Halloween is upon us, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll want to watch a few scary movies to help celebrate. This year, I wanted to have a kind of theme to the spooky madness, so I decided to watch movies that have at least one thing in common–the Wilhelm scream.
The Wilhelm scream is an iconic sound effect that’s been used in dozens of films that have little else in common. It was originally used in a film called “Distant Drums” starring the late, great Gary Cooper. The “scream” can be heard when a character is torn to pieces by an alligator. There’s nothing particularly amazing about the scream, and it might have languished in obscurity had it not been for Star Wars sound wizard Ben Burtt.
Hollywood Lost and Found offers up an interesting blog post on Burtt’s fascination with the scream. Burtt had been hired to create the sound effects for Star Wars (the original). While at Warner Bros. Studios hunting for different effects, “he found the original “Distant Drums” scream.” Burtt called it the Wilhelm scream in honor of the character that bellowed the scream in another movie called “Charge at Feather River.”
In the years since Burtt first inserted the scream into Star Wars (you can hear it when Luke Skywalker shoots a Storm Trooper in the Death Star), the sound designer has put it in a slew of other films, including the Star Wars sequels, and “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” But Burtt isn’t the only audio expert to slip it into films. Other sound designers have used it in films ranging from “Batman Returns” to “There’s Something About Mary” to “Aladdin.” Indeed, the Wilhelm Scream has become one of Hollywood’s ultimate “in-jokes.” Or maybe it’s just a cliche. Either way, you can watch a compilation of many of the screams here.
So, what Wilhelm films will I be watching on Halloween? Surprisingly, not that many of ‘em are horror flicks. However, “Poltergeist” definitely hits the mark. And, if I get desperate, I can always watch “Howard the Duck.” That one’s about as scary as they get.
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