"Where did it come from? There's nothing here but ceiling! I love how these animals just fall out of nowhere, right into your hands. What do they do, just hang up there by their claws and wait for people to pass by?"
A Cat Scare is a strong buildup of high tension, followed by a fright from something harmless (say, a startled cat) to release that tension with.
For example, a heroine may be tiptoeing down a dark hallway to escape the serial killer who cut the power in her house when a door in the hallway starts to slowly creak open ... she pauses, a look of genuine fear in her face as the door slowly edges open and out leaps ... a cat! Phew, not what we were expecting. It was only a cat....
Note that although the Cat Scare is harmless by itself, it is very often used to effectively subvert a Jump Scare. In this scenario, the Cat Scare is introduced to soften up the audience for a real scare to follow shortly — so in the above example, although the heroine (and the audience) is relieved that it was "just a cat", the camera may subsequently cut back to her and reveal how the serial killer is approaching from behind while she's breathing that sigh of relief. Similarly, another variant is that some Fridge Logic associated with the cat's presence clues the character in to the real horror to come. ("Hang on, if all the doors were shut how'd that cat get in...?")
As Roger Ebert points out in his book of Hollywood Cliches, the cat often enters shot hissing and raving, airborne at chest height, as if it has been thrown into shot by a technician. (Hence another common name for this phenomenon: "the spring-loaded cat;" in particular because the feline in question often appears to be deployed as soon as the door / chest / other suitable object is opened).
Moving toward Discredited Trope territory, but still shows up done straight from time to time.
Can overlap with That Poor Cat.
Not to be confused with Convenient Decoy Cat, where the cat diverts the attention of the bad guys from a hiding hero.
While sometimes the "cat" is logically hidden, sometimes it's Behind the Black - a place where the person should see it but is off-camera.
Although the use of an actual cat for a Cat Scare is common enough to have named the trope, the general technique of building up tension and then startling the audience with something that turns out to be harmless is also known as a "Lewton Bus". This name comes from producer Val Lewton, who popularized the technique with a scene in his 1942 movie Cat People: the heroine is being stalked by a hostile were-panther, but the cat-like hissing noise that startles the heroine and audience turns out to have come from a bus's air brakes.
The mass equivalent is Bat Scare, in which a whole flock of startled creatures provides the scare. Also see Hope Spot (a false sense of tidy resolution before heading into an ugly one instead), Hey, Wait! (a false sense of discovery of subterfuge) and Your Princess Is in Another Castle (a false sense of resolution quite early in a story). When you want a fake scare without launching a feline, you deploy the Scare Chord. Contrast Imminent Danger Clue, where instead of mistaking something harmless for something dangerous, the character temporarily dismisses or fails to notice a sign of danger because it seems completely ordinary.
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Pops up in the very first episode of Mythical Detective Loki Ragnarok, when Mayura goes to investigate a haunted clocktower. Even though she was nowhere near the cat, and though it was apparently asleep when she entered, it just HAD to leap up and scream at her. Really, these cats ought to just switch to decaf, or something...
Taken literally in the first episode of InuYasha, when Kagome goes down to the well to search for her cat. She hears noises coming from the well, and is frightened when her cat brushes up against her leg. After realizing her error, she faces away from the well with the cat as the Centipede Woman shows up to drag her back in time. Her brother, of course, sees it all, and tries to warn her. No luck.
Subverted in Darker Than Black: the first two episodes are loaded with so many supposedly coincidental "oh, it was just the cat" moments that one begins to wonder if that furry little bastard is actually plotting something. He is.
Naruto. Although it doesn't use cats. Twice in the story a bunny is seen in the bushes and then someone paranoid throws a kunai or shuriken and the rabbit leaves but a bad guy comes. First time Zabuza came and the second time was Orochimaru.
