Since first being revived in such cornerstones of geek culture as Star Wars and the Indiana Jones series, the so-called Wilhelm Scream has become the most egregious movie cliché in existence. Originally recorded for the 1951 film Distant Drums, the stock sound effect cropped up a few times thereafter to no great avail. But once it was adopted by a whole new generation of sound designers decades later, it spread everywhere. The distinctive scream, originally labeled as “man being eaten by alligator,” has appeared in hundreds of movies, TV shows, video games and commercials. Today, it’s the most shamelessly overused sound effect in popular culture.
And it offends me to my core.
It was cute for a while. Maybe for the first ten years. Less so in the second ten. Not so much in the third. Now we’re entering the fourth decade of being beaten over the head with it and it has long-since lost its status as a cool in-joke. In-jokes don’t work when everyone is in on the joke.
These days I count how many consecutive movies I watch in which it appears. When I hear it, it takes me right out of the film. Instead of thinking “Hey, what a cool action scene,” I’m thinking, “There’s that fucking scream again.”
Sound engineers, get yourselves a new in-joke. Call it the Wilhelm Sneeze, the Wilhelm Belch, the Wilhelm Vaginal Fart. Whatever. It’s time for audio techies to emerge from their cork-wall cubicles, go out into the world, and record some new sounds. Noise is happening all the time. Point a mike at some of it.
And if you want a good new scream, try recording me the next time I have to listen to old Wilhelm holler two or three times in a single movie.
The second season of Kid vs. Kat has finished airing, meaning all nine of my new episodes are out there in the world. Snoop around on YouTube, and you’ll find them. I’d post some direct links, but I’m waiting for my DVD copies to arrive from the production company. My plan is to force a screening upon friends at an opportune movie night when they least expect it. If I start pointing people at online streams, they’ll end up watching them in their own good time, robbing me of my control-freak high.
Viewing the final episodes was interesting. I finished my work on the season over a year ago now, and although I remember some of the shows I wrote very well, others had slipped my mind. I could recall most of the major plot details, but found myself spot-checking my scripts to confirm I actually wrote the jokes that made me laugh.
Turns out I’m a pretty funny guy. Who knew?