The term screamer, now more commonly referred to as a jumpscare or scary pop-up, is used to describe any game, video, website, or program that tricks the viewer into concentrating on the screen, which may happen in different ways, then has a sudden change that is purposely intended to scare and startle the viewer(s).
Most screamers use scary/creepy images and loud sounds and scream to make their goal more effective (hence the name screamer), per example, Regan MacNeil from the 1973's classic horror film The Exorcist. Some famous examples of screamers are The Maze by Jeremy Winterrowd, Anne.jpg, Ghost Caught on Tape, What's Wrong? and the K-fee commercials. Horror films and professional horror games are not considered screamers since the viewers/players already know about jumpscares beforehand. Some screamers use disgusting and graphic images to gross the viewer out. These are called shock sites. Shock sites can also be considered screamers since they intend to surprise and traumatize the viewer with unexpected content.
Some screamer websites contain Malicious scripts, scripts in the screamer's source code that are intended to harm the viewer's device. Some screamers also come in the form of scareware, which is malicious software that seeks to both scare the viewer and harm their device. These types of screamers may use the following tactics to freak out their victims:
- Putting the viewers' device/browser into full-screen mode right after a page loads
- Locking volume adjust at the highest level
- Opening infinite tabs/windows
- Downloading other malicious software on the viewers' device
- Shutting down the device's system/making the device unusable
Even though the use of jumpscares in media can be traced back to the early 20th century, screamers have been around since as far as the early 1970s and slowly started to make surface on the web in the early 2000s. The first screamers to be aired on television in the 2000s were part of an advertising campaign named Wide Awake from K-fee, for their new coffee drink called Turbodrink. The nine ads consist of a peaceful scene with soothing music, but at some point in the ad, the scene gets briefly interrupted by either a zombie or a gargoyle jumping up and screaming at the camera, followed by the company's slogan and a picture of the product.
Because of their reputation as clever trolling tools and pranks, screamers have sometimes been featured in works of fiction, including some well-known media.
Pee-wee's Big Adventure
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.
The Amazing World of Gumball
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.
The Shivering Truth
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. Vernon Chatman, the creator and narrator of the show attempt to count the numbers; which abruptly transforms into a Deformed human face, zooming in, accompanied by a piercing scream.
- Main Article: Reaction videos
As screamers made the surface on the web, people started recording their reactions to screamers and uploading the videos online. Eventually, reaction videos became a trend on the Internet. The concept of a reaction video is to get someone to play or watch a screamer while recording their reaction.
The first reaction video to The Maze was uploaded to YouTube by the user CantWeAllJusGetAlong, on May 20th, 2006. In the now-deleted video, a young kid, named Justice, is playing The Maze. Then, he gets surprised by the screamer. Shocked, he starts screaming and repeatedly hitting the computer screen. He then runs to his stepdad Chad and starts crying. As of 2018, the video has over 27 million views.