In Mai-HiME, Akira is having a conversation with Takumi while Mai and Mikoto happen to overhear it. Akira suddenly draws her Element, and Mai and Mikoto think she's noticed them, but a cat emerges from the bushes, and Akira relaxes her guard while Takumi laughs.
In Plate 7◊ of Industry And Idleness (a series of printed art pieces that Scott McCloud classifies as an 18th-century comic) by William Hogarth, Tom Idle is hiding from the law and is scared awake by a cat falling down a dilapidated chimney.
Lampshadedin Chapter 42 of Tales of Cosplayers: The characters are in a dark and scary forest, suddenly there's a noise coming from the shrubs: It's a rabbit! However, the protagonist doesn't believe that that's all; he tells the others to wait, since in stories big, scary monsters always show up after a cute one appears, at which someone else makes a snarky comment. After waiting for half an hour, nothing happens. It's stated that the protagonist's faith in television shattered.
In Turnabout Storm, the first time Phoenix and Twilight enter the Everfree Forest, she warns him to watch out for the menacing creatures that could be lurking in the darkness. Cue an scared Phoenix suddenly screaming.
Phoenix:AAAH! Something just touched my hand! Twilight: Hehe! That was just my tail.
Films — Animation
The animated version of 101 Dalmatians. In this case, it's because a feisty cat is purposefully helping the puppies to hide, and he knows that jumping out hissing with limbs splayed will startle Jasper just enough to let the puppies get away.
Weirdly inverted in The Secret of NIMH, where the cat itself is the monster, and its arrival is preceded by a rabbit.
In Tangled, shortly after Rapunzel leaves the tower with Flynn, she's startled by something in the bushes. Much to her embarrassment, it turns out to be neither thugs nor ruffians, but a harmless bunny rabbit.
Flynn:(sarcastic) Stay calm, it can probably smell fear.
A particularly notable example in Disney's adaptation of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Ichabod Crane is wandering through some genuinely terrifying woods just after midnight, trying to get home on a painfully slow horse after a town get-together. He hears a variety of spooky sounds, such as owls and frogs croaking his name. The cat scare appears as Ichabod and his horse are suddenly brought to the ground... but Ichabod can still hear hoofbeats! Trembling, he turns to the side and realises it's just the wind blowing a set of cat tails against a hollow log. He and his horse start giggling in relief... and are soon joined by someone else'scackling.
The second trailer for Despicable Me 2 has two Adorable Evil Minions trying to play golf in the house when they hear a noise outside. They slowly walk outside and walk towards the trash cans, golf club raised and scary music in the background. Then a cat jumps out of the trash can. One minion starts mockin the other one, and they start a slap fight... then a light from the sky picks them up (but leaves the cat).
Night of the Demon subverts this trope when it turns out the cat is a actually shapeshifting demon.
In Alien, the cat scare precedes the absolutely terrifying first appearance of the adult alien. Since the cat wasn't being tossed through the air, the film crew got it to hiss on cue by suddenly putting it nose to nose with a dog. Other than Ripley, Jones the cat is the only survivor at the film's end.
In Aliens we have a rare human example. While in Medlab the Marines detect something moving and hunt it down. It finally bursts out of cover and is almost shot, whereupon they discover that it's Newt, a little girl who's the only survivor of the xenomorph attack.
In Predator, Blain hears rustling foliage and readies his minigun, only to have it turn out to be a small animal. He rolls his eyes and turns away ... then promptly gets killed by the Predator's plasma gun.
Alien vs. Predator, combining the two, naturally goes one better, featuring a penguin scare early on (before the characters even know "there's something out there").
Schlock film The Chair features a scene where the action is built to a crescendo, high strings and all. When the typical scare chord is played, the action switches to a cat gingerly sniffing the camera that has been placed on the front yard and the scene is meant to carry on from the 'next day'. Unfortunately the scene is so campy that it's difficult to take the rest of the movie seriously. Sniffing cat, watch out!
