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Acoustic Startles in Horror Films

A Neurofilmological Approach

Valerio Sbravatti

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.

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Steen Ledet Christiansen

tearing off skin. The length of skin is excessive for a hangnail, the red blood is accentuated against the white sink, and the sound design produces a stinger—a rapid increase in pitch that does not belong to the musical score yet also does not originate

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Jacqueline Yeldon and Robert Pitter

get out of the way sometimes. You do it for the team. Alex went on to describe the “injury” as being “a stinger for the rest of the game” but to him this pain made sense because it was a sacrifice for the team and there was nothing to be done about it