A look at a trend affecting the quality of modern horror releases
If you ‘ve seen any horror films released within the last decade, it’s likely you have experienced a jump scare. The term “jump scare” is used to describe the introduction of a sudden image on the screen, usually accompanied by a loud noise, with the purpose of scaring the audience. This gimmick can be observed in the majority of current cinema, particularly the horror genre, according to YouTube movie critic Jack Nugent. Movies like Paranormal Activity are notorious for their overuse of this technique—to the point of annoying the viewer. However, the film still managed to gross over $100 million on a $15 million budget, according to IMDB. Its success sparked a handful of other low-budget copycats like the 2011 Canadian horror film, Grave Encounters trying to capitalize on the jump scare technique. Despite saturating the market with this tactic, horror movies like The Conjuring and Sinister, that rely on cheap thrills are still performing rather well, according to moviepilot.com. The introduction of the jump scare generated a revival of the horror genre.
Scary movies tend to bring in a bigger audience—usually teenagers seeking thrills. According to Livescience, the typical horror viewer is a male between the ages of 15-45. Films like The Purge Anarchy are destined to be experienced in a packed theater anyway, since part of the fun is hearing the audience react to the on-screen action, according to Forbes writer Scott Mendelson. The thrill of watching a scary movie is the experience itself—which surpasses the act of merely seeing a film, said Dr. Mark Griffiths in Psychology Today. As horror movie watchers tend to be rather young, an R-rated horror movie will lose any potential spectators who are not old enough to buy a ticket. For instance, Forbes writer Scott Mendelson pointed out that Eli Roth’s cannibal thriller, The Green Inferno, was an abysmal box-office flop because the studio did not want to embark on an expensive marketing campaign for an R-rated horror movie, decreasing the chances of making a profit from the film.
Mohamad Hassan Bassal, a member of the Concordia Film Union, argued that jump scares are an easy and cheap way to scare the faintest of heart. It is an inconsequential technique which will not leave the viewer terrified after watching the film. It is a quick and inoffensive rush. The omnipresence of the jump scare does not allow for the quality of scare classic horror movies to be delivered. The reason why films like The Shining or The Exorcist are truly scary is their use of atmosphere and suspense. Despite these movies being beloved by critics, “there isn’t a lot of interest in the more suspense-driven horror style,” according to Bassal. Movie producers seem to be more focused on creating franchises like Paranormal Activity.
Aside from superhero movies—which are breaking box-office records one after the other—PG-13 horror films are the biggest money-makers right now, according to entertainment outlet The Wrap. Don’t be surprised if there is another onslaught of jump scares in this year’s horror releases.