Jaws Jump Scares
I’m a little obsessed with killer shark movies, even though, let’s be honest a fair percentage of them are pretty dire. And it goes without saying that Jaws is the best of the bunch! There are two nightmarish jump scares in Jaws that I particularly like because they are a little smarter than your average “startle em with a loud noise” scare. Although in the spirit of transparency, I should probably confess I’m also partial to the odd “cheap shot” jump scare.
I’m going to talk about the first – Ben Gardner’s famous Jump Scare. Here the editing, sound mixing and Score all come together to produce a scare that makes me jump no matter how many times I’ve seen it.
Like much of the best stuff in Jaws this scene was kind of created on the fly. Spielberg apparently wanted to elicit a bigger scream out of the audience than it got during the test screening. The studio refused to pay for the reshoots (Bearing in mind the film was already waaay over budget) so he paid for it out of his own pocket and filmed it in Editor, Verna Fields swimming pool. Pouring milk into the water to make it look murky.
Watch the Ben Gardner Jump Scare
Breaking it down (I need to get out more) this scare works on a number of levels. First, there’s the expectation, we know something’s going to happen. This is a killer shark movie after all, and one of our protagonists is in the water. So far so expected. But, we the audience have been trained by this point that the theme music (Der Dum, Der Dum) means that the shark is nearby.
The sharks “Theme Tune” isn’t playing at this point. So while we’re pretty sure something’s going to happen – what that’s going to be is less clear. This puts you more on edge, ramping up the tension.
In the typical lead up to a jump scare, there is almost always a long period of silence accompanied by a jarring blast of sound. We’re jumping at the sound rather than what we’re seeing. I guess that’s one of the reasons why jump scares get a rep as being cheap shots. It’s easy to make someone jump by making a loud noise. Also, once you’ve seen a few, the timing can be pretty predictable. Once the silence starts, you can practically count them in.
In The Ben Gardner scare, the music doesn’t cut out completely. It just changes slightly to become softer and more ominous. Another subtle way of throwing you off balance. You still know something’s going to happen but, that audio cue – several seconds of silence that give you a heads up on when has been taken away from you.
The scare when it finally arrives takes place in two stages. Usually, with a modern jump scare, the blast of sound happens at the same time as the monster (demon, clown, witch, scary doll) jumps out at you. So again, it could be said that what you are really jumping at is the loud noise, not what you’ve just seen.
If you look closely at the Ben Garner jump scare, that horrible screeching sound comes several beats after poor Ben Gardners severed head pops out at us. So halfway through that first adrenaline spike, just as you’re starting to process what you’ve seen comes that screaming blast of sound making you jump out of your skin.
Apparently, the Sound crew tried multiple different FXs until they finally found the one that made them all jump, even though they knew it was coming. And that’s the one that is still making people jump (myself included) 40+ years later!