Horror is a diverse storytelling genre that’s become popular for many reasons, but by and large there’s a willfulness on the audience’s part to get scared. Horror is subjective territory and what’s liable to frighten one person may not connect with another. Horror movies can resort to diverse tactics to create terror. However, there are certain devices like jump scares that have become quite prevalent.
Jump scares are when abrupt editing and visual dissonance can interrupt a tense or calm moment so that the audience is caught off guard. Jump scares have a mixed reputation and there’s a right and wrong way to implement them. Those who dislike jump scares or are too sensitive to this style of horror still have plenty of great options when it comes to frightening genre cinema.
10 The Mist
Stephen King adaptations have practically become their own horror subgenre. Frank Darabont has proven himself to be one of the better names when it comes to adapting King’s work, having made movies out of both The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. Darabont’s The Mist offers much more overt horror that confines the residents of a small community to their supermarket while a paranormal mist envelops the town.
The Mist becomes a fascinating exercise in teamwork, faith, and mob mentality that has one of the horror genre’s bleakest endings. The Mist allows nihilism to reign and its mist-hidden monsters are terrifying, but it doesn’t indulge in jump scares to frighten its viewers.
- Release Date
- November 21, 2007
- Frank Darabont
- Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, Laurie Holden, Andre Braugher
- 126 minutes
9 Perfect Blue
Original anime feature films don’t always get the respect that they deserve, especially when it comes to movies that lean into the horror genre. Satoshi Kon was one of the animated medium’s greatest storytellers and Perfect Blue is frequently cited as his masterpiece. Perfect Blue follows a pop idol who tries to re-brand herself as an actress after she leaves her musical group.
A passionate fan begins to stalk this celebrity and a surreal psychological horror story ensues. Perfect Blue is a dark story about fractured identity and the many public masks that people wear in society. The animated movie is full of unnerving ideas and Lynchian visuals, which is where the film’s scares are born.
A pop singer gives up her career to become an actress, but she slowly goes insane when she starts being stalked by an obsessed fan and what seems to be a ghost of her past.
- Release Date
- August 5, 1997
- Satoshi Kon
- Junko Iwao, Rica Matsumoto, Masaaki Ôkura
- 81 minutes
8 Under The Skin
Release Date: April 4, 2014
Under the Skin is an atmospheric extraterrestrial story that proves just what Scarlett Johannsson can do with the right material. Johannsson plays an alien who’s taken the form of a female in order to aid her conquest to consume prey. So much of Under the Skin is Johannsson’s character silently examining her surroundings and the odd people she encounters in a journey to discover what it means to be human.
Under the Skin indulges in experimental visuals, but it never stoops to jump scares as a way to get its audience’s attention. The film’s final minutes are scary and captivating, but they naturally play out and feel like the perfect culmination of the movie’s ideas.
7 The Witch
Robert Eggers’ feature directorial debut, The Witch, unpacks a dark tale of corruption and seduction as a witch tempts a curious girl into a life of “living deliciously.” Aster’s horror film stands out for its strict attention to detail when it comes to the recreation of its 1630s New England setting. Set design, props, and dialogue are all authentic to the time period.
The Witch delivers slow-burn horror that culminates in an explosive final set piece. This reflects a patience in the movie’s filmmaking that ignores more modern horror touches like gratuitous jump scares. The Witch has a few surprising elements, like its use of the demonic goat, Black Phillip, but they’re not strictly jump scares.
A family in 1630s New England is torn apart by the forces of witchcraft, black magic and possession.
- Release Date
- February 19, 2016
- Robert Eggers
- Anya Taylor-Joy
- 92 minutes
6 The Killing Of A Sacred Deer
Greek filmmaker, Yorgos Lanthimos, has a diverse and disturbing filmography and his niche voice has increasingly found mainstream success through films like The Favourite and Poor Things. The Killing of a Sacred Deer stars Colin Farrell, Barry Keoghan, and Nicole Kidman in a story that genuinely feels cursed. Keoghan’s Martin systematically unravels the careful life of Farrell’s Dr. Steven Murphy in an uncomfortable tone poem where the characters and audience are intentionally left in the dark.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer becomes a story about culpability and acceptance, but the tension between its characters grows unbearable. The Killing of a Sacred Deer trusts its tone and performances to illicit reactions in the audience rather than traditional jump scares.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a drama/horror film from Yorgos Lathimos that stars Colin Farrell as Steven Murphy, a cardiovascular surgeon who runs his life in a perfectly curated way. Soon his family expands from his wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) and their two children with a young teen named Martin (Barry Koeghan) who seeks to edge his way in. When Steven realizes Martin’s true intentions, their perfect world will be irreperably shattered.
