The Wilhelm Scream
January 3, 2003 11:24 AM   Subscribe

Do you know this scream? Originally labeled in studio reels in 1951 as Man Being Eaten by Alligator, the sound effect now known as the Wilhelm has turned up in dozens of films; sound designers have made a game out of sneaking it past the director's notice. This NPR feature (includes link to RealAudio file) tells much of the story of the Wilhelm Scream. Or you could just watch the best of Wilhelm, compliled in this (27MB) video compilation (read the making-of here). (By the way -- an orc in The Two Towers lets out a Wilhelm as he falls to his death.)
posted by argybarg (45 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
i suppose we have George Lucas to thank..... star wars and indiana jones series
posted by Satapher at 11:31 AM on January 3, 2003

Yes, yes, yes, I know that scream! Awesome link, argybarg. I was just talking about this the other day, I thought it was hilarious that it showed up in Two Towers.
posted by Ty Webb at 11:35 AM on January 3, 2003

Well crap, I'll never be able to watch any movie again without listening for this. Gee thanks a lot argybarg!
posted by KnitWit at 11:49 AM on January 3, 2003

Gee, thanks for taking all the magic out of it, man. Sound editing, blue screens, cg characters, stock recorded scream effects, pah. (Fingers in ears, humming lah lah lah) It's all real... it's all real... It's all real...
posted by jokeefe at 11:49 AM on January 3, 2003

This reminds me of the Harlan Ellison short story "Laugh Track", where a man's Aunt is trapped for eternity within a foley artist's reel to reel tapes.
posted by machaus at 11:51 AM on January 3, 2003

I suspected something like this was the case... that scream shows up a little too often to be a coincidence. Thanks for the link, argybarg.
posted by RylandDotNet at 11:52 AM on January 3, 2003

so cool
posted by putzface_dickman at 11:53 AM on January 3, 2003

I love movies, and I go see more than my fair share, but I'm stunned & impressed by those of you (Ryland, Ty) who knew this scream from casual film watching. Foley obsessive fanatics!

Great link, BTW!
posted by jonson at 12:16 PM on January 3, 2003

Before I clicked the link, I was thinking of another scream that appears everywhere. It is in the game Doom. It is also in Jedi Knight and I've heard it in a hundred other TV series and movies. Does anyone know of the scream of which I speak? It is heavy on the reverb and is usually used during a great fall. Or maybe it's less a scream and more a yell.
posted by eyeballkid at 12:21 PM on January 3, 2003

As an adolescent I would regularly check out from the library the various BBC Sound Effects Library records and tapes. I got to know them quite well, and it's still funny to hear them today. Like "that one baby cry".

They're available today in that ever-so-handy CD form of course, from here, for example. (Quick Google search, I've no idea if this company is reliable, I have no connection with them, etc. etc.) I don't know if they still have the "Death & Horror" series, which was my favorite. The ghoulish artwork just added to the experience of listening to cabbages being molested in various ways.
posted by SiW at 12:28 PM on January 3, 2003

On a related, um, note, has a great list of audio cliches.
posted by dchase at 12:37 PM on January 3, 2003

i'd noticed them too. great link!
posted by sixtwenty3dc at 12:54 PM on January 3, 2003

There are two more sounds that show up again and again--in commercials, in movies, in television shows. One of them is a "large hydraulic door opening" sound that I first heard in Doom--you know the sound if you played the game--and the other is a more artificial sort of sound, kind of like a mellow electronic bubble sound, which I first heard in the original X-Com game. Anyone else recognize these?
posted by KiloHeavy at 12:58 PM on January 3, 2003

Uh, Wilhelm scream? What are you on about?

This is clearly just James Brown doing a soundcheck.