Most Friday the 13th films feature at least one cat scare (or dog scare, etc.), followed by Jason killing the person scared by the cat once they get over the initial shock and decide there's nothing to be afraid of.
The opening scene of Friday the 13th Part 2 has a special example, as you can actually see the hand of the technician throwing the screaming cat through the window.
An especially complex use: In The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (American version), a journalist is hired by an old man to investigate the old man's suspicions about his own family's possible involvement in a disappearance. It is arranged that the journalist will live in the family guest house, on the remote island owned and occupied entirely by members of the family (suspects all, and generally a hostile group). The journalist befriends a stray cat, but is later obliged to leave for several days, locking the doors and windows of the guest house behind him (the cat is outdoors); when he returns he finds the cat waiting for him inside the guest house. In this case the cat scare is used to show not just that someone has entered the guest house in his absence, but also to hint that that person probably wanted him to know that they'd been there. The cat is benign and very cuddly, but its presence indicates something sinister.
In the first one, the victim is investigating a noise in a closed garage and finds a cat. Then a dog. Then a horse.... Then the killer. The dog and cat vacate through a doggie door. The horse gets out via a larger opening. The victim? Follows the cat out. Did we mention she's slightly overweight?
In the second film, the protagonist goes to investigate a noise, and discovers a cat... who then beats up her up with a broken bottle.
Parodied repeatedly and beaten to death with a stick in the horror movie parody film Shriek if You Know What I Did Last Friday the Thirteenth, where characters keep being scared by cats with tell tale names, like "Cheap Shot" and "Lame Gag". The final cat annoys a cast member so much that he tries to hit it, only to be told "No, don't beat Dead Horse."
Played straight in Tears of the Sun — the team's point man at the river crossing calls for everyone to stop and get to cover because he hears something approaching through the foliage. Upon seeing that it's just a wild pig, he calls away "all clear" and stands up... right in time to eat a sniper's bullet from across the river.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan: While searching the abandoned space station Regula 1, Bones is startled by a rat. He then walks straight into a dead body.
In Dog Soldiers there's an incident with a spring-loaded dog when the soldiers are investigating a potentially hazardous closet. By all appearances the border collie who startles Cooper must have been sitting on one of the closet shelves waiting for the chance to jump straight forward.
There is a Cat Scare in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves when Marion is trying to locate the source of a sound. A hissing cat leaps onto the table before her, just before a soldier throws her down onto it.
In House II: The Second Story, someone in a haunted house full of portals thinks he hears something ominous, but it's just a harmless dogerpillar. He is then jumped by Mayans.
The Haunting in Connecticut did this for the movie's second shock moment. Barely a minute after the first shock, Matt is investigating the plane of glass where it came from, and the camera then cuts to his mom slapping a mop on the ground. After a moment of relief, you see that the water she's using to clean has turned into blood. Thanks a lot, Cornwell.
Parodied in Fatal Instinct. While Ned Ravine is searching his house for intruders he opens the medicine cabinet in his bathroom and discovers his cat inside it. The cat jumps out yowling.
Steven Spielberg felt that there weren't enough scary moments in the first half of Jaws, before audiences had seen the shark for the first time. He went back and edited in a plotless scare when a diver (Hooper) is exploring a derelict wrecked boat. Heralded by scary music and accompanied by a Scare Chord, they spot a corpse looking through a hole in the wreck. While it got a shriek from audiences, Spielberg always regretted adding it in because it ultimately sapped tension that would have paid off better when the shark finally appeared.
Earlier in the film, there's a more typical example, when Pippet the dog disappears. The ominous hint at his fate comes when the stick he'd been running into the water to retrieve is seen floating on the water, abandoned. Not one second later, theme music kicks in and we get the Murderer P.O.V. as the shark swoops in on and kills a little boy.
In Darkness Falls, a woman sits in a car and a cat quickly runs across the hood, which scares both the woman and the audience. Darkness Falls has a lot of cat scares even at the very end.
