Screamer

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A screamer, also known as a Jumpscare or scary pop-up, is a type of game, video, website, or program that aims to scare and startle viewers by tricking them into focusing on the screen before revealing a sudden and often frightening change. Most screamers use a combination of creepy or unsettling images and loud, sudden noises to create a sense of shock and fear in the viewer. For example, a screamer might appear to be a harmless video or game, but then suddenly flash a disturbing image of a face or creature accompanied by a loud scream to achieve their intended effect.[1] Unlike horror films and professional horror games, screamers are designed to surprise the viewer, and may even include graphic and disturbing images that shock and traumatize the viewer, making them a type of shock site.

Screamers often rely on deception to work. They may use clever editing, false promises, or other tricks to convince viewers that they are watching something harmless or mundane. This is often done to make the eventual jump scare more effective, as the viewer is caught off guard and taken by surprise. Despite their popularity and notoriety, screamers remain a controversial and divisive form of internet content. These types of pranks are often spread through social media and messaging platforms and typically rely on the viewer being unaware of the content they are about to see. In some cases, screamers are used as a form of advertising, although this practice has been criticized for being uncommercial and upsetting to viewers. Many websites and online communities have implemented policies against screamers and similar content, citing concerns over the psychological impact on viewers, particularly those who may be vulnerable or have anxiety or other mental health issues. The most famous example of screamers are What's Wrong With This Picture?, The Maze by Jeremy Winterrowd and more.

Background

The "bait-and-switch" technique of screamers is a popular feature of shock websites and videos that are designed to startle or frighten viewers. Screamers typically begin with seemingly innocuous content before suddenly switching to a startling or frightening image accompanied by a loud, startling sound. This sudden change can be particularly effective because the viewer's attention is often focused on the innocuous content at the beginning, making the sudden change more unexpected and shocking. The bait-and-switch technique used in screamers takes advantage of the viewer's expectations and preconceptions by presenting seemingly normal or innocuous content, making them more susceptible to the sudden shock or scare. This technique is commonly used in horror movies and other media to create a sense of suspense and tension before revealing the scary or shocking moment. Screamers are a type of online prank or meme that typically take the form of a video, game, or other interactive media, with the viewer encouraged to focus intently on the screen or task at hand. The bait-and-switch technique is used to manipulate the viewer's expectations and create a sense of surprise or shock. By luring the viewer in with something peaceful, the screamer sets them up for the sudden and unexpected scare. The popularity of screamers peaked in the early 2000s, but they are still occasionally used as a form of online prank or meme. However, they have become an overused form of internet prank and many websites and social media platforms now prohibit their sharing. Additionally, the bait-and-switch technique used in screamers has been used for more malicious purposes, such as spreading malware or tricking viewers into sharing personal information. The bait-and-switch technique used in screamers is an extension of the broader internet phenomenon of clickbait, where sensational headlines are used to entice viewers to click on a link. These are several techniques of screamers documented in this article below.

History and origin

Main Article: Screamer Wiki:Throughout the Years

The earliest examples of screamers were typically simple animated images or videos that appeared to be harmless, but then suddenly displayed a loud, frightening image or sound. These early screamers were often shared through email or posted on message boards and quickly gained popularity due to their ability to startle and shock viewers. The early screamer videos and websites were often crude and simplistic. Over time, screamers evolved to become more elaborate and sophisticated, incorporating more advanced graphics, sound effects, and even interactive elements, thanks to Adobe Flash. While screamer videos and websites were initially created as pranks or jokes, some horror video games and films have since adopted the technique as a way to scare their audiences. The jump scare, which is a common element of horror media today, is essentially a modern take on the screamer. The earliest screamer to date was the 1970s anti-heroin campaign titled Monkey on Their Backs, which features a wind-up monkey toy playing its cymbals while a young girl's voice discusses addiction to heroin. Suddenly, the monkey stops playing and the camera zooms in on its face, which abruptly changes to a still image of a real-life monkey screaming at the viewer, accompanied by a short scream. The text "Why do you think they call it DOPE?" appears on the screen. Another earliest example of a screamer was a scareware program created by Patrick Evans, titled "Nightmare" that, when executed, features a digital image of a skull facing right with its jaws open, covered in blood, and bearing a bullet wound.