Kiloheavy: More Doom SFX trivia.. the exploding barrel sound from Doom features numerous times in 'Where Boys Fear To Tread' by The Smashing Pumpkins.
posted by wackybrit at 1:02 PM on January 3, 2003

I've also noticed that the "doom door" sound is everywhere.
posted by reverendX at 1:03 PM on January 3, 2003

One of them is a "large hydraulic door opening" sound that I first heard in Doom--you know the sound if you played the game

I was going to mention that. I don't know how many times I've heard that sound in places other than Doom but I'm pretty sure Doom's the first place I heard it.
posted by DyRE at 1:03 PM on January 3, 2003

Like KnitWit, I don't think I'm ever going to be able to *not* hear that scream again, especially after watching that quicktime video compilation. However, I think this is hilarious, and a great post - thanks!
posted by scribblative at 1:09 PM on January 3, 2003

Cool post! I when I saw the Two Towers a few weeks ago, I just knew I heard that Helm's Deep scream before.
posted by Tacodog at 1:11 PM on January 3, 2003

Roller Coaster Tycoon is full of sounds that I hear other places. There's a crowd sound that's also in "Mission Impossible 2" (the Tom Cruise movie). And there's some commercial for, I think, some kind of dog starts with a little kid playing with a little puppy and there's a child's laughter sound that's also in Roller Coaster Tycoon (mostly when the peeps get off a roller coaster they really like.)
posted by dnash at 1:40 PM on January 3, 2003

GREAT LINK!! I heard it in TT and recognized it right away... I was just wondering about the history! thanks! nice quicktime too. fun.
posted by tomplus2 at 2:02 PM on January 3, 2003

Love the filmsound link, dchase. The red-tailed hawk screech is all over the place, even in a recent commercial for the Bat-Wing rollercoaster at Six Flags, IIRC.
posted by MrMoonPie at 2:15 PM on January 3, 2003

Thanks for the link to the compendium, argybarg. Before hearing about the Wilhelm, I had always associated that scream with the film Them!, mostly because it seemed like such an uncharacteristic noise to come out of James Whitmore...even if he was being snacked on by a giant ant.
posted by LinusMines at 2:30 PM on January 3, 2003

One of them is a "large hydraulic door opening" sound that I first heard in Doom--you know the sound if you played the game

Is it Doom or Marathon? I coulda sworn it was Marathon.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 2:32 PM on January 3, 2003

Think Aliens for another uber-copied door sound.
posted by NortonDC at 2:45 PM on January 3, 2003

One of Brian De Palma's best movies, Blow Out, (check out the great Pino Donaggio soundtrack) is about the search for the perfect movie scream (SPOILER WARNING -- the final part of the story in the last link gives away the movie's ending, by all means watch the film if you haven't yet)
posted by matteo at 2:53 PM on January 3, 2003

The igniting-flame and screams from The Prophecy are everywhere, too. Command and Conquer used them heavily, and I don't think there's been a movie trailer released in the last four years that doesn't use some of them...
posted by Jairus at 3:34 PM on January 3, 2003

Thanks for the wilhelm audio link! I'd been looking for one for ages. I know that long-ass scream from Jedi Knight, I used to have an extracted audio file of it. I know it's on one of my music CDs as well, during a segue, so maybe I'll rip that and post it somewhere...
posted by anildash at 3:44 PM on January 3, 2003

There's a scream I always recognize, usually used when a guy is set on fire... it's the sound a baddie makes in 007 Goldeneye for N64 when you run him over in the tank. A sort of multi-level scream, like, "AAAhhaAAahhhaahhh!" Yeah.

Anyone else remember the "robot" sound pack for Windows 95? Those must have been stock sounds because I hear them in low-budget sci-fi all the time.
posted by kevspace at 3:45 PM on January 3, 2003

That Wilhelm video compilation was really entertaining, thanks for the great link.

And lupus_yonderboy, i always associated that sound with Marathon as well. Weird.
posted by quin at 3:57 PM on January 3, 2003

How about the "whoosh" from DOOM that was also a weapon sound in Alpha Centauri, town portal in Diablo, and several movies/tv shows (can't think of specific examples unfortunately)?
posted by Foosnark at 4:20 PM on January 3, 2003

If by "whoosh", you mean "schwomp-fshhh" (behold my sound-to-text skills) then I'd also love to know where that comes from. The boss at the end of Doom II makes that sound when he fires rockets, and since hearing there, I must have heard it in hundreds, er, well tens of films, at least.
posted by Mwongozi at 5:13 PM on January 3, 2003 [1 favorite]

I'd add a sound to the cliché list: women in movies always grunt when doing anything which requires the least amount of muscular effort. It's a helpless, pathetic sound, with slight sexual undertones.
posted by Mo Nickels at 5:23 PM on January 3, 2003

For anyone interested, here is one of the doom door sounds, here is another.

i'm still looking for the one from Marathon, but this seems to be a pretty good resource. (follow the link 'sound effects' to 'science fiction' to doors...)
posted by quin at 5:26 PM on January 3, 2003

Found the sounds. On this page, the "Lift start" and "Lift stop" sounds, when combined, are the door opening sounds I'm thinking of ... I think. Now that I hear them, they sound a little different, but ... well, those are the sounds. Still looking for the X-Com sound.

