8 Great Horror Movies Without Jump Scares
What's startling is how great these movies are!
Maybe you like watching horror movies that leave you a shivering pile of jelly, with your adrenal glands blown out from too many startle responses. Or maybe, like me, you love the creepiness of a good horror flick but absolutely hate jump scares. If so, here are 8 movies that won’t traumatize you!
What is a jump scare? A broad definition might include any startling moment in a horror movie. However, since it’s pretty hard to find horror movies that never startle you at all, let’s narrow the definition a bit: for the purposes of this list, a jump scare is a startling moment combined with disturbing imagery. So, when someone whips around and they’ve got a hideous monster face? That’s a jump scare! But if they have a regular face? Not a jump scare.
Note that although these movies don’t rely on jump scares to freak you out, they are horror movies, so some of them will still mess you up pretty bad. You’ve been warned.
Also, a quick shout-out to Hereditary and The Exorcist. After a lot of soul-searching, I decided that some of the scary bits in these movies count as jump scares, but others may disagree.
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Barbra and Johnny drive to a cemetery to visit their father’s grave when they’re attacked by cannibalistic reanimated corpses. Thus begins a terrifying night of holing up in a farmhouse and trying to stay alive while the living dead roam the countryside, killing and eating everything in their path.
The original zombie movie, Night of the Living Dead portrays zombies as slow and shuffling, a trait that doesn’t lend itself to jump scares. This movie is also more gruesome than scary, so you can probably watch it without having nightmares afterwards.
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Rosemary Woodhouse and her husband move into a new apartment, but their new neighbors immediately begin acting strange. After Rosemary becomes pregnant, she begins to fear that she and her baby are at the center of a Satanic cult.
This movie is a slow-burn horror film with no jump scares, but note that it does have a rape scene.
The Wicker Man (1973)
Police Sergeant Neil Howie flies to a private island off the coast of Scotland to investigate claims that a girl has been kidnapped. Once he’s there, he finds that none of the islanders, including the girl’s mother, are willing to cooperate with his investigation. What’s more, they’re all members of a pagan fertility cult that offends his uptight Christian sensibilities. As he investigates the girl’s disappearance, Howie gets pulled deeper and deeper into the islanders’ world, culminating in an explosive May Day celebration.
Out of all the movies on this list, The Wicker Man may be the least frightening. But if you’re looking for movies without jump scares, then having to sleep with the light on might not be a priority for you anyway. Don’t watch The Wicker Man to give yourself the heebie-jeebies—watch it for the good, clean fun of a nature-loving homicidal sex cult.
Kenichi Takabe is a detective investigating a strange series of murders: victims all have the same identifying mark, a large X carved into their necks, but they’re all killed by different people. When interrogated, none of the murderers can explain why they did it. When Takabe discovers the thread tying them all together, he feels his own grip on reality beginning to loosen.
This Japanese film is more subtle than most horror movies, so don’t expect a lot of overtly terrifying scenes.
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Three film students travel to Maryland to make a documentary about a supernatural legend called the Blair Witch. After heading into the forest to look for evidence of the Blair Witch, they realize that they’re lost, and that something is hunting them.
The Blair Witch Project is made up of the supposedly “found footage” left behind by the three students after they disappeared. Whatever the students are seeing in the woods always lurks offscreen, so you never actually get a glimpse of the Blair Witch, but make no mistake: this movie is absolutely terrifying. Instead of shielding you from a sense of danger, the claustrophobia of the shaky handheld camera shots only heightens the sense that there’s something just outside your field of vision that’s going to get you.
The Witch (2015)
A Puritan family in 17th century New England leave their plantation over religious differences and set up a homestead deep in the wilderness. When the family’s baby disappears, they suspect that the Devil is afoot, and all evidence points to the teenage daughter Thomasin. But Thomasin is as frightened as everyone else, and it looks like there really may be a witch hiding in the woods.
Based on real New England folklore from the 1600s, The Witch is creepy, tense, and atmospheric, and doesn’t have to rely on cheap scares to leave the audience shaken. Plus, the movie is a visual masterpiece with an unexpectedly beautiful final scene. There’s a scene in the goat shed that looks for all the world like it’s setting up for a jump scare, but don’t worry—the face that’s revealed is just a normal human face.
Get Out (2017)
Chris Washington accepts an invitation from his white girlfriend, Rose, to visit her parents in upstate New York. Rose assures Chris that her parents aren’t racist, but once they’re there, Chris begins to uncover a series of shocking and disturbing secrets about their community.
Jordan Peele is one of the best directors working today, and his horror films will haunt you for a long time. Get Out has plenty of suspense and some startling moments, but it’s Chris’s growing realization of the danger he’s in, coupled with his increasing powerlessness and the sickening revelation of what the white folks are up to, that makes the movie really chilling. Watch Get Out if you love high-concept body horror.
Dani Ardor is a student who’s left grieving and traumatized after her sister kills herself and their parents. Her boyfriend Christian, who can’t work up the nerve to break up with her, invites her to go with him and his friends on a research trip to Sweden, and they visit a rural commune. However, Dani and the others gradually discover the horrific reality underneath the idyllic-looking community.
Horror films usually rely on darkness to create a frightening atmosphere, which makes Midsommar especially striking: it takes place at midsummer in northern Sweden, so the sun never sets. The constant light, along with the relentlessly pretty and folksy design, makes Midsommar a horror movie like no other. Note that although there are no jump scares, there are some really upsetting images.
Did we miss any of your favorite horror movies that aren’t packed with jump scares? Tell us in the comments!
(featured image: A24)
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