Cat People has an interesting inversion. There is a scene where the viewer is expecting a cat to show up and attack the heroine, only for the tension to be broken by the arrival of a bus with an air brake that sounds like a cat hiss. The general case of the Cat Scare trope is also called a "Lewton Bus" in commemoration of Cat People, which has one of the first uses of the trope in cinema.
Cat People producer Val Lewton seemed to like this trope, he used it in his next film, I Walked With a Zombie, although in that case the animal responsible for the scare was an owl.
In Lewton's film Body Snatcher there is a scare with a horse and in his The Leopard Man a tumbleweed and a train are used at certain points in the movie.
The Slumber Party Massacre uses a rather large number of false scares, from a cat in a closet, to pranking teens, to a neighbor killing snails with a machete. At one point there is a streak of seven consecutive false scares before the killer shows up.
Subverted for laughs in The Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy. The plot of the movie revolves around a new (untested) wonder drug that cures depression. When the primary researcher who developed the drug realizes one of the laboratory test animals has entered a catatonic state, he becomes concerned and goes to check on the drug's first human test subject, an elderly widow who lives alone. He finds her home seemingly deserted and eerily silent. As he gingerly makes his way through the house, calling out for the woman, a cat suddenly falls on his head from out of nowhere, startling him and the audience before it runs away. When the researcher looks up, he sees half a dozen cats hanging from the ceiling by their claws.
In Halloween II (1981), a bumbling security guard stumbles around outside the hospital checking for a disturbance. He gets startled by a spring-loaded cat, sighs and relaxes. Three guesses who he encounters next...
I Am Legend has a rather effective one. Neville has been discussing Bob Marley. Then out of nowhere comes the loud sound of a window closing — the heroes preparing to hide from the real enemies.
In Demon Knight this tactic is used a few times, the cat in question belongs to the heroine Jeryline.
A nicely done Fake Cat Scare can be seen in this trailer for The Whisperer in Darkness. As a man stands close to a window at night, lightning strikes and the flash reveals a shadow behind the curtain. The second flash allows the viewer to identify the shape as some vines growing next to the window. And at the third flash it moves its head.
In Tremors, Earl stumbling in a prairie dog hole is an animal-free version of a Cat Scare.
Drag Me to Hell might as well have been called Cat Scares: The Movie. A good majority of the spooks are Lamia making jump scares to tell Christine it's coming to get her.
Played with hilariously in Horrible Bosses, when the protagonists are breaking into the home of one of the titles bosses (the one labelled as the "Psycho" by the previews). The boss's cat startles the protagonists several times, but the audience always sees the cat long before they do... sitting extremely still waiting for the perfect moment to suddenly jump out and startle them, as if this trope is that cat's favorite thing in the world. The description here really doesn't do the gag justice, though.
Below is set on a WWII submarine, and pulls off a manta ray scare on a repair-crew of divers.
Played with in Chernobyl Diaries, when the tour group is investigating a noise in an abandoned Prypiat building. They track down the source of the soft, furtive sounds, only it's a bear that comes lurching toward them. Yet though it's clearly not harmless, the startled animal books it outta there rather than attacking, making this a Double Subversion of sorts.
Played with in Apocalypse Now, where the cat in this case is a tiger. The two guys who get startled by the tiger still manage to get a chuckle out of the incident once they're back in the boat.
Done with a model shark floating in a flooded corridor in Deep Blue Sea. Also a Chekhov's Gun, as the model was used previously as a visual aid for exposition.
In The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Dieter sneaks away from the group to go to the toilet. He hears a few suspicious noises and looks around, rifle in hand. He slowly comes up on some ferns when a dinosaur pops out and snarls in extreme close-up. Dieter gives a yell and dives backwards, bringing his gun to bear...and the camera pulls back, revealing it's actually the chicken-sized Procompsognathus. Of course, he soon finds out they're not so harmless, but even so, he laughts it off at the time.
