Screaming Bloody Murder



The Wilhelm scream is, as you may know, a stock sound effect that’s been used in hundreds of movies, beginning in 1951 in the film Distant Drums when a soldier is bitten and then dragged underwater by an alligator. It is likely voiced by Sheb Wooley (best known for his one-hit wonder “The Purple People Eater”) and named after Private Wilhelm, a character in the 1953 western The Charge at Feather River who gets shot with an arrow (but this was already the 3rd movie to use the effect).

The Wilhelm was re-discovered by sound designer Ben Burtt (it was a reel labeled unforgettably as “Man being eaten by alligator”), who incorporated it into a little film he was working on called Star Wars. And then he kept on throwing it into all kinds of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg productions over the next decade until other sound designers picked it up and made it a tradition, or almost an in-joke among the industry. In fact when it appears in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, it’s when a man is being eaten by an alligator. In-joke on an in-joke? Today it’s used religiously by Peter Jackson, Quentin Tarantino, and Tim Burton. You can hear it in Titanic, Inglorious Basterds, Spiderman, Planet of the Apes, Despicable Me, Sin City, and a hundred more.

Lesser known is the Howie scream, which made its debut in the 1980 film The Ninth Configuration but got its name from Howie Long’s death scene in the movie Broken Arrow. Its common labels Gut-wrenching scream, and Fall into distance give you some idea of how it’s popularly used.

Some of my favourite screams on film:

Janet Leigh in Psycho. Unforgettable.

Susan Backlinie in the opening sequence of Jaws. It’s gurgly and gasping and totally desperate.

Ronald Lacey in Raiders of the Lost Ark. There are lots of good Nazi screams in this movie, but Lacey’s final scream is classic. The burble at the end as he’s melting? Ooof. Brutal.

Margaret Hamilton as the wicked witch in The Wizard of Oz. I don’t know if it’s a scream so much as a shriek but it pierces the ear unlike any other before or since.

Donald Sutherland in Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Remember his last pod scream? Of course you do. Fuck.

Shelley Duvall in The Shining. That poor woman. Her scream is so visceral you might be led to believe she didn’t quite trust Jack Nicholson with that ax.

fay-wray-king-kong-1933Fay Wray is the scream queen for sure throughout the entirety of King Kong. Just watch her facial contortions and body language as she gives the alarm over and over again.

Now I’m not sure that you’re the equal of Fay Wray, but if you’re anywhere close, now’s your chance to prove it.

Andrew J.D. Robinson is a powerhouse director, producer, and all-round film-industry juggernaut to the city of Ottawa, and one of his many current projects is a Scream Queen contest as part of his 15 Seconds of Horror Film Challenge.

He’s looking for entries from one and all, so if you have a camera and a vocal cord (or two), you’re good to go. All you have to do is unleash your inner murder victim. One loud, terrorized, blood-curling scream, and you’re done. Andrew’s assembling them all into what I can only imagine will be the most alarming montage in movie history.

So do your best – or your worst – and send them to Andrew at workobeyfilms @ by October 21st and be sure to include any social media of yours you’d like to be linked to. And then please god send it to us. Post them right here in the comments.


36 thoughts on “Screaming Bloody Murder

  1. kmSalvatore

    Fantastic!!! And I gotta laugh, I just finished watching the shinning and Shelly screaming;))) , yes I’ve started my hibernation… It’s freaking cold here!!!! Well I’m sure u have the same weather;) after all we r just across the lake from each other . Movies movies movies…. I’m making a list… Just for you;)


  2. filmfunkel

    Brilliant! For years I’ve been aware of the Wilhelm scream and seriously entertained putting a time at the end of each review when the scream happens (…it happens in that many of the films I watch). 😀


    1. Jay Post author

      Oh my gosh, I hope you do! Crank the windows open!
      Matt did his in our office, which was hilarious.
      Our coworker said it made her toes vibrate!

      I really wanted to do it in the back parking lot, to see if we could scare the birds out of their trees, but then we’d have missed the vibrating toes.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Sarah Ferguson

        It is a great tradition – food and booze and good company in a parking lot is something I can always get behind! And being from Wisconsin, it isn’t football-limited – baseball, concerts, races, weddings – anywhere with parking lots and loose rules about open containers!

        (Oh, and it was college football this weekend – my fave place to tailgate).


    1. Jay Post author

      I feel like I never had screaming days. Like, I don’t think I have it in me. But I must have once, because aren’t all little girls screamy? But now when I’m scared, I go mad-quiet. As in, angry quiet, not crazy quiet. Although maybe both come to think of it.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Liz A.

    The thought just makes my throat seize up. Of course, that might be because I’m getting over a cold, and a scream would turn into a coughing fit right about now.


  4. Christopher

    Thank goodness I’m not losing my mind. I thought I was hearing the same scream over and over. But my favorite scream comes from the movie Krull. It’s not technically a scream but the weird noise the Slayers make when killed is a sound effect I’ve heard used in other films.
    It hasn’t been used enough to be an inside-joke, though, since it’s pretty specific.


  5. ruth

    I’m not a horror fan so I don’t know what my fave scream would be, I think that one from Psycho is definitely a classic. Great trivia there about Ben Burtt!


    1. Jay Post author

      I’m not into horror either, which is why my list is everything but! I’m sure a much better list could be compiled by any lover of that genre.

      Actually, one of the reasons I may hate horrror is that I just can’t listen to an hour and a half of high-pitch screaming.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. solosocial

    The fascinating thing about the “Psycho” trailer, which features that unforgettable scream, is that the actress screaming in it is not Janet Leigh, but Vera Miles. This may have been done on purpose–Hitchcock used every ploy possible to keep people confused, until they actually saw the film.



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