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Can you take an older person to see a horror film?

Are you keen for Halloween? Get your spook on with the team at Talking Aged Care!

<p>Will the scares be too much to handle? There’s a lot to know about how horror films impact people’s health. [Source: Shutterstock]</p>

Will the scares be too much to handle? There’s a lot to know about how horror films impact people’s health. [Source: Shutterstock]

Key points:

  • ‘Jumpscares’ and ‘screamers’ can heighten blood pressure, speed up the heart and potentially even ‘scare someone to death’
  • Look online to check whether there are jumpscares or screamers ahead of time, if you’re going to take an older person to the cinema
  • There are horror films which are slower in pace, don’t rely on loud sounds or flashes of scary pictures to give audiences the creeps


It might seem like the stuff of legends, that a film could be so frightening that it would ‘scare someone to death,’ but it does happen and without proper writing to give people a spooky sense of dread over the runtime of a film, some directors decide to go for a visceral and shocking approach.

This edition of Aged Care Guide will discuss ‘jumpscares,’ ‘screamers’ and some instances of films causing physical episodes in audiences, along with some films which are unlikely to throw someone off the genre or hurt their heart.

Jumpscares and screamers

The terms ‘jumpscare’ and ‘screamer’ tend to be used interchangeably due to their history in popular culture. A ‘screamer’ is a link or path shared around online, which will take someone to an image or flashing GIF with a very loud screaming sound in the background, often hurting people’s ears and has previously caused epileptic seizures in people. A ‘jumpscare’ is the most common term for a similar phenomenon in cinema. Typically, brooding music or a dark atmosphere lulls a person into a false sense of security or comfort in a horror film, then there’s an immediate movement or a character/monster lunging at the protagonist as the film gets much louder — hence ‘jumpscare.’

People with an underlying heart condition or who have had a heart attack in the past 12 months are already at risk of another cardiovascular event, such as a stroke and the body immediately responds to frights and threats through the fight-or-flight response. During a jumpscare, the cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine surge as a response to the stimulus, which the body interprets as a threat.

For someone without any significant cardiovascular or cholesterol problems, in particular — young, healthy people — the spikes in fear and stress chemicals will quickly drop back down to regular levels. However, the immediate shock, for that split second, can cause others to be overwhelmed and their bodies struggle to bring those levels back down, as the heart takes on too much of a strain.

Instances of heart attacks from horror films

Jaws (1975)

In 1975, Elmer C. Sommerfield died of a fatal episode of cardiac arrest at the age of 45 during a screening of the thriller/horror film in Chicago, Illinois.


The Conjuring 2 (2016)

In 2016, a 65-year-old man suffered a fatal heart attack during a cinema screening of the horror film in Tiruvannamalai, India.


The Exorcist (1973)

The horror film stunned audiences upon debut screenings, with many noted reports of physical sickness, unease and headaches, however it is not confirmed to have caused heart attacks, despite persistent urban legends.


Terrifier 2 (2022)

This film is the latest instance of a film with several legitimate accounts of moviegoers fainting, unresponsive and struggling to make it out of cinemas in good health, upon the film debuting in the United States. Despite this, there have not been any fatal heart attacks during theatre screenings.

What the experts say

The American Heart Association addressed the impact of horror films or jumpscares on the general public, but the answer to “can you be scared to death?” is a resounding yes.

“Those circumstances are extremely rare when that happens,” and pre-existing conditions are typically a factor, says Dr. Mark Estes, a cardiologist and professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

“It’s measured on how big the scare is,” says Dr. Vincent Bufalino, a cardiologist and president of Advocate Medical Group in Downers Grove, Illinois.

“You can have a sudden cardiac-related event related to an adrenaline surge, but I think it would be a stretch to say you could get that from someone coming in a werewolf costume to your front door,” he says. “This is the kind of thing that you can’t prepare for. If it happens, it happens, and you hope your body doesn’t overreact to that event.”

How can an older person enjoy horror films?

It is highly recommended that a carer, guardian or fellow filmgoer check to see how many jumpscares are in a film, along with their potential timestamps. Many parental content guide websites offer a rundown of content that may be distressing for audiences with anxiety, underlying heart conditions, children or pregnant women. Websites for content moderation include:



Introducing someone into the horror genre through starting off with relatively outdated, comedic or tame horror content may help gauge their tolerance and decide if something more severe would be accessible.

Start off light with some of the following suggestions:

  • Gremlins (Parental guidance recommended)
  • Beetlejuice (Recommended for mature audiences)
  • Evil Dead: Army of Darkness (Recommended for people with an average tolerance)
  • The Rocky Horror Picture Show (Recommended for mature audiences)
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