In video games

Screamers are a common technique used in horror video games to create sudden and intense moments of fright. This technique involves startling the player with an unexpected event such as the sudden appearance of a frightening creature or a loud noise accompanied by a quick visual or auditory cue. The main purpose of a screamer is to create a feeling of suspense and anticipation, leading the player to become increasingly anxious and fearful as they progress through the game. Screamers are often used in combination with other horror elements such as eerie music, ambient sounds, and disturbing imagery as a design to make their game scarier. While screamers can be very effective at scaring players, they can also be overused or used poorly, leading to frustration or boredom. When used sparingly and in the right context, a screamer can be a powerful tool for creating an experience of horror games. One example of a horror game that utilizes screamers is Lomando.com, which contains various puzzles that lead the player to screamers at almost any room they enter. The objective of the game is to use every element of the game they can find and reach an "archive". Webcomics also often used animated screamers in moments of suspense. In other words, screamers play a very crucial role as an element in almost every horror game.

In advertising

K-fee's "Auto" is one of the most recognizable screamers.

Before the emergence of screamer videos, several public service announcements were broadcasted with the intention of shocking viewers with disturbing imagery to raise awareness about various issues. One early example is the Faroe Islands (WDC) PSA which depicted the slaughter of dolphins by islanders. In addition to public service announcements, screamers were also utilized as a means of advertising. However, the use of screamers in advertising is not without controversy. While some argue that it is an effective means of capturing the viewer's attention. Perhaps the most well-known example of advertising screamers is the controversial "Wide Awake" campaign launched in April 2005 by the German beverage company K-fee. The campaign consisted of nine 20-second television commercials that portrayed peaceful scenes which were abruptly interrupted by the appearance of a zombie or a gargoyle screaming at the camera, followed by the company's slogan and product. The advertisements were criticized for being uncommercial and upsetting, with many viewers complaining to K-fee, which subsequently took the commercials off the air. Although it is rumoured that a warning message was displayed before the advertisement was played, this has not been proven. The K-Fee Car commercial was featured on several TV shows, including The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, K-Fee's official website, Tarrant on TV, and America's Funniest Home Videos. The "Auto" commercial was uploaded to YouTube with the name of "Ghost Car" which gained 38 million views since its upload.[2] Count the Snow Bunnies was also aired and uses the sample of where the viewer search for something.

The advertising campaign for the 2018 horror film The Nun utilized an unskippable YouTube ad that violated the platform's "shocking content policy."[3] The ad featured an iOS device volume icon and then suddenly transitioned to Valak, the titular character from The Conjuring Universe with a loud scream. A Twitter post featuring a clip of the ad went viral, garnering over 145,000 likes and 132,000 retweets, as well as numerous complaints to YouTube. The platform subsequently removed the ad.

Internet screamers

Internet screamers is another term for "screamer" that defines various forms of online media as a form of video, website or program that is intended to scare the viewer.

One of the most notable examples of an internet screamer was a computer game made with Adobe Flash, The Maze. Created by Jeremy Winterrowd in 2003, this interactive media is disguised as a simple computer game in which players use their mouse to guide a blue square through a narrow path without touching the walls. As the player advances through the levels, the walls progressively become smaller, making it increasingly challenging to avoid hitting them. This design prompts players to bring their faces closer to the screen and concentrate on the game. At the third level, the walls become so thin that it becomes difficult to avoid touching them. At this point, regardless of whether the player succeeds or fails, an image of Regan MacNeil, (the possessed character portrayed by Linda Blair) from the 1973 supernatural horror film The Exorcist suddenly appears on the screen accompanied by an edited sound effect of her screaming playing twice. This jumpscare tactic is a hallmark of internet screamers.

What's Wrong With This Picture?

Main Article: What's Wrong With This Picture?
The stock image from What's Wrong With This Picture?, one of the most original screamers.

Various other types of screamers involve staring at a dot or finding the difference between two pictures. One notable example is the 2001 screamer called "What's Wrong With This Picture?" or simply "What's Wrong?" The screamer, which pretends to be a still image, begins with a normal stock photo of a dining room and asks the viewer to find something wrong with it. After 30 seconds, the image suddenly changes to an eyeless woman with a wide open mouth putting her hands around the side of her face with her pinky fingers raised, accompanied by a loud scream. This screamer gained significant popularity and was even featured in The New York Times on April 22, 2002. The creator of the animation, Jaybill, stated that he made the screamer "exclusively for the purpose of scaring my girlfriend."[4] The screamer also inspired the "When you see it, you will shitbrix" memes where it pretends to be an image (which is a .gif itself) before an animated image appears on the screen.[5]

Malicious scripts

In some cases, internet screamers may be created with malicious intent, designed to deceive the viewer into believing that their computer has been infected with a virus or that they have unintentionally accessed illegal content. These types of screamers can be particularly dangerous, as they have the potential to cause panic or anxiety in the viewer and may even result in them inadvertently downloading malware or other harmful software. Malicious screamers may be disguised as seemingly harmless content or may be found on websites that contain malicious scripts in the screamer's source code. Scareware is another type of malicious software that seeks to both scare the viewer and harm their device. These types of screamers use various tactics to freak out their victims, such as putting the viewers' device/browser into full-screen mode right after a page load, locking volume adjust at the highest level, opening infinite tabs/windows, downloading other malicious software on the viewers' device, and shutting down the device's system or making the device unusable.

