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Acoustic Startle Events in Trailers for US Horror Films

journal contribution
posted on 2023-01-09, 08:49 authored by Nick Redfern

This article analyses the function and form of acoustic startle events (ASEs) in trailers for fifty US horror films released between 2011 and 2015. There are 173 ASEs in the sample, ranging from one startle up to a maximum of ten, with a median of three events per trailer. ASEs exhibit different types of relationships between figure and ground, with some events preceded by silence and anticipated by the viewer while others are unanticipated and intrude on scenes relying on a prior emotional state of apprehension. The functions of ASEs within the hybrid form of a trailer are emotional, narrational, aesthetic and attentional. Sound designers deploy ASEs to exploit the defensive mechanism of the startle response by using ASEs as a form of attentional redirect in order to engage the viewer with on-screen information and presenting marketing information to be remembered by the viewer during a hypervigilance phase. Startle events in the sample are typically the product of the interrelationship between sound design, editing, and movement, but there are also numerous instances when a startle event is not associated with a cut and a moment of horror is the product of the combination of an acoustic startle and movement only.