‘Midnight Club’ Creator Mike Flanagan Was Tired of Being Asked to Add Jump Scares to His Work — So He Put 21 in the Pilot

At this point in his career, you’d think filmmaker Mike Flanagan would have earned the benefit of the doubt when it comes to deciding what’s scary. The man behind “Oculus,” “Doctor Sleep” and the Netflix series “The Haunting of Hill House,” “The Haunting of Bly Manor” and “Midnight Mass” has made a career out of terrifying audiences. And yet, while working on his latest Netflix series “The Midnight Club,” the inevitable notes came down that the show needed more jump scares. And Flanagan is not the biggest fan of this particular trope.

“I don’t want you to think I’m picking on Netflix with this because I’ve gotten this note my whole career,” Flanagan told TheWrap in a recent interview. “I have gotten this everywhere I’ve worked. But there’s a general misunderstanding, I think, that can happen with a lot of studios and in particular with a lot of executives. There’s a general misunderstanding that having a jump scare makes the movie or the show scary. And it doesn’t, I think. We had 21 jump scares in this pilot, I don’t think it made the episode scarier at all.”

You read that right. 21 jump scares in one episode.

It comes as a character in the show – based on the Christopher Pike novel of the same name and set at a hospice for terminally ill teens – is telling their own scary story, and keeps throwing in jump scare after jump scare to jolt the other members of the titular club.

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“That’s the thing about a jump scare is it actually dissipates tension, for the most part. The noise you hear right after the scream in the theater is a laugh, and once the audience is laughing, if you’ve been trying to create tension and foreboding, that’s gone,” Flanagan continued. “You let the air out of the tire. And there are some jump scares I think are art, when you look at Ben Gardner’s boat in ‘Jaws’ or you look at the hallway shot in ‘Exorcist 3’, those jump scares are all-timers and they build upon the tension that’s existed up to that point and they make the danger of a situation even more palpable and terrifying. And while it gives you a bit of a release and a jolt and you still might hear the communal laugh afterwards, it’s a desperate laugh.”

And yet, Flanagan says there’s a thinking that when it comes to horror, more jump scares equals more scares period.

Mike Flanagan on the set of “The Midnight Club” (Netflix)

“More often than not, the note that I would get is ‘More scares, faster, sooner.’ There’s a sense that horror fans will abandon a project unless you put a jolt every three or four minutes,” he said. “You have to have three of them in the first 15 [minutes], these rules that come up. All of the great horror movies break these rules, and when you point that out – you count the jump scares in ‘The Shining,’ count the jump scares in ‘The Exorcist’ for the first hour – it doesn’t necessarily move [the studio] and so the notes keep coming, and in this particular case because it was a YA show there’s going to be a little bit more pressure of scares.”

Flanagan was presented with a Guinness World Record at New York Comic-Con for the most jump scares in a TV episode for “The Midnight Club,” which he finds extremely funny.

“I think this Guinness thing is kind of hilarious because, you know, this was really kind of an attempt to take the power of the jump scare away from the show and kind of get it all over with,” the filmmaker said. “Just say, ‘Now it’s done and it’s not going to have the impact. We can focus more on the stuff that’s important,’ but it kind of went a different way. And you’re right that having this record, to me, is something that I think is really funny and something that I’m also really grateful for and I think is really fun.”

And Flanagan got to make his point too.

“It’s 21 rapid-fire jump scares that prove that by itself a jump scare is not scary at all.”

“The Midnight Club” is now streaming on Netflix.

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