All this month, I am featuring four horror films of Val Lewton, who is attributed for developing the cinematic “jump scare.” The first reputed use of the jump scare in film occurred in Cat People (1942), which is the featured film this week.
The “Jump Scare” is a cinematic technique you’ve probably experienced while watching a horror movie, if you didn’t know the word for it. It’s the name for a scene in a horror movie that occurs during a suspenseful segment of the film that startles the audience with an abrupt sound effect or visual effect, causing the audience to literally “jump” from fright in their seats.
In the scene, a woman walks down a dark street when a city bus suddenly pulls up with a loud whoosh from the air brakes of the bus. That unintentional sound effect was almost cut out by film editor Mark Robson, until he realized how effective a fright the noise made in the scene.
It is one of the most talked about scenes in film history and Val Lewton began employing jump scares in other horror films he produced. Of course, it has been widely copied since then! Here is the scene from Cat People…our featured film this week.