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 double-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 clichés, 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.
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. When it happens at the end of a story for comedy, see Shock-and-Switch Ending.
- 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 My-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.
- Even the normally unshakable Golgo 13 has a moment when a cat jumps onto the balcony just as he's making a sniper shot. His Reflexive Response is to whirl to face the intruder, chambering another round as he does so...thus ejecting the cartridge case he's just fired off the balcony where it's picked up by a police patrolman on the street below. For a brief moment, Golgo actually forms an expression!
- In episode 9 of No Matter How I Look at It, It's You Guys' Fault I'm Not Popular!, Tomoko is eating cup noodles by herself when she hears a rustling bush and fears it's a pervert. It's just a cat, of course.
- 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.
- Simultaneously lampshaded and played straight in the Donald Duck comic book story "The Boy Who Cried Werewolf." Donald and Fethry Duck are searching a desolate meat packing plant for a rumored werewolf. When, after much tense pacing about, they find a stray cat, Donald relaxes and thinks the danger is past. But as horror-movie junkie Fethry desperately tells him, "it's a proven fact that when people look for monsters, they always see a deceptively normal animal to throw them off their guard right before the monster attacks! Like a bird... or a mouse... or a cat..." Grabbing Donald, the uncharacteristically alert Fethry yanks him out of the room seconds before a very real werewolf appears in a Jump Scare moment.
- Lampshaded in 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 a scared Phoenix suddenly screaming.
Phoenix: AAAH! Something just touched my hand!
Twilight: Hehe! That was just my tail.
- In The Webs We Weave Snape pushes Harry behind him when they hear a loud noise in Hogsmeade, and then a stray cat casually strolls out of an alley.
- The Loud House fanfic Lincoln's Memories: In "Lincoln Chases the Rainbow", Lincoln is nervous in an unfamiliar part of Royal Woods and hears a hiss. He jumps in fright, only to find it was a literal cat.
- 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 A Monster in Paris, Lucille is reading a poster while we see something approach her. Thankfully, it was just Raohul.
- 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.
- Treasure Planet: This is how B.E.N. is introduced.
- In Disney's Brother Bear, Kenai is spooked by a rodent before the bear comes along. In the DVD Gag Commentary, the moose comment on how squirrels/chipmunks/etc. always appear before something bad happens, and falsely interpret every rodent afterwards as a sign of trouble.
- Later, Kenai and Koda have to cross a lava field. Koda disappears and then jumps on Kenai pulling a rather nasty prank on him.
Kenai: Don't do that!
Koda: Scared you, didn't I?
Kenai: There's scared...and then there's surprised.
Koda: And you were both! Whoa! (looks at a skull-shaped rock. Kenai gives his best effort at roaring. Koda just smiles) Nice try. You got a little spit right there.
(Kenai wipes his lip) Kenai!
Kenai: Hah! You're not getting me this time!
Koda: No, Kenai, LOOK OUT!
( A spear lands inches from Kenai; Denahi has found them)
- Later, Kenai and Koda have to cross a lava field. Koda disappears and then jumps on Kenai pulling a rather nasty prank on him.
- Of all things Invoked by Thomas O'Malley to hitch a ride in The Aristocats by scaring a truck driver. A literal Cat Scare.
- Later on, this is played straight when the cats cross the bridge on train tracks. When a train speeds towards them, they jump off to the trestle below and avoid getting run over. They think everybody's safe...only to discover Marie drowning in the river below.
- 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's cackling.
- 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.
- Walking with Dinosaurs 3D has a prehistoric mammal called an Alphadon jump out at Patchi and Juniper as they walk through the dark forest. Patchi is annoyed at the Alphadon and remarks at how mammals would go extinct while dinosaurs would live on.
- Alien series:
- 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.
- AVP: 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").
- Played totally straight in Korean horror film Killer Toon, when Ji-yun and Gi-cheol are startled by a cat shooting out of the wreckage of the abandoned building where Ji-yun used to live.
- 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.
- Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood had another goofy one, as it occurs near the end, and at no point beforehand was it even mentioned there was a cat in the house.
- 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.
- A more typical example later in the film when the poor cat is murdered and its mangled body left on the doorstep. Aside from warning the journalist to back off as he's clearly getting closer to the truth, the killer is no doubt also warning him that he could easily have killed him as well, given that he was right outside his door.
- An actual cat also turns up in The Ring.
- Parodied in the Scary Movie films.
- 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 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 13th, where characters keep being scared by cats with telltale 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.