In Striking Distance, as Tom is reviewing a map of the elusive Serial Killer 's dump sites, his cat wanders in and walks over it. He's annoyed. . .until he sees the bloody pawprints it has left. He follows the trail to find yet another body dumped in the river outside his houseboat.
Sunshine: As our heroes explore the disabled wreck of Icarus 1, someone activates a device, which turns on very suddenly and very violently. It's the shower hose.
In The Darkest Hour, invisible aliens' movements can be detected by how their passing stirs the dust that blankets Moscow. A stray breeze scares the human survivors when it disturbs the dust in a similar way.
The Monuments Men. A Land Mine Goes Click scene ends with the soldier stepping off the mine and scaring everyone when the detonator explodes but not the explosive, the mine having been damaged by an earlier fire.
Goosebumps does this at the end of every first chapter, enough to be Lampshaded by MAD. It does this with very stupid things some of the times like a ghost just being a pile of clothes or a monster not actually being anything at all. It is pretty ridiculous.
How to Survive a Horror Movie cites cats jumping out of every door, cupboard, box, jar, or tube of toothpaste you open as clinching proof you're in a slasher movie.
Lampshaded in the final chapter of Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon Days. An elderly woman who lives alone has occasional fantasies of an escaped convict hiding in her house. She has just attended a blood-chilling revival meeting. She is calm as she walks home alone in the dark, but when she reaches for the light switch in her house she touches her cat, who was up on the back of a chair. He jumps sideways and knocks a vase to the floor. She just cleans it up and goes to bed. She's not unnerved at all until the next morning, when she doesn't immediately see anyone around and wonders if the Rapture has happened in the night, leaving her.
Older Than Radio: Unexpectedly found in "The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton". While breaking into the title blackmailer's house under the cover of night, Watson and Holmes are indeed startled by a cat walking past them in a dark hallway.
In The Speckled Band, they approach a house they're planning to stake out in at night. As they walk the darkened grounds, something Watson describes as a horrible, misshapen child runs into them, bowls them over, and then runs off, considerably freaking Watson out. He forgot that the owner of said house liked to keep weird, foreign animals on the extensive grounds, and when he asks what it was, Holmes laughs it off, explaining that the creature was merely the man's baboon. Not that a baboon couldn't have done a heck of a lot of damage to them if it had wanted to, but the fact that it didn't cause any harm and wasn't the incomprehensible monster Watson first envisioned, makes it an example of this trope.
Robert Westall's Blackham's Wimpy, in the Break of Dark anthology sees Gary, a Wellington bomber radio operator, boards a haunted plane at night with the intent of setting fire to it. He hears someone whispering in German and there's a hunched figure in the cockpit in flight crew gear... turns out to be his own Captain, engaged in a Hollywood Exorcism attempt.
Near the beginning of The Mysteries of Udolpho, the heroine Emily goes into her recently deceased father's study and sees a shadow which she believes to be her father's ghost. It turns out to be the family dog.
A human (unless you count Brainiac in her head) example in Smallville, "Identity". The somewhat-sympathetic bad guy of the week in a hospital bed. Someone wearing ominous black gloves puts their hands on the end of the bed with scary music. Oh, it is just Chloe... She takes those off and Mind Rapes him into a catatonic state. There is some kind of horrifying grandeur in seeing the resident Nice Girl does this with a tiny Psychotic Smirk.
The Halloween episode of Community lampshades Ebert's comments on the trope, with a side scene of a cat jumping across the shot at chest level.
Jeff: Dude, what is UP with that cat? Troy:Is someone throwing it?!
It eventually gets to the point, after the third or fourth time, where Jeff is actually more worried about the manic flying cat than he is about the Zombie Apocalypse waiting outside.
In "Homecoming," Vincent surprises Boone, who is waiting for Ethan to attack. While Vincent is licking Boone's face, Ethan comes up from the ocean to kill Scott (or was it Steve?)