Re: Marathon vs. Doom as the origin of this sound: Doom was out in the third quarter of 1993, and Marathon won the MacWorld Best Game for 1995. Looks like the sound originated with (or before) Doom.
posted by KiloHeavy at 5:41 PM on January 3, 2003

Every screen door in the movies makes a sound as it closes that I have never heard from a real screen door. Hearing it yanks me out of my suspension-of-disbelief state every time.
posted by teg at 6:16 PM on January 3, 2003

The Doom door opening sounds have been used a lot, but the "Boss Spit" effect gets around, too. I seem to hear it a lot, especially just the first [swoosh]. I always think of the end of Doom II when I hear it, mostly because it took me a while to get past that level.

Going to see The Two Towers again tomorrow, and I'll be on the listenout for the Wilhelm. I'm sure it will stick out.

Great post. (Sorry to be late to it.)
posted by jmcmurry at 9:50 PM on January 3, 2003 [1 favorite]

I don't recall the Wilhelm scream, but it's certainly amusing to see just many films to date that have utilized it since its creation.

I know I can recognize another familiar scream; a man making a a deep, guttural yell, like "rrrrrRRRRAAAAAAHHHH!!!" It's used for when the drug dealer falls off the roof in The Basketball Diaries, and dozens of other films and video games. I wish I could find a link to it, because it's so prevalent that my mind can't get past it when I hear it used in another movie. It must be one of those common "public domain" sound effects.
posted by Down10 at 11:32 PM on January 3, 2003

There's an extremely annoying sound-effect something like a bubbly child's laugh that seems to be used quite frequently. I expect that it's another Star-Wars-related effect, as it's used in The Phantom Menace.

Once you recognise 'em there's no going back; you'll hear them everywhere.
posted by Paragon at 2:29 AM on January 4, 2003

A couple that I've heard TOO often:
That sound of a car driving over a road blaring out it's horn which undergoes the doppler effect.

And one of a baby gurgling a cutesy "AH-ahhh!" which severely grates.

As for DooM, don't you remember those WADs that substituted the sounds with the Star Trek and Hitch Hikers Guide To The Galaxy sound effects?

Oh, and the original barrel blast from Doom was on the Smashing Pumpkins' Mellon Collie album, with sample credit and all, probably as a nod to the the IDSPISPOPD cheat (Smashing Pumpkins Into Small Piles Of Putrid Debris), which itself stemmed from a meme started up by people on Usenet getting impatient for DooM to come out. Heh. My, this is getting a tad off-topic...
posted by GrahamVM at 6:47 AM on January 4, 2003

Coming from a totally different background.... there is one 'I'm falling' scream done by Pinto Colvig that has appeared in any number of Disney films, cartoons, and even some live films. It's Goofy's Yodel of 'Ya who who whooooo', but Pinto Colvig was the original voice of that scream.
posted by IndigoSkye at 11:11 AM on January 4, 2003

On a totally unrelated note, does anyone else find the "X let out a Y" phrasing to be irritating?
posted by kavasa at 3:00 PM on January 4, 2003

Those links to wavs on don't seem to work for me, I get bounced to the front page.
posted by Mwongozi at 6:44 PM on January 4, 2003

I bow with reverence to the majesty of this thread.
posted by ZachsMind at 9:55 PM on January 4, 2003

Posts like this are EXACTLY why I keep reading Metafilter.
posted by mmoncur at 12:10 AM on January 5, 2003

I used to have The Thrilling Chilling Sounds of the Haunted House, mentioned in a link earlier in this thread. Way fun album. Wish I still had it.
posted by atholbrose at 12:03 PM on January 5, 2003

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