- Release Date
- October 20, 2017
- Yorgos Lathimos
- Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan, Raffey Cassidy, Sunny Suljic, Alicia Silverstone, Bill Camp
- 121 minutes
5 Rosemary’s Baby
Pregnancy horror stories have become increasingly common, but few have managed to top the heights of Rosemary’s Baby. Rosemary’s Baby is a terrifying story about helplessness once Mia Farrow’s Rosemary begins to worry that the baby she’s pregnant with is a crucial part of a demonic ritual.
Rosemary’s Baby contains some foreboding dream sequences. However, the real horror comes from Rosemary’s inability to trust anyone and that those she loves the most are still part of this demonic cult. The themes of Rosemary’s Baby are so rich and relevant that the movie doesn’t need to experiment with more juvenile jump scares.
A young wife comes to believe that her offspring is not of this world. Waifish Rosemary Woodhouse and her struggling actor husband Guy move to a New York City apartment building with an ominous reputation and odd neighbors Roman and Minnie Castavet. When Rosemary becomes pregnant she becomes increasingly isolated, and the diabolical truth is revealed only after Rosemary gives birth.
- Release Date
- June 12, 1968
- Roman Polanski
- Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon, Sidney Blackmer
- 137 minutes
4 The Silence Of The Lambs
Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs is a genre masterpiece and a rare hit that cleaned up at the Academy Awards with five major wins. The Silence of the Lambs, based on Thomas Harris’ novel of the same, blurs the lines between thriller and horror as green FBI trainee Clarice Starling tries to locate Buffalo Bill with the help of incarcerated cannibal, Hannibal Lecter.
The Silence of the Lambs is a masterclass in tension, whether it’s Hannibal Lecter’s bloody escape from prison or Buffalo Bill’s harrowing night-vision chase of Clarice. Hannibal’s vicious nature means that the movie is full of disturbing sights, but they’re presented in a stark, professional manner that doesn’t reduce these crimes to quick surprises.
A young F.B.I. cadet must receive the help of an incarcerated and manipulative cannibal killer to help catch another serial killer, a madman who skins his victims.
- Release Date
- February 14, 1991
- jonathan demme
- Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Scott Glenn, Ted Levine
- 118 minutes
3 The Blair Witch Project
There have been decades of ambitious found-footage horror films thanks to the breakout success of indie horror darling, The Blair Witch Project. Three students put together a documentary on a local urban legend, the Blair Witch, only to find themselves lost in her woods and destined to become her latest victims. The Blair Witch Project’s avant-garde marketing helped amplify the horror film’s ideas and the movie’s lo-fi nature generates the majority of the scares.
Curiously, later found-footage hits like Paranormal Activity embrace jump scares that sneak their way into the frame and surprise the viewer. The Blair Witch Project is more methodical and its terrifying final visuals fester over time instead of being a sudden assault on the senses.
Found video footage tells the tale of three film students who’ve traveled to a small town to collect documentary footage about the Blair Witch, a legendary local murderer. The students interview townspeople and gather clues to support the tale’s veracity. But the project takes a frightening turn when the students lose their way in the woods and begin hearing horrific noises.
- Release Date
- July 30, 1999
- Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sánchez
- Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams, Joshua Leonard
- 81 minutes
Release Date: July 3, 2019
Midsommar, Ari Aster’s second feature film after Hereditary, is a remarkable dissection of cults, denial, and toxic relationships. Florence Pugh excels in this folk horror story where a group of American friends travel to a Swedish midsummer festival, only to clue into sinister intentions and the realization that they’re never going to be able to leave.
Midsommar is a curious horror film that plays out almost entirely in broad daylight and effectively subverts many standard horror expectations. The reveal of Dani’s dead sister during Midsommar’s introduction may qualify as a jump scare, but the rest of the movie is much more methodical with its tension and terror.
1 Get Out
Jordan Peele has emerged as one of the most exciting names in modern horror after consistent successes across Get Out, Us, and Nope. Get Out, the director’s inaugural horror film, tells a heartbreaking, prescient story about racism and systemic subjugation. Chris and Rose go on an innocent trip to meet the latter’s parents, only for Chris to learn that he’s next in a sordid line of racially-motivated body snatching.
Peele’s depiction of The Sunken Place is haunting, but the movie never stoops to generic jump scares. It understands that Daniel Kaluuya’s pained, horrified expressions are the best visual trick of them all.
A young African-American visits his white girlfriend’s parents for the weekend, where his simmering uneasiness about their reception of him eventually reaches a boiling point.
- Release Date
- February 4, 2017
- Jordan Peele
- Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford
- 104 minutes
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