In "The Long Con", Sun hears rustling noises in the grass around her, and is relieved when she sees the dog run out of the brush...until someone puts a bag over her head and drags her away.
The Doctor Who serial Resurrection of the Daleks makes the mutant that escaped from a totaled Dalek casing a plot point. After searching for it a while (and describing the creature in such a vivid and horrible way the audience is terrified of it before they even see it), something is seen moving under a cloth... only it's a cat. Then, before the audience has time to catch their breath, the camera pans back to a character it had only been off for a few seconds, who's now being strangled to death by the Dalek creature.
The end of episode 4 of the 1991 Dark Shadows has the professor scared in this way when we know Barnabas is after him.
When watching a scary movie in Corner Gas, the experienced horror movie watchers try to predict this, but as it turns out, a buzzsaw pops out and kills someone instead.
NCIS. While checking out a house, Tony is startled by a cat jumping from the cat flap, leading Ziva to quip, "Don't tell me you're afraid of a little pussy...cat." Subverted though when Tony silently points to the bloody paw prints the cat has left on the ground.
Used in an unusual fashion in Five Days To Midnight when Psycho Ex Roy Bremmer lures a uniform cop assigned to guard the Neumeyer house by angering the cat, then, when the cop comes to investigate, he gets a faceful of kitty.
A parrot scare was used on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, when an escaped macaw startles a woman in a laundry room. Bodies are found when she returns the bird to its apartment.
Starsky & Hutch has a bizarre example: in "Targets Without A Badge", Hutch insists on checking Starsky's Torino over for explosives (not unreasonably, since his own car was blown up in the previous episode). Nervously, they ease the hood up...and a cat jumps out of the engine at them.
Subverted in the very beginning of the Criminal Minds episode "Distress" when a security guard hears a mystery noise, starts to check it out, but then he hears that it's just a cat, so he relaxes. Oh wait, never mind, it's actually a serial killer!.
Happens in The Bionic Woman (the original series) in the episode, "In This Corner, Jamie Somers". Jamie's walking into an empty arena and is startled when a cat meows and runs in front of her.
Played straight in the third finale of The Mentalist when Lisbon is walking down an empty hall alone when a cat meows and comes rubbing up against her leg. After reaching down to pet it and getting a hand full of blood, she quickly notices the bloody paw prints leading from one of the rooms.
Hawaii Five-0, in the 2012 Halloween episode "Mohai". The 5-0 team is searching a dark alley for clues about a missing woman when Kono discovers something moving inside a garbage container. When she carefully opens it, a black cat hisses at her and jumps out of the bin, scaring her to death. And then she discovers the missing woman's corpse in the container.
Parodied in the MADtv skit "Apollo the 13th: Jason Takes NASA" (in reference to Apollo13 being released). An astronaut hears a noise and goes to investigate. Sure enough, he's relived to find that it's only a cat roaming around (never mind that it would impossible for it to get on the space shuttle), only to encounter Jason two seconds later.
Played with in Barry Louis Polisar's "When the House Is Dark and Quiet", in which the bratty kids set up a Cat Scare to hassle their babysitter. One in which the cat springs out of the freezer, no less.
In Pooch Cafe, Poncho shows a little Genre Savvy by thinking, "If this was a dumb horror movie, something would jump out at me right now." A cat jumps out. Somewhat subverted in that Poncho believes that cats really are trouble.
The original black box edition of the Ravenloft game rules actually included a random-encounter table for this trope, on which DMs could roll up what species of inoffensive furry animal might be rustling about in the bushes, scaring the pants off unsuspecting player characters with false alarms.
In Act II of the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta H.M.S. Pinafore, the ship's company is trying to sneak the two protagonists off to elope. They are startled by what they believe to be the ship's cat, not knowing that what they hear is the Captain with a cat o' nine tails.
