You see the protagonist looking down a hallway, the music begins to lower, just as she's about to open the door at the end of the hallway BOOM a cat jumps out followed by a loud stinger.
So, you are an up and coming screenwriter who is trying to break into the industry through writing horror movies. You saw such classics as The Thing, Halloween, Jaws, Alien, Dawn Of The Dead and The Blair Witch Project and thought, "I can create something as good as that! It'll be a piece of p*ss!" So you sit down at your desk, create this hugely elaborate story which is definitely an Oscar contender (for this hypothetical scenario, we're going to assume that the confused, elderly geriatrics that make up the Academy Awards voting committee actually care about genre movies). You're dead excited! So you get ready to type it up into a screenplay. You turn on your Apple Mac. Open your scriptwriting program of choice. Type down the name (Night Of The Lypids or something like that) and then...
You stare at the keyboard. A realisation engulfs you...
You don't know how to create a good scare.
You sit back in your chair, depressed. Suicidal, even. Why should you continue when you are such a talentless hack who's disappointed his parents since he left the womb?
But don't despair! All is not lost! Why bother writing a set of extremely clever and well built up scare sequences whilst paying attention to such things as "set-ups" and "pacing" and "pay off" when you can just create a sequence where all the lights go out, the music quietens, the character moves slowly towards a corner and then the killer jumps out from behind and stabs a cheerleader to death? Yeah! That'll work! You have a future in this industry after all!
Whilst they are usually indicative of an extremely low quality horror movie; jump scares, when done right (The Thing and Seven come to mind), can actually feel rewarding and be the logical conclusion to a well built up act. Often, however, they're just the McDonalds of horror movie tricks: immediate, unsatisfying, forgettable and so not worth the money.
For a far better write-up on jump scares and the art thereof than this rambling piece of mediocrity check out Screened user obscurefan's blog on them entitled, er, The Art of the Jump Scare.
|1992||Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me|
|1988||Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers|
|1985||Pee-wee's Big Adventure|
|1984||A Nightmare on Elm Street|
|1982||The Slumber Party Massacre|
|1981||Friday the 13th Part 2|
|1979||Dawn of the Dead|
|1978||The Bloodstained Shadow|