Analysis and Discussion

Papa Bacchus talks the importance of sound in Horror

Hey all, Papa Bacchus here, comin’ at ya to talk SOUND in Horror! Its a topic near and dear to my heart, so I’ll also be throwin up my top films of the 2000s where sound and music were the star, to give you some examples. I was inspired to put this post together following my screening of The Babadook, a really original film that used sound in a completely unique way.

Yeah, yeah, you can argue that there are many pieces to a decent horror movie, that all must be present in order to guarantee a good composition. However, I’ve seen a relative shit ton of horror over the last decade (that’s the scientific measurement there), with films ranging in budget from pocket change to AAA studio dinero, and I can honestly say that even the most modest flick, with attention given to sound design and atmospherics, can trump a major studio production any day.

Ugh thats wordy. I need another fuckin drink.

Paranormal Activity 1 (and 2 and 3, arguably)

All the movies I reference in this article are relatively questionable as to quality. I’m not here to debate that. They are, however, relatively popular movies that most of you will have seen.

Whew. This one is ALL about sound. Honestly, without their single sound cue, the first movie would have died in the box offices. If you’ve seen the films you know the sound – the building rumble that reaches to a crescendo and informs the viewer ‘shit is about to go down’. Its an obvious formula, but it works – so well I found myself straining my eyes every time I heard anything, desperately searching for that ‘thing’ that was gonna happen, or move, or whatever. It made for a very tense, very enjoyable viewing experience

Watch this scene on mute. Do you give a fuck?

 

The Grudge

Again – this film is largely sound. While there are plenty of jump scares and decent visuals, what stays with you is ‘the’ sound. You know the one i’m talking about.

I know its a remake. I know there’ll be plenty of bitching and judging me for picking it. I know its got a 39% on rotten tomatoes. However, I also know it did and still does scare the light loving fuck out of me, and if I even hear that fucking noise I dribble in my pants.

What would the grudge be without its near perfect sound effect design? Check out the Grudge 3. It ain’t pretty.

Silent Hill

Transitioning away from movies that focus exclusively on sound effects to drive their terror, I found Silent Hill to be an excellent combination of both SFX and music. The soundtrack is haunting, and the sound design itself is perfectly evocative of the games (though you will still appreciate it without having played).

The snapping of the nurses limbs, the grinding of pyramid head’s blade, and that god forsaken siren. Still gives me shivers.

The soundtrack, by contrast, is subdued, setting a mood and establishing an unsettling atmosphere that puts the viewer on edge, which is critical in the moments between the action.

 

Sinister

This one I won’t debate the quality of. While the other’s I’ve discussed so far are pretty poorly received, Sinister is easily one of the best movies I’ve seen this decade. I have never been so thoroughly UPSET by a movie, or emotionally distraught. And I can honestly say that its ALL the soundtrack. Seriously damn near perfect, it sets off every scene, ramping up the energy exquisitely with excellent payoff.

 

Lords of Salem

I’m including this explicitly because the track drove this movie. While I personally found it to be a bit overdone and unoriginal, the song itself IS the movie, and for that it must be considered. Such a brief track, no more than 20-30 seconds looped, its effective in its simplicity. Surrounded by the effect it has on women, and the visuals Rob Zombie throws in to accompany it, its truly one of the few films I know that finds success in a single track.

Conclusions

Sound is the bread and butter of horror. The squishy thud you hear when the killer drives his knife home, the eerie track that turns an empty street into a Highway to Hell pregnant with potential, the audio cue that reminds you no one is safe and anything can happen – Horror is ALL ABOUT atmosphere, and true skill is creating that, no matter your resources.

Now, what do YOU think? Is sound as important as I make it out to be? Do you have any better examples?


 

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3 replies »

  1. I can honestly say that the sound effects coupled to an original driving score is the number one compliment to above average cinematography; that an insipid script, weak direction, sophomoric acting, can be saved by image & sound editing; as per a couple of the films you use as example. What would THE EXORCIST have been without that incredible score & frightening sound effects? Ditto for THE OMEN. Of course, when the score is pedestrian, & the sound effects stock & lame, the opposite is true; the film falls on its ass. Bernard Herrmann’s work in PSYCHO has been copied, rearranged, borrowed, & stolen for 40+ years. One of the things in the 60’s that blew me away, getting into Samurai films through Kurosawa, was the sound effects as those sharp swords were stabbing, hacking, & decapitating foes; the old
    sharp blade stabbed into a raw roast sounds, a blade whizzing through the air just before it slices flesh & breaks bone; wow, blood-curdling. All shamelessly copied by the makers of SAW, NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, HALLOWEEN, & FRIDAY THE 13TH. The whole of Slasher Cinema seemed to morph out of the Japanese Yakuza & Samurai tradition, & the excellent sound effects pioneered by them; ditto for the Japanese leading the way in cinematography in the 50’s.

    Liked by 1 person

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