The haunted houses at Universal Studios' Halloween Horror Nights tend to rely on jump scares, so the same effect is often given through various sound effects without even an actor to perform them.
In the monster-filled Midwich elementary school, Harry sees that there's something in one of the lockers; of course, when he opens it, it turns out to be a cat. However, once it's off screen, something decidedly not a cat can be heard devouring it.
Subverted in the alternate form of the school. Harry can hear the same locker door banging against its latch, but when he opens it there's nothing inside except bloodstained rust. When he turns to leave, another locker bangs open and a mutilated body falls out.
In Amnesia: The Dark Descent, hiding in the shadows is usually something you do when a monster is around. This makes it far freakier when a cockroach hisses at you. It is very loud, seems to come out of nowhere, and will still get you the twelfth time it happens. However, it is completely and utterly harmless.
In the haunted house level, the role of the cat is played by a lone rollerskate. Alternatively, one could argue that the whole level is a giant cat scare, because even though there's plenty of ominous creaking, liberal use of the Scare Chord, sudden ghostly whispers, Ax-Crazy apparitions, etc., nothing jumps out at you, and you're in no danger whatsoever (except for a fire breaking out in the kitchen and one falling elevator).
Later seen again several times in a level. Entering, if you look to the side—Gahh! A raptor! No, wait, it's just a statue. Then you have to walk past creepily rendered dioramas of dinosaurs, and on walking under a giant Tyrannosaurus head model, it roars... but no dinosaurs ever come alive, and they're just there to be scary.
It's a stealth-based mission (or at least it's supposed to be,) but fortunately for the player, if they release a startled shotgun blast or three (or empty full magazine from their automatic rifle in a blind panic) into the raptor, nobody will notice.
The raptor statue is lampshaded later, as the player can come across a note to a museum worker both praising the guy who placed the statue there for the scare factor, and telling him to put it back before someone important notices.
Clock Tower for the SNES does this one literally. Upon entering either the second bathroom or the storage room, the crate in the opposite corner may start to shake. The protagonist's portrait changes to one of shock, and out jumps... the cat. Also subverted due to the fact that there's also about a one in four chance that it's the game's resident psychopathic killer instead of the cat.
In Fatal Frame 3, as part of a reference to The Grudge. After having a dream about a ghost encounter in the attic, the protagonist can go downstairs and open a closet, at which point her housemate's cat will leap out.
In one of the games, shortly before the Aliens come into play, there's a piece of ventilation in THE EXACT SHAPE of a Xenomorph head that drops quickly in from above and hangs there.
Cat scares are built into the game in the form of the marine's motion sensor. Rather than a standard enemy radar, it shows the relative location of any object that moves nearby, accompanied by a warning beep. It won't detect any Xenomorphs hiding motionless in the shadows, but it will freak you out every time you scare a cat, almost step on a cockroach, or walk by a crane hook swinging in the breeze.
Literally used in Calling but they also are there to warn something bad is about to happen if you don't do exactly what the cat says.
There's one particular corridor in Metroid Prime which the player can walk into, then a few bat-like creatures will drop down and fly towards the camera. They can be killed easily with some quick lock-ons and firing action, but they respawn the second the door closes, and if you haven't played the game in a while...
Adventure game Scratches inverts and subverts this in the Director's Cut edition: in the additional chapter, Last Visit, the player spots in a hole a pair of glowing eyes which the player character mistakes for a cat. Most people, having played the original game first, will know that the thing in the hole is no cat. Except it is. The real scare is elsewhere.
Occurs a couple time in Siren 2, although you're more likely to hear them hissing and then immediately run off given the poorly lit/dark environments. Lampshaded occasionally in this YouTube walkthrough.
First Encounter Assault Recon: In the Exeunt Omnes level, an Assassin jumps into the water in front of you, then vanishes before you can kill it. Another can be briefly seen in the First Encounter level. Many other variations of this trope abound in the series.