One well-known example of a malicious screamer is McDonalds.exe. Upon execution, the program would display an excerpt from a horror story before returning to the desktop and opening a dialogue box containing an email address and phone number. After a brief second, the screen would cut to a black-and-white image of a pale woman, which would intermittently display on the screen until the process was terminated. Malicious scripts also have the purpose to scare the viewer from being prevented to close the tab as the screamer appears, which are used in Srerrt.exe and To my dear her.

In popular culture

  • In the Warner Bros. film Pee-wee's Big Adventure, Pee-wee Herman was picked up by deceased driver Large Marge, who tells him a story about a terrible accident she passed away. However, Large Marge turns around at Pee-wee and abruptly transforms into a scary face with the effect of "pinching her eyes / punching her mouth" accompanied by a laughing sound effect, scaring Pee-wee and causing him to get out of the truck.
  • In the Cartoon Network animated series The Amazing World of Gumball, the episode named “The Internet“, parodies the K-fee advertisements. In one scene, Gumball and Darwin appear randomly browsing the web while watching videos. Among these videos, they come across what is implied to be the K-fee Car ad. Gumball watches the video, commenting on the white car driving through the hills and staring closely at the screen, when suddenly a loud scream, which sounds nothing like the scream heard in the actual commercial, is heard, causing him to have an intense reaction which gets recorded and posted to the web. The rest of the episode involves Gumball trying to get rid of the video about his reaction, which has given him unwanted fame.
    • In the episode "The Spoiler", when Anais wants Gumball to take her to a horror movie, Gumball pulls a prank on both her and the audience by having the screen suddenly cut to a picture of a real-life piranha with its mouth fully open alongside a screeching noise. The screen then cuts to Anais white with shock while Gumball sports a smug grin.
  • In the Disney animated series Gravity Falls, the episode "Summerween" also refers to screamers. After many failed attempts at scaring two kids who have been coming to the Mystery Shack for trick 'n' treat, Grunkle Stan asks them what they find scary. One of the children shows him a video on his smartphone which says "Watch closely". It then shows a cute kitten, which is abruptly cut by a screaming demonic face, scaring Stan and causing him to have a nervous fit.
  • In the Comedy Central animated series Drawn Together, the episode ''Spelling Applebee'' parodies the flash screamer Where's Waldo?. In one scene, Princess Clara disguises herself as Waldo and tells Captain Hero before she disappears into the crowd: "You know where to find me". After a while, the screen cuts to a close-up picture of three monstrous-looking aliens, accompanied by a piercing screech. Earlier, The image with the screaming aliens appeared during the Foxxy Love montage in the same episode.
  • In Adult Swim's stop-motion animated sketch comedy series The Shivering Truth, the episode ''The Burn Earner Spits''' cuts to a woman walking with an Umbrella until she stops; which abruptly transforms into a Deformed human face, zooming in, accompanied by a piercing scream.

Reaction videos

Main Article: Reaction videos

Screamers and shock sites, which originally took the form of chain emails, have since evolved into reaction videos where people record their responses to scary or shocking content. These videos have become popular on video-sharing platforms, such as YouTube, and are credited with starting the trend. One of the earliest screamers to gain popularity was What's Wrong With This Picture? in 2002, which was followed by the screamer reaction video of a boy named Justice playing The Maze in 2007. The popularity of screamer reactions on YouTube peaked in 2008 with the video created by nalts, which has accumulated over 43 million views to date.[6] The Maze's creator, Jeremy Winterrowd, also held a contest called the Winterrowd Prank Contest where people could submit their reaction videos and the most voted submission would receive a prize. These screamers and their reaction videos have been parodied on television shows such as America's Funniest Home Videos and Saturday Night Live.

See also

Further reading

References

  1. web.archive.org/web/20150924041030/http://www.geek.com/geek-cetera/what-you-dont-want-to-happen-when-you-computer-prank-someone-1295100/
  2. https://www.denofgeek.com/culture/forgotten-era-of-internet-jump-scares/
  3. https://deadline.com/2018/08/the-nun-youtube-ad-removed-1202445509/
  4. https://www.nytimes.com/2002/04/22/business/compressed-data-why-is-this-room-so-popular-shh-you-re-about-to-find-out.html?searchResultPosition=1
  5. https://web.archive.org/web/20101016212629/http://www.urlesque.com/2010/10/13/screamers-the-history-of-the-scary-maze-prank/
  6. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W2R9YTXJeWE


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