Halloween is just around the corner. Spooks, Goblins, thing that go bump in the night – things that gives you the chills and make you scream.
What’s the screams of all screams? Ever heard of the Wilhelm Scream? It started out quite mundanely as a stock sound effect for film. Originally recorded in 1951 for a movie called the Distant Drums, it was to be used for a scene wherein a group of soldiers are wading through the Everglades Swamp, and one of them is bitten and dragged underwater by ferocious alligator.
In most cases, these sound effects are recycled a few times in various productions, then shelved and forgotten in the Studio’s library archives. But not this scream. Like Freddy Kruger, this one didn’t go away.
During the 1970′s, motion picture sound designer Ben Burtt was doing research in the Warner Brothers sound library when he came across a studio reel, labelled as “Man being eaten by alligator” which he incorporated into a scene in the Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. Burtt is noted for creating many of the iconic sound effects heard in the Star Wars film franchise, including the “voice” of R2-D2, the hum of the lightsaber and the heavy-breathing kuhhhhh-kkohhhh sound of Darth Vader. Burtt is also credited for dubbing this scream, the Wilhelm Scream, after Private Wilhelm - a character in a 1953 Western called The Charge at Feather River, where Private Wilhelm gets shot by an arrow in the leg and lets out this scream.
Over the next decade, Burtt began incorporating the effect in other films he worked on, including most projects involving George Lucas or Steven Spielberg (it is used in all of the Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies). Other sound designers picked up on the effect, and inclusion of the Wilhelm scream in films became a tradition (actually more like an inside joke) amongst the community of sound designers.* A cinematic sound cliche, the Wilhelm scream is often used when someone is shot, falls from a great height, or is thrown from an explosion.
The research by Burtt suggests that actor and singer Sheb Wooley, best known for his novelty song “The Purple People Eater” in 1958, is likely to have been the voice actor who originally performed the scream. (Source: Wikipedia).
So in honour of Halloween, Sheb Wooley and the Wilhelm Scream, here’s our small tribute to it all. Long Live the Scream!
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