A new frightening record in the jump scare’s 80-year history

A new frightening record for jump scares

Netflix's recent "The Midnight Club" reached 21 jump scares in a single television episode.
Published: October 26, 2022
Jump scare art with words
The 1942 film "Cat People" is known for introducing the jump scare.

It’s almost Halloween and time to put on your favorite frightening films and spooky shows. 

Ghosts and gore aside, what really makes a movie scary? 

One of the most common techniques is the jump scare. It’s that long familiar walk down a dark alley punctuated by a shock. When done well, it builds and breaks tension. It’s scary even if you know what’s coming ahead or who’s been right behind you.

But do more jump scares make a movie scarier? 

Earlier this month, The Midnight Club, a new Netflix horror series by Mike Flanagan, made history after setting the Guinness World Record for most jump scares in a single episode of television — a whopping 21 scares.

The season premiere included more jump scares than there were in the entire season of  The Haunting of Bly Manor (16) and Midnight Mass (11), both of which were also directed by Flanagan. Throughout his career, Flanagan has incorporated over 150 jump scares in works like Hush, Ouija: Origin of Evil and his many Netflix projects.

But who’s counting these anyways? And who has the most jump scares—or better yet, the best ones. 

Where’s The Jump is a collective of horror fanatics who count, timestamp and rate moments of jarring sound and sudden cuts to frightening images. In their jump scare database of over a thousand movies and television shows, site contributors organize each entry with its title, director and year of release. They also conveniently note whether or not the film can be streamed on Netflix (although, due to Netflix’s continuous catalog changes, it is hard to say how up-to-date this component is).

Among Where’s the Jump’s cataloged movies and TV shows, 72 of them, surprisingly, have no jump scares at all. While it isn’t a requirement for horror entertainment, the jump scare has certainly become an iconic element of the genre.

The first jump scare appeared in the 1942 film Cat People. Few filmmakers were using the technique then, but over the years, more began to notice how building tension and interrupting it with a shock could impact their audiences.

With the popularity of slasher films, jump scares were at an all-time high in the 1980s. Slashers are a horror subgenre often driven by a killer or stalker armed with a sharp, bladed tool. Evil Dead 2 and The Beyond tied for most jump scares of the decade with 27 each. And though some critics saw this as an attempt to master the art of the jump scare, others argued that its overuse and over-reliance created a lazy cliché. 

Recognizing this, Flanagan and his creative team decided to blow it out of the water for The Midnight Club

He told Deadline, “I thought, ‘We’re going to do all of them at once, and then if we do it right, a jump scare will be rendered meaningless for the rest of the series.’ It’ll just destroy it. Kill it finally until it’s dead, but that didn’t happen. They were like, ‘Great! More [scares]!’” 

Perhaps more fear just means more fun. 

When done right (or the right amount of times), jump scares can trick the viewer’s body into believing they might be in real danger. A split-second spook can spark an adrenaline rush, much like riding a roller coaster or skydiving—but right from the comfort of the theater or your couch at home.

For those that enjoy the rush, one jump scare is good. A few are great. But how about 32? As excessive as it sounds, Tom Elkin’s 2013 film, The Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia, has more jump scares than any other movie. Where’s the Jump contributor Anthony Wilson gave it five stars

“With a constant barrage of jump scares, The Haunting In Connecticut 2 is one of the most jump scare heavy films in existence,” Wilson wrote. “Easily frightened individuals should probably avoid.” 

Using their best judgment, site contributors like Wilson distinguish major and minor jump scares to give the movie or show a reasonable rating. 

After breaking down the results of their entire catalog, it’s not quite the expected bell curve. The vast majority of films have below-average jump score ratings. 

As it turns out, pulling off an effective jump scare is harder than one might think. Only seven films have received a perfect score, and not a single TV show has come close.

But, the best could still be to come. This season’s horror releases have been on a roll. Barbarian, Smile, Terrifier 2 and many more have yet to be added to Where’s the Jump. There’s still room for more jump scares, more world records and more adrenaline packed entertainment.