Loud noises are muffling the true terror in horror movies. If you have seen a horror movie recently, then you are familiar with “the jump scare”. The camera stops moving. The sound cuts out. The audience even braces themselves for what comes next. Finally, a spooky ghost or monster pops up on the screen along with a loud banging noise, which causes everyone to jump. Jump scares aren’t necessarily bad when used sparingly, but it has gotten to the point where the audience just goes into a horror movie expecting them.
“It’s a cheap gimmick, obviously,” said horror writer and Seton Hill University professor Michael Arnzen. “It’s like a haunted house ride when something comes out of the darkness and grabs you when you’re not looking. So, it’s playing off of the idea that you never know what is coming.”
Even new films like “It,” which has very little jump scares, relies on loud noises to remind you that what you are watching is scary. It is a shame because the film is creepy enough on its own. Directed by Andy Muschietti and based off the novel by Stephen King, “It” grossed over $123.4 million its opening weekend. As of Sept. 28 it has grossed well over $500 million globally. It has a terrific cast of child actors that feel like real kids. Bill Skarsgård, who is most known for the Netflix series “Hemlock Grove,” also gives a haunting performance as Pennywise.
It is odd because the film is great at balancing the drama to include many comedic moments. Its cinematography delivers beautiful visuals, along with many gory moments and an unsettling monster. However, when it comes to scary moments, “It” ditches its visual story telling aspect and assaults the audience with loud noises.
One of the creepiest moments in the film that gave me goose bumps was when the character Georgie first meets Pennywise. While Pennywise is talking he suddenly pauses and his eyes stare off into two different directions. It gave me chills and I could feel my neck hairs standing on end. But when Pennywise grabbed Georgie’s arm, a shrill noise from seemingly out of nowhere accompanied it, which made everyone in the theater jump.
“There is some value to a jump scare,” said Arnzen. “When you watch it in a theater, everybody jumps. So it creates kind of a social cohesion as well. It’s like everybody applauding at a sports event or laughing at a comedy even if not everybody finds it funny. It kind of bonds the group and becomes a community response to film.”
While the scary scenes in “It” aren’t jump scares in the traditional sense, the film relies on the loud noises to dictate when the audience should be scared. During a traditional jump scare, the audience is fixated on the background and is wondering what will pop out at them.
“It’s more like an assault you’ve been keyed to anticipate,” said editor and reporter Chris O’Falt in his review of “It” in IndieWire. “Sound and music that grows faster, louder and more discordant forces anticipation to grow, until it combusts like shattered glass.”
While films like “It” at least have a plot and likable characters, it becomes disappointing that the movie has to rely on a loud sound in order to get a scare out of its audience. Although a jump scare might spook you temporarily, it leaves no lasting impression.
“So the jump scare has some singling power and has some audience power,” said Arnzen. “But for those of us who are into writing and plot we feel it more so as a cheap gimmick and we resist the cheap thrill of it. We want to be seduced into the fear, not pushed. I hate them because of it. I’ll allow one per movie but it will have to be cleverly done.”