The last couple of years have been a great time for horror films. Auteurs like Jordan Peele and Ari Astor have crafted brilliant works of spooky cinema that are both terrifying and thought-provoking. There have even been a few gems made out of reboots, like Halloween, as well as sequels and spin-offs and sometimes sequels to spin-offs, like Annabelle: Creation. A few years ago, that was unheard of. Some horror movies still have a tendency to rely on jump scares, which some criticize as cheap, but there’s a way to do them effectively. Here are The 5 Best (And 5 Worst) Horror Movies For Jump Scares.
10 Best: The Conjuring
Although he’s taken a break from the horror genre in the last couple of years to helm big action-packed blockbusters like Furious 7 and Aquaman, James Wan is still one of the most exciting horror filmmakers working today. The Conjuring is a haunted house movie about a family in the 1970s who are frightened by evil spirits in their new home, and it was inspired by the supposedly true story of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren. There’s a jump scare every couple of minutes in The Conjuring, and yet, throughout the whole runtime, they never become predictable or less impactful.
9 Worst: The Nun
Kudos to The Conjuring franchise for gracing the silver screen with the only successful cinematic universe without a Marvel superhero in sight. However, not all of its spooky spin-offs have been as well-crafted as the movie they stem from. The Nun has a promising setup: a priest and a novitiate travel to the Vatican to investigate a nun’s suicide. But it seemed like, instead of a script, it had a list of all the “Boo!” moments that the writers could think of to revolve around the Vatican. They were strung together by a vague plot and no attempt was made to build any tension between them.
8 Best: The Descent
Neil Marshall’s The Descent is genuinely one of the most chilling horror movies ever made. It’s about a group of young women who go caving and get trapped in the caves, which is scary enough as it is, but then the discover a species of cave-dwelling mutants living down there. The mutants crave the taste of human flesh and they’re utterly ruthless. It’s pitch-black down in the caves and the girls can only see what their torches are pointed at. Marshall used this premise to fantastic effect, delivering a handful of the most jaw-dropping jump scares in the history of horror cinema.
7 Worst: Poltergeist (2015)
The 2015 remake of Poltergeist had the chance to be as great as Fede Alvarez’s 2013 Evil Dead remake. What made Alvarez’s film work is that he took everything that worked in the original, but used modern CGI technologies to notch up the intensity. That’s all the Poltergeist remake had to do, and it failed. By showing us what it looks like inside the haunted TV, taking the audience over to the other side, the remake removed all of the mysticism of the original. And it’s hard to make a possessed clown doll not scary, but this movie managed it.
6 Best: It
Although this year’s sequel to 2017’s It didn’t quite capture audiences in the same way that its predecessor did, the original still holds up. Set in a fictional Maine town in the 1980s, a group of kids are terrorized by a ghostly entity called “It” that manifests itself as every child’s worst nightmare.
Each of the characters encounters It alone — often in the guise of Pennywise the Dancing Clown— and all of those encounters are filled with effective jump scares. Director Andy Muschietti expertly builds the suspense up to each terrifying moment, which gives them more impact than in most horror films.
5 Worst: The Woman in Black
Based on the Susan Hill novel of the same name, The Woman in Black stars a Daniel Radcliffe who seems desperate to escape the role of Harry Potter, arriving just one year after the Boy Who Lived’s final cinematic outing. The film adaptation of The Woman in Black throws in a ton of stuff that wasn’t in the book and adds nothing to the plot, just to scare you — and it doesn’t even do that well. We’ve all gotten used to seeing kids throwing up dark sludge; it’s not effective anymore. And what’s worse is that The Woman in Black was made for a PG-13 rating, so the terror is sanitized.
4 Best: The Orphanage
Before he tarnished his reputation with the inexcusable mess that is Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, J.A. Bayona contributed an all-time classic to the horror genre. It’s about a woman who with her own adopted son, returns to the orphanage where she grew up,. She gets into an argument with her kid and he goes missing. The secrets that are revealed about the orphanage as she searches for her boy are shocking, and Bayona threw in plenty of effective jump scares for good measure. He doesn’t go for any easy scares, and that’s partly thanks to Guillermo del Toro’s involvement, which allowed for a bigger budget and a longer shooting schedule.
3 Worst: Insidious: The Last Key
As with any horror franchise, the Insidious series was going to run out of steam eventually. Frankly, none of the Insidious sequels managed to live up to the first one’s promise. The second one felt forced in response to the original’s unexpected success, the third one felt even more forced in response to the second one’s expected success, and then the fourth one had basically no connection to the franchise and just used its title. The series’ resident parapsychologist, Dr. Elise Rainier, returns to her childhood home to face a ghost, and all of the scares can be seen coming from a mile away.
2 Best: Psycho
Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is credited with birthing the slasher genre, and while many horror fans who have sat through hundreds of derivative slashers over the years wouldn’t thank it for that, it is indicative of how groundbreaking the movie was. Psycho is one of the most influential horror films ever made, and that’s not just blowing smoke.
At every turn, Hitchcock’s film subverts the audience’s expectations, even going as far as ignoring the unwritten rules of storytelling to unnerve you, and the result is a black-and-white chiller that’s filled with earth-shattering jump scares — not least the iconic shower scene — and incredibly well-made.
1 Worst: Ouija
2014’s Ouija is the epitome of modern horror movies using jump scares as a crutch. Most horror films that overuse jump scares are at least serviceable entertainment, but Ouija isn’t even that. It’s a depressing experience. Oddly enough, the prequel, Ouija: Origin of Evil, was a thousand times better. Directed by Mike Flanagan, whose most recent release was Doctor Sleep, the belated sequel to The Shining, Origin of Evil fixed everything that was wrong with the original Ouija movie. Unfortunately, because the first Ouija film gave the franchise such a bad name, not a lot of people saw the prequel.