- A Cat Scare appears early on in Romancing the Stone, in a particularly obvious instance of the cat being thrown in from off-screen.
- 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.
- James Bond:
- 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.
- The Amityville Horror (1979) has one of these, with an actual cat, that for some reason jumps in front of a window and scare the main character.
- 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.
- The remake of When a Stranger Calls uses at least one Cat Scare.
- The first Scream wasn't above using one of these.
- Played straight in Pet Sematary (1989), where the newly resurrected cat hisses at his owner as he walks into a dark area. The cat is only the first creature to come back changed.
- Parodied in There's Nothing Out There, where Mike finds the cat and then wonders loudly how it got there. (See page quote)
- 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.
- Night of the Demon, directed by Lewton regular Jacques Tourneur, has Dr. Holden breaking into cult leader Karswell's mansion. In the library, a hissing cat makes him jump. Then, while he's searching, the doors slam shut and the cat morphs into a leopard.
- Averted in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), when Glen goes outside to investigate a noise and calls "Kitty kitty?" in hopes that it is this trope at work. It's actually the film's Jerk with a Heart of Gold who jumps out and scares him.
- 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.
- Played straight in the Arnold Schwarzenegger film End of Days. The Nostalgia Critic has fun with this, making several jokes about the CAAAAAAAAAT!!
- Subverted for laughs in The 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.
- Battle: Los Angeles: The soldiers enter their first combat situation walking down a smoke covered street. They stop and take aim when they hear movement coming toward them. Turns out, it's just a dog with a weird name and it's totally okay to let their guard down.
- In Tremors, Earl stumbling in a prairie dog hole is an animal-free version of a Cat Scare. For context, by this point, the heroes realized the monsters are essentially giant Sand Worms that attack from ground and drag you under to be Eaten Alive, so Earl suddenly screaming and his leg sinking into the ground was enough to send the group into a panic before it turns into annoyance at the false alarm. A real one comes along not long afterwards though...
- 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 title's bosses (the one labelled as the "Psycho" by the posters). 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 laughs 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.
- A Seagull Scare in Godzilla (2014), during the Golden Gate Bridge scene.
- Malice: A young woman arrives home from school and can't figure out why her normally friendly cat is cowering under a chair. We soon learnhe's afraid of the intruder lurking off-screen, who promptly jumps out and attacks her.
- Midway through Elle, when Michèle thinks the rapist is coming back in the middle of the night.
- Benji: The Hunted: As Benji and the mountain lion cubs settle down for the night in a fallen tree, they hear a scratching sound above them. Suddenly, a raccoon drops down from above them, and an unimpressed Benji merely barks at it until it goes away.
- Subverted in Assassins when an Angry Guard Dog suddenly barks at the protagonist from behind a chain-link fence. If the audience jumps the protagonist doesn't flinch, showing his Nerves of Steel.
- Adrift (2018): Tami suddenly and unsafely goes cliff-jumping which scares Richard, especially as she doesnt come back up from the water. He dives in frantically looking for her, only to find her crossing her legs underwater as if she were meditating. The scare is relieved and they go back to playful swimming.
- In The Burning, a bird flying out of an outhouse scares Todd who was checking why the lights were on inside.
- In The Candy Snatchers, Sean accidentally knocks loose a plank from the kidnappers' attic. The kidnappers scramble to find him, only to see a cat and decide that there was no intruder.
- In Revenge (2017), a tightly wound Richard sits down on the couch only to leap to his feet in fright as the television comes on deafeningly loud. He nervously scouts all round the lounge room before realising he had sat on the remote control.
- A Man Called Horse: While bathing in a river, John hears cawing. He looks up in alarm, only to see a flock of geese overhead. A minute later, he's attacked by actual Indians hiding behind nearby bushes.
- Or 'monkey scare' in Primal. As Ellen is searching the lower decks for Loffler, she is startled when one of the escaped monkeys screeches and slams itself against the door of the galley.
- The Dark Crystal: Fizzgig introduces himself to Jen this way by jumping out of a hollowed tree log and startling Jen so much that he falls over.
- The rat in Marty's old locker which causes Shirley to squeal when she opens it in Slaughter High.
- Torture Garden: In "Enoch", Colin is startled when a cat jumps out of the coffin he opens. Perhaps a few moments consideration might have had him wondering what a live cat was doing inside a sealed, buried coffin...
- Cradle of Fear: Sophie jumps when she is sneaking out of the house after murdering the old man and Emma and turns around almost collides with the postman.
- In Preservation, Mike thinks he hears a noise and goes searching the edge of the camp. He hears a rustling in the bushes and goes to investigate, only to have Sean's dog Buck jump out at him.
