The startle reflex is potentiated when anticipating emotional, compared to neutral, pictures. This study investigated the time course of reflex modulation during anticipation and the impact of informative cuing on picture perception. Colors were used to signal the thematic content of emotional and neutral scenes; blink response modulation was measured by presenting acoustic startle probes 3, 2, or 1 s before picture onset or 2 s after picture onset. During anticipation of neutral scenes, blink magnitude showed increasing attenuation as picture onset approached, consistent with a modality-directed vigilance account. Conversely, when anticipating emotional scenes, reflex magnitude did not change over time, and blinks elicited closest to picture onset were potentiated compared to neutral. During perception, the expected reflex potentiation for unpleasant pictures was not found, suggesting that cuing may dampen defensive activation.