The Wilhelm Scream
Wednesday/June/17 2009 Filed in: Entertainment / Media
"Not an Ouch. A Real Scream..."
Since the Harry Truman Administration, this iconic scream has been the shriek heard round the world, appearing in over 140 movies -- and counting.
Hollywood sound editor, Steve Lee, thought to be the responsible for the cult status of the Wilhelm Scream, explains that during the shooting of the 1951 film, Distant Drums, a scream was dubbed into a Jaws-like scene where a man was attacked by an alligator.
The director made it clear he didn't want an ouch, he wanted a real scream. The actor gave his all on the fifth take and the rest is history.
Wherefore Art Thou, Wilhelm?
But it was the 1953 film Charge at Feather River that gave the scream the name that would stay with it for over half a century.
In one scene, a man on horseback, identified as Wilhelm, gets an arrow in the leg. When Wilhelm cries out, it's the scream from Distant Drums that you hear. Not only that, the same scream was used in at least two additional action scenes in the movie.
Why is Wilhelm Still Screaming?
Sound editors who got a kick out of the deathly triple-tone scream began sneaking it into other movies as an industry-wide inside joke.
Then Ben Burtt, the sound design specialist for Star Wars and Indiana Jones, started using the scream in every George Lucas blockbuster. Before long, everybody wanted to get on the Wilhelm bandwagon.
The scream became the tongue-in-cheek go-to-sound effect for nearly every movie character who falls to his death.
Chrisofduke offers an excellent YouTube compilation of the Wilhelm Scream that begins with its three uses in Charge at Feather River.
Snappygalbladder offers the YouTube compilation below that includes a couple of the same scenes as above, but really underscores the range of movies that have used this famous piece of audio.
This compilation even includes a bonus song about the Wilhelm Scream during the closing credits:
Who Recorded the Original Wilhelm Scream?
Actually no one is really sure but Steve Lee believes it was Sheb Wooley. Sheb had a minor role in Distant Drums but also did a lot of movie scream-work on the side.
The Wilhelm Scream wouldn't be Sheb Wooley's only claim to fame. JohnnyThunderzzz reminds us that Sheb was a one-hit-wonder in 1958 with the song Purple People Eater.
Have you heard the Wilhelm Scream in a movie or television show lately? Let Apocalypzia know.