- Deadtime Stories: In "Little Red Running Hood", after having sex in the equipment shed, Rachel and Greg hear something prowling around outside. They cautiously approach it and it suddenly opens to reveal...the groundskeeper!
- Multiple times in Dick Tracy's Dilemma, the Claw's henchman Sam is startled by one of the Claw's multitude of cats jumps out at him as he is opening a door.
- In Murder, She Said, Miss Marple opens a carriage door, expecting to find a dead body, and is startled when a chicken flies out.
- Tales of Halloween: In "Grim Grinning Ghost", Lynn has arrived home safely and is brushing her teeth: having almost convinced herself that the ghost was just a figment of her imagination. Suddenly the bathroom door swings open and she looks round in panic, only to discover that her dog has just pushed the door open.
- In Blood Harvest, Jill is exploring her house, which has recently been vandalized. She opens one of her drawers, and a cat leaps out and runs away.
- 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.
- The book Friday The 13th: Church Of The Divine Psychopath has a scene where the soldiers hunting Jason in the dark woods are all startled by a raccoon, right before Jason comes out of nowhere and attacks.
- Happens a few times in Harry Potter And The Prisonerof Azkaban. Harry is on alert for "The Grim," a spectral black dog that foreshadows death. At least twice throughout the books, Harry believes he sees it, only to realize it's only Crookshanks, Hermione's cat, although one of those times Crookshanks is immediately followed by the dog, who she's been hanging out with
- 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.
- Sherlock Holmes:
- 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.
- One of Bulgarian writer Nikolay Haytov's short stories (dubbed "Fear") is all made of this. During the 30s, a newly appointed forester goes on an inspection throughout the remote mountainous region assigned to him. He spends the night at a local's cottage and is left alone. In the middle of the night, he wakes up hearing strange clattering noises in the darkness, as if someone or something has broken into the cottage. He fires blindly with his gun and starts to hear an inexplicable ominous sound of something pouring into the pitch black room which doesn't let him sleep out of fear. In the morning, he sees a pile of grain on the floor and a hole in the wooden ceiling and it becomes clear to him that the grain was stored in the attic in the floor of which he shot a hole in his panic, so the grain started to pour down. Then he asks the host about the clattering noises that made him cause all the mess in the first place, and it's revealed they were caused by a semi-domesticated badger which was used to sneaking into the house to eat in the night and knocked some dishes on the floor.
- Trueman Bradley: In the first book, Trueman is trying to break into a warehouse when a cat runs out of the garbage behind him. He's so jumpy that he screams and drops his lockpick. Even after he sees that it's just a cat, his hands are shaking so badly that he can't finish picking the lock.
- Used in an unusual fashion in 5ive 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.
- 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.
- Likewise in Blake's 7, Vila is trying to pick the lock on an Explosive Leash around Blake's neck, when Gan makes them all jump by throwing something against the cell wall in frustration. In another episode, a technician is trying to defuse a Doomsday Device when he accidentally drops the device he was using into the circuits.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer
- There's one in the early episode "The Witch". Notable only because it was used in the credits sequence for quite a while.
- Then there's "Dead Man's Party" when the same dead cat scares Buffy twice. It's a little more animated the second time.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- A rat scare occurs in Danger: UXB. A sapper screams when he encounters a rat, just when Lieutenant Ash is about to defuse a bomb designed to blow up at the slightest touch. He is not amused.
- The end of episode 4 of the 1991 Dark Shadows has the professor scared in this way when we know Barnabas is after him.
- Doctor Who:
- "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.
- "Vincent and the Doctor" puts companion Amy in this position, seriously startling the Doctor after he'd just been chased by an invisible alien monster when he looks back around a corner and she's just tracked him down.
- Parodied in the first episode of Garth Marenghis Darkplace as, when the newly arrived psychic doctor Liz is greeted by an eldritch cat that tells her to leave, the hands that threw the cat are patently visible.
- Gotham: Happens to Leslie in "The Hammer or the Anvil", with her getting out of her bath and picking up a knife to investigate a noise in her apartment, only to discover it is only her cat.
- 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.
- 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.
- Lost has had many a Dog Scare, thanks to Vincent.
- 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.
- Parodied in the MADtv skit "Apollo the 13th: Jason Takes NASA" (in reference to Apollo 13 being released). An astronaut hears a noise and goes to investigate. Sure enough, he's relieved 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.
- Major Crimes: A couple of members of the team experience this when they are raiding a suspect's house and stumble across a cat in the otherwise deserted building in "Cashed Out".
