8 Great Horror Movies Without Jumpscares
A well-placed jumpscare can add a lot to a horror film. It sends a message that yes, dear movie-goer, you have a right to be tense because that could happen again at any moment. It activates the fight-or-flight response and gives viewers the thrills they may be seeking from the genre. But an overreliance on jumpscares has become a little too commonplace. As much as I enjoy many of the films from director/producer James Wan, they ushered in an era of copycat films that use jumpscares to overcompensate for other shortcomings. But in this modern horror renaissance that we find ourselves in, there are plenty of quality films that build a genuine sense of dread with nary a jumpscare in sight. If you want to watch a horror movie, but don’t dig the jumpscares, here is a list of eight great horror films, both new and old, that take it easy on the jumps. I would also highly recommending the wonderful website, wheresthejump.com. They’ll let you know how many jumpscares are in a film, and they break them out into major and minor scares. On top of that, they’ll even let you know when the scare is coming down to the second. You can look up any of these films on wheresthejump.com to find out more specifics, but according to their site, nothing on this list has a “major” jumpscare. We’ve covered a few of these films on our podcast, so links to our episodes are added where applicable.
The Witch (2015)
When a Puritan family is kicked out of their village and settles on their own in the middle of the woods, mysterious tragedies begin to befall them. Robert Eggers’s The Witch harkens back to horror movies from the 70s that focus on building tension along with an atmosphere of dread. The film relies on the situation the characters find themselves in as the source of the true horror. If you’re a fan of something like Rosemary’s Baby, then The Witch might be your cup of tea. Speaking of which…
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Isolation is a key element of almost every horror movie. As much as we humans enjoy some time to ourselves, there are few things scarier than feeling truly and utterly alone. Rosemary is experiencing paranoia about her unborn child. Yes, she has her husband and is surrounded by friendly neighbors, but there is a disconnect that she cannot quite put her finger on. The tension ratchets up and the groundwork is laid for a horrifying ending that relies solely on the look of shock on Mia Farrow’s face. This subtle slow burn is not an easy thing to pull off in a horror film, but when it works, it really works.
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
A group of film students venture into the woods to make a documentary about an urban legend. It’s a simple concept, but in my opinion there are few horror movies that do so much with so little. With essentially nothing but a handheld camera and an idea, Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick made one of the most effective horror movies of all time. The realism on display in The Blair Witch Project is part of what makes this movie so terrifying. It truly feels like the events depicted on screen are real. After all, real life doesn’t contain many jumpscares, just a growing sense of impending doom. You guys feel that too, right?
When a handful of grad students visit an isolated village with a strange culture, it’s the social and geographical isolation that becomes the main source of the scares. Unlike Ari Aster’s debut feature length film Hereditary, Midsommar never really fully descends into an all out horror movie. Since the film is set in Sweden in the middle of summer, almost all of it takes place in the daytime. Many would say this movie isn’t even that scary, it’s just kind of...messed up. Aster takes inspiration from early folk horror works such as The Wicker Man (1973) and takes his time building up to the shocking conclusion.
Note: The Wicker Man didn’t make this list because of a few minor jumpscares that I feel are intense enough to justify its exclusion, but that’s another film to check out if you can handle a few small jumps.
The Perfection (2018)
This Netflix original film toys with the psychological aspects of horror. When two star cello players meet and quickly hit it off, things go from fun and romantic to disturbing and terrifying very quickly. The Perfection is a roller coaster ride of emotions...love, suspicion, humor, shock, awe, disgust...it’s all over the place. But you won’t find a jumpscare in this gory, off-the-wall film. Incredible acting from Allison Williams and Logan Browning ground the bonkers happenings and make this a worthwhile film for any horror fan to check out.
When a camgirl discovers that someone or something has hijacked her account, her ensuing paranoia fuels this tense psychological thriller. Full disclosure: there is one shocking moment at the beginning of the film, but I’m not sure that it really qualifies as a jumpscare. Nothing pops out, but things go from playful to very real very quickly before the film settles into its slow burn. Cam sadly fizzles out a bit towards the end as the mystery unravels, but it’s such an enjoyable ride that this movie is worth a watch for any jumpscare-averse film fan. As an added bonus, it’s also available on Netflix.
The Shining (1980)
In The Shining, the Torrance family is snowed in at the remote Overlook Hotel. There’s that isolation theme again. The hotel is essentially haunted, or as Dick Holloron would say, it shines. Although there are plenty of supernatural scares in this film, there really isn’t much in the way of jumpscares. There are 3 minor jumpscares according to wheresthejump.com, but looking back on the scenes mentioned I personally don’t consider them jumpscares. Despite the supernatural occurrences at the hotel, the throughline of dread comes from the slow unraveling of Jack Torrance and the underrated performance of Shelley Duvaal as his wife Wendy.
The Fly (1986)
Jeff Goldblum stars as a scientist who accidentally transforms himself into a fly. Sound dumb? Somehow it’s not. Far from it. Director David Cronenberg’s name will forever be tied to the body horror subgenre, and it becomes very clear why after watching this film. I wouldn’t call this movie scary, but something about it is truly horrifying (and slightly funny at the same time.) You will certainly be repulsed on many occasions throughout this film, but you won’t be bothered by any pesky jumpscares during The Fly.