Acoustic Startles in Horror Films

A Neurofilmological Approach

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  • 1 Sapienza University of Rome valerio.sbravatti@uniroma1.it
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Abstract

The acoustic blast is one of the most recurrent sound devices in horror cinema. It is designed to elicit the startle response from the audience, and thus gives them a “jump scare.” It can occur both in the form of a diegetic bang and in the form of a nondiegetic stinger (i.e., a musical blare provided by the score). In this article, I will advance the hypothesis that silence plays a crucial role in contemporary horror films, both perceptually, since it leaves the sound field free for the acoustic blast, and cognitively, since it posits the audience in an aversive anticipatory state that makes the startle more intense. I will analyze the acoustic startle using a neurofilmological approach, which takes into account findings from experimental sciences in order to better understand the relationship between physiological and psychological factors that make such an effect possible during the filmic experience.

Contributor Notes

Valerio Sbravatti has a PhD in Music and Performing Arts from Sapienza University of Rome, where he is adjunct professor in film history until January 2020. His main research interests are film sound and film music, spatial sound, horror films, and film philology. He has published articles in the Italian film criticism magazine Segnocinema (of which he is a collaborator) and in peer-reviewed journals such as Music and the Moving Image, Imago, Cinergie, and Fata Morgana. He has also published the monograph Allegro non troppo: Vedere la musica e ascoltare i disegni [Allegro non troppo: See the music and listen to the drawings] (Rome: Il Glifo, 2015). He is an amateur musician and sound mixer. He is currently working on a book about cinematic sound space cognition for Bulzoni Editore (Rome). Email: valerio.sbravatti@uniroma1.it.

Projections

The Journal for Movies and Mind

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