- Played with in an early episode of Mako Mermaids: An H₂O Adventure. The mermaids are sneaking around Rita's house, intending to break in, when they're startled by a cat jumping into the window they're trying to look through. They completely freak out — because they recognize that it's a cat. For reasons that are never explained, mermaids in this show just fear cats, at least until getting used to them.
- 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.
- In the Midnight Caller episode "Watching Me, Watching You", Devon is looking around her apartment for her stalker when a cat she's taking care of meows and knocks something off the shelf behind her.
- Midsomer Murders: Happens in "A Rare Bird" when Jones is searching a taxidermy studio. One cat turns out to be alive and makes Jones jump when it moves.
- Murder, She Wrote: A cat jumps out of a closet to startle Jessica and her cousin in "Shear Madness".
- 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.
- Another episode opens with a cleaning woman getting a fright from a panicked cat... just before finding the victim of the week. The cat scared her much more than the corpse.
- In one episode, Gibbs is chasing a suspect through a mansion, and bursts into a closed room with gun drawn... only to find DiNozzo Sr. (Tony's father) and another minor character having a romantic bubble bath. It turned out that the suspect jumped off a balcony, only to be cornered by Bishop when he tries to get into his work truck.
- Salem Saberhagen from Sabrina the Teenage Witch, a wizard turned into a cat, gains the power to startle people in this manner on Friday the 13th.
- 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 doing this with a tiny Psychotic Smirk.
- 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.
- Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Catspaw". Played straight, in a Haunted Castle surrounded by an Ominous Fog, no less.
- After getting a lead on what might be a monster which hid under its victim's car, Sam responds to a sound from under a car, ducks down, and finds... a frightened cat.
- The show uses this again in season four with a cat in a locker — since Dean is under a fear curse at the time, he Screams Like a Little Girl. Hilariously.
- A Touch of Cloth:
- In Series 1, there's a crime scene where Jack is startled by a cat...jumping out of a corpse.
- In Series 3, one of the soon-to-be-victims is startled by her own cat approaching her in a man's shoes.
- Unsere Mütter, unsere Väter: When Wilhelm looks around an abandoned Russian cabin, he's disturbed by a black cat who knocks over some pans.
- Vera: In "The Moth Catcher", Hachim is searching a darkened garage when he is suddenly startled by a dog that had been sitting silently in one corner till then. This amuses Aiden greatly.
- Played straight and then averted in the Season 2 Halloween episode of Wishbone. Several years back, Joe was scared away by the Old Murphy House as a kid by a mysterious creature shrouded in darkness save for its eyes. In the present day, a scavenger hunt leads him and his friends back to that house, with a cat driving them inside due to Wishbone constantly chasing it on sight. In the end, when Joe finds the hunt's grand prize, this strange creature is revealed to be that cat...or so he believes, as The Stinger brings it back without the cat.
- The X-Files
- 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.
- 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 the Fate setting The Secret Life Of Cats, the PCs are magical cats defending their human burdens from monsters. One ability you can acquire for your cat character is essentially this.
- Silent Hill
- 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.
- There's also Larval Stalkers, which appear as vaguely toddler-shaped shadows that make your radio emit static (normally a clue that an enemy is nearby) but only harmlessly make squeaking noises before vanishing if you touch them. Not only is it going to make you good and tense, but it'll also fool you into thinking the similar-looking but very much dangerous Stalkers encountered later in the game are also harmless...
- Ravens tend to fly in out of nowhere in Silent Hill: Downpour. Also, hai doggie, didn't expect you to still be in that police cruiser.
- 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.
- 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.
- This is probably a reference to Eternal Darkness, where, amongst other things, bugs will crawl on the screen if your sanity drops low enough.
- In Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, Indy investigates a set of cat figurines on a table. Since there are four figurines, it would only be logical to click on each one and see if there is anything unique about them.
- Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines
- 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 (1995) 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 III, 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.
- Alien vs. Predator
- 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.
- In Five Nights at Freddy's 2, the old animatronics love to employ this trick: when they appear in your room, you immediately think they're gonna kill you, but then the lights go out, and when they come back on, they're gone. So, you go back to looking at the cameras, or put on your Freddy mask to be on the safe side, when REEEEEEEEAAAAAAAHHHHH-. Note
- 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 times 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.
- Inverted in Red Dead Redemption. If you see any cats around, that is your warning to run like a Kenyan sprinter. And you will only see them — they are dead silent until they pounce, at which point, you're probably already screwed.