Dead Space 2 lots of these. The most embarrassing is a cartoon sun prop falling from the ceiling.
In Resident Evil 5, "Lost in Nightmares" has quite a bit of this in its first section, such as the dead body of a guard falling from above when you walk up the stairs, complete with Dramatic Thunder and lightning. The L-shaped hallway also makes its return, where bats break through the windows when you walk through it the second time. Players of the first Resident Evil get some extra Paranoia Fuel from dogs barking outside when you walk through said hallway. Once you enter the dungeons, however, there's no more Cat Scares to be had. Butdamn neareverything else.
The point and click adventure game Broken Sword has this early on in Shadow of the Templars if you examine the trash bins in the alley. Two of the bins are empty, but opening the third and final bin produces a Scare Chord and a yowling black cat who startles George. Trying to click the bins after opening the cat's bin will prompt George to shrug and say "I'd had it with sticking my nose into French trash cans."
The Last Door has an interestingly plot-relevant one. In Anthony's manor house, you hear the sad meows of a cat you thought you fed a dying bird to. You find the bird seemingly gone from the cat's food bowl and a trail of blood leading over to a hole in the wall. When you go down into the basement and open a fresh patch of cement, you find the cat and its eyes have been gouged out. It runs away in a literally-blind panic. This demonstrates that there's something less-than-natural going on with these birds.
In Arhkam Origins, after Joker took over Blackgate, you have to untie Harleen Quinzell. Any Genre Savvy fan is waiting for a gas attack or some trap, but she calmly stands up and has a quick chat with the bat.
Evil Overlord List #139: If I'm sitting in my camp, hear a twig snap, start to investigate, then encounter a small woodland creature, I will send out some scouts anyway just to be on the safe side. (If they disappear into the foliage, I will not send out another patrol; I will break out the napalm.)
Parodied by the first winner of Spoony'sGrass Battle Contest. When the hero opens the locker he finds a picture of a cat and jumps as though it were a proper Cat Scare.
In an entry of Marble Hornets, there appears to be somebody following Jay for the majority of one of the entries. Jay notices him and starts running, but the man's still following. The man stops near Jay, and Jay calls out to him. It turns out not to be the masked man, or some other dangerous person, but just some random guy playing with an iPod.
Occurs in Doom House when Reginald opens a closet door and finds his pet cat.
Let's Play/Markiplier cat-scared his audience in his video "Are Jumpscares Really Scary?" after building tension by staring into his cam for almost a minute, the cutting to him in his regular studio and going "Ha, ha, you expected a juuump-scaaare!!"
Brain: Let me guess. She walks over, opens the door, a coat falls on her, she laughs, then turns around and sees the ghost. (said events happen in this movie) Francine: You've seen this movie before? Brain: No, but it's a horror movie- and they're very predictable.
Transformers Animated, "Return of the Headmaster": After a Decepticon sighting is called in, Sentinel Prime and Optimus Prime split to look for the Decepticon. Sentinel gets spooked by a noise, whirls, and slashes some pavement into bits with his lance — and a cat appears, then runs off. He grumbles about organics a moment — and then the Headmaster zaps him.
Parodied and Double Subverted in the Thundercats 2011 episode "The Forest of Magi Oar" when cat-creature Snarf nervously reacts to noises in a supposedly haunted forest, but its only his tricksy Catfolk friends the Thunderkittens who jump out and yell "Boo!" Later on, the menacing spirits show up for real.
Parodied in The Looney Tunes Show when Daffy is pretending to be a cop and chasing Bugs through an office building. After following Bugs into the copy room and walking through quietly, a cat randomly jumps down and yowls, distracting Daffy just before Bugs appears behind him.
Used in the Family Guy hour-long season premiere, "And Then There Were Fewer."
Dragons: Riders of Berk: In "What Flies Beneath", Hiccup and Fishlegs experience a sheep scare while creeping through the Whispering Death's tunnels.