the jump scares work, they lose their oomph.”

Studio 360, which is now part of the Slate empire, looks at how jump scares have grown in recent decades. You didn’t see nearly as many of them before the 1980s. Classics like Carrie and The Omen had one jump scare apiece. Those films establish a simmering sense of anxiety moving toward a boil, the idea being that the world’s a scary place—and that a maniac springing out of a manhole is too on-the-nose

Says Slashfilm contributor Alex Riviello: “It’s been a technique that’s constantly been used. I don’t think it’s ever going to go anywhere because it because it is so effective. The problem is that you know we’re so conditioned now to expect scares that it’s hard to scare audiences.”              

Listen to this episode of Studio 360 below, where host Kurt Andersen introduces the segment at 22:14, and subscribe to the show on Apple podcasts.