Deciding upon the most unsettling horror films is a tough business, given the subjectivity of the genre. A recent study, however, which is probably pushing the boundaries of “scientific,” has used a survey of people’s heart rates while watching scary movies to establish some of the best and most impactful experiences for viewers.
While the list is restricted to the Top 50 highest-rated items on different review platforms, it’s already thrown up some intriguing data. One part of the report focused on which of the titles gave the biggest jump scares to participants, and there are some good choices to be found.
Measured by the highest beats per minute (BPM) in a particular viewing, the five winners are, in order of jumpiness:
- Insidious – 133 BPM
- Sinister – 131 BPM
- The Exorcist III – 130 BPM
- The Conjuring – 129 BPM
- The Descent – 122 BPM
Looking at these pictures, it’s pretty straightforward to guess what those particular scenes might be. For 2010’s Insidious, it’s likely one of the times when Rose Byrne’s Renai races to investigate strange activity around her baby, and a figure is glimpsed in different parts of the room, or possibly when the red face demon pops up behind Patrick Wilson’s Josh. As you might have guessed, there’re a lot of jump scares in Insidious.
By comparison, Sinister offers up perhaps fewer shocking moments, but I’d put my money on the heart rate spike coming due to an event midway through the story where a tied up body suddenly appears in front of a lawnmower. Fourth-placed The Conjuring, meanwhile, uses much the same approach, throwing in a load of different frights to unnerve audiences, with probably the most terrifying being when hands clap behind Carolyn while she’s in the basement.
While the three films above highlight the over-abundance of the device in modern horror, 1990’s underrated classic The Exorcist III has one perfectly timed scene where a nun bursts out of a door carrying shears. Similarly, The Descent is built around claustrophobic dread, but has several standout adrenaline shots, including an impalement by metal rod, and the reveal of the film’s underground creatures.
It’s perhaps not a surprise, then, that most of the jump scares here are in Blumhouse-related productions, which arguably deploy them excessively across their runtimes. Although this doesn’t take away from their impact, it does raise the question of whether it’s better to have a few carefully selected shocks, or so many that you get worn down by them.