- 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. But damn near everything 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 Batman: Arkham Origins, after Joker takes 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.
- Happens in the RPG horror game Ao Oni with an actual cat popping out from behind a bookcase that quickly leaves the room. You see immediately afterwards that he had a good reason for fleeing, as the Square Oni follows shortly after.
- Happens early in Jurassic Park: The Game, with some birds flying out of a bush. Also later on when Gerry and Jess are getting ready to leave the maintenance shed soon after having survived a T. rex versus Triceratops fight, there are horrible metallic banging and screeching sounds...which are caused by a toucan sharpening its beak on a barrel.
- Used to great effect in Spooky's Jump Scare Mansion with actual spring-loaded wooden cutouts of chibi skeletons, slime creatures, and the like. You might actually be startled by the first one and feel rather silly. After that, it's just funny and makes the whole game feel like it's going to be a parody. Then the real horrors start to show up... Next thing you know, you're on edge enough to be freaked out all over again when the same cut-out you've seen a dozen times pops up right in front of you.
- In Robin & Orchid Orchid spots a pale face which appears to be hovering outside the church basement window. When Robin photographs it, a startled cat runs off.
- The opening of Cold Fear loves this trope, having things like chains rattle or cans fall from shelves to spook the bejesus out of the player who's on-edge expecting zombies. It makes the impending actual Jump Scare that much worse.
- Metal Gear Solid has a wolf pup in the caves that makes the "!" spotted-by-guard chord when it sees you. Of course, since it's just a pup, all it does is continue to run around doing puppy things.
- Dragon Quest III: In Jipang, checking the pots in one basement causes you to discover a human head. Which turns out to be attached to the still very much alive body of a young girl hiding out in there to avoid being sacrificed.
- Spirit Hunter: NG:
- Near the beginning of the game, after receiving a strange black postcard, Akira's doorbell rings despite him seeing no-one through the peephole. What at first seems to be the working of something supernatural turns out to be his friend Seiji pulling a harmless prank on him.
- In the Screaming Author case, Akira returns home to see that his apartment light is on. He's naturally cautious, since he's already being haunted by a spirit. It turns out to be his companion Rosé, who broke into his house to meet him.
- Your Turn to Die: After sleeping in class and realizing that she needs to go home, Sara Chidouin notices someone in the distance. Cue an Ominous Visual Glitch, a foreboding "Someone's there..." by Sara, and a Smash to Black, all with a Drone of Dread... and the figure's up in her face with a casual "Whatcha doin', Sara?". Meet Joe Tazuna.
- Happens twice in El Goonish Shive, parodied and justified at once — Jeremy is not a kitty to be trifled with. Especially the second time, when he was defending his territory. And again, with another hedgecat.
- Lampshaded during Schlocktoberfest 2007.
- Girl Genius has a pre-scared kid seeing this:
Itto Wheelwright: Whaaaaassspp!!
- In Blue Yonder, Lena has actually injured the attackers before. Then she throws something in their midst. They scatter -- and realize they fled a 15-year-old girl with a cell phone when it starts to play music.
- In Stand Still, Stay Silent, Emil and Sigrun are looking through a supposedly-abandoned school when they hear the sound of something coming. It's just a deer. They're so relieved they forget to shoot it for a dinner.
- Done in This◊ strip from OTA Comics, which then shows why you can't always trust what you see.
- 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's Grass 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.
- The Nostalgia Critic:
- As noted in Film, mocked repeatedly by the Critic, starting from the End of Days review, with "CAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT!" .
- When The Cinema Snob guest-starred in the Leprechaun review, he joined in with "Doooooog!", which the Nostalgia Critic forbade him to do.
- Changed around in his review of Jaws 3D. When the music builds up, only to show a random fish, the Critic went "CAAAAAAA— I mean, FIIIIIIIISH!!!!"
- In his review of Twister, Critic sees a close-up of a horse popping up, which makes him stare for a second before shouting "HOOOOOOORSE!!!"
- 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.
- Markiplier cat-scared his audience in his video "Are Jumpscares Really Scary?" after building tension by staring into his cam for almost a minute, then cutting to him in his regular studio and going "Ha, ha, you expected a juuump-scaaare!!"
- In Critical Role, Caleb has his cat Frumpkin give Beau and Fjord one after they sneak into the secret meeting at The Leaky Tap in Zadash.
- Lampshaded in Arthur:
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.
- When the Gaang first sees Momo in Avatar: The Last Airbender.
- 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.
- Lampshaded by Mr. Pricklepants in Toy Story of Terror! when they're watching the horror movie.