FEAR WHAT YOU HEAR. HORROR – IT’S A QUESTION OF SOUND

What we see in a horror movie can create an impact, but that is augmented by ambience and tone. A good visual effect is one thing and a movie can be made or broken by its visual effects. Sure, we need to use our imagination – to a point, but if you are faced with poor effects, then this hampers the ability to imagine beyond what you can physically see.

But what about sound, what about the audio effects?  The creaking of the door or floor boards; the whoosh of a blade;  the dun dun dun accompanying the approach of a great white shark.  Could a character’s voice in a horror movie be considered a sound effect if that character is non human? The voice, the right, tone and pitch can create the right tension and ambience.

   

There are classic effects that I suppose we all associate with horror movies such as – crows, bats, sardonic laughing, creaking doors and floorboards – generic sounds that we all hear outside of a sinister setting, but inserted into a movie at just a right time, that sound effect that would otherwise seem quite innocuous can have a chilling effect.

Many directors rely on sound effects to compensate for an absence of visual stimuli. Sometimes, what you don’t see can be more disturbing than what you do, especially when that visual – dare I say deprivation, is accompanied by a sound that hints at what you should be seeing.

It’s easier for the brain to assimilate sound than it is sight and can literally have a physical impact on us.

Sounds can trigger fear more effectively than imagery. Think about the battle-cry of warriors on the field on the march to an enemy.

There are slow-build, creaks and whooshes and whispers that can create an escalating tension. But what about the simple bang of a drum or the screech of a violin, paced at the right moment in a movie. These kinds of sounds trigger the “startle reflex”  and a physical reaction –  jumping out of your seat kind of response. The creators of horrors rely on non-linear sounds such as alternating frequencies and disharmonious sounds.

Below are just a few of my favourite effects, and that – to a point includes beats, within a music composition that are used to elicit a specific reaction of emotion.

 

JAWS 1975

The less is more concept works perfectly in this movie and we often become aware of the great white’s presence only by that legendary, der-num, der-num accompaniment as the shark swoops in toward its next victim.

 

A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984)

“Actually, they were more like finger-knives or something; something he’d made himself. They made a horrible sound…”

-And Nancy was right: what a delightfully, horrible sound those blades made. The Ka-ching as Freddy clicked a bladed finger at his victim – the taunt of his finger-knives screeching across metal and stone before tearing flesh.

 

MIMIC (1997)

The rapid-fire clicks of the Judas-creature sound almost pleasant and alluring (as one autistic child soon learns) Until you learn about the source of that sound, until you realise that they herald the approach of death, delivered by something that should never have existed.

 

JURASSIC PARK (1993)

Don’t move! He can’t see us if we don’t move.”

True or not – the roar of the T-Rex alone is enough to shake anyone from their boots with fear, regardless of the shear size and ferocity of the beast. Thanks to special effects expert Stan Winston and a combination of sounds from a baby elephant to an alligator, we have one of the best monster sounds in any movie I’ve ever seen.

 

THE EXORCIST (1973)

The film that terrified millions… including me. Spinning heads aside, that inhuman growl issuing from young Regan’s body is truly harrowing. It really demonstrates the pure evil of this demonic possession.

 

(*Featured image is from Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio)

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Colin Durrant

C. G. Durrant – a reader, writer, and… err… watcher of horror. Not necessarily in that order or at the same time. Favourite horror composer is Clive Barker.