ByMarlon McDonald, writer at
Umm... are you going to drink that Skooma?
Marlon McDonald

In whatever film, TV show or video game you may be indulging in, have you noticed that the same distinctive sounds keep popping up? Like when kids are playing off-screen and you recognize the annoying giggling. Or when an ominous looking mansion comes into view and the same clap of thunder echoes through its stoney and lonesome halls.

Well that's because due to the sheer expense of making movies, usually to cut costs, or by complete accident, sound editors will recycle the same old sounds for the same old situations.

This has become a running gag in movie geek circles, and has seen a resurgence in the usage of these sounds, particularly in the movies of Quentin Tarantino, and other hyper-nerdy auteurs.

Reckon you'll recognize a few? Come and have a listen:

1. The Wilhelm Scream

First used in 1951 western Distant Drums starring Gary Cooper, the Wilhelm Scream is the veritable holy grail of stock sound effects. Used primarily by old Warner Bros. features, it was created with the purpose of sounding like "a man being bitten by an alligator," which is fairly accurate. But I've never seen or heard a man being bitten by an alligator, so don't count my word as gospel.

In the early '70s, a group of budding and talented USC film school sound designers, including Academy Award winning sound designer Ben Burtt, recognized the scream from some of their favorite movies. They dubbed the sound the 'Wilhelm Scream' after Private Wilhelm from The Charge at Feather River, who gets shot in the leg with an arrow.

Ben Burtt
Ben Burtt

Burtt and pals would go on to use the sound in all of their student works, and after Burtt was hired to work on some unknown space opera by fellow USC alum George Lucas, Burtt went on to use the sound in every Star Wars and Indiana Jones movie he worked on!

The scream has also been used in Toy Story, Lethal Weapon, Willow and more.

2. The Howie Scream

Created much later than ol' Wilhelm, the Howie Scream, also succinctly known as Screams 3; Man, Gut-wrenching Scream And Fall Into Distance, was nicknamed after Howie Long's death scene in Broken Arrow.

The iconic sound was said to have been created by Academy Award winning sound editor Lon Bender who worked on 1980 feature The Ninth Configuration, which is also said to be its first appearance.

Howie has most notably appeared in The Princess Bride, The Last Action Hero and Face/Off.

3. The Diddy Laugh

You've definitely heard this sound on your travels. Usually when there are two or more children playing just out of frame in a show or movie, you can damn well believe that this famous sound of ecstatic, giggling children will be heard.

Nicknamed the 'Diddy Laugh' after being recorded for the opening sequence of the 1997 N64 classic Diddy Kong Racing, this ubiquitous sound began popping up in, what feels like, pretty much every TV show, movie and advert, including The Bourne Identity and Taken.

Here's the original from Diddy Kong Racing:

4. Police Scanner

It's as if TV shows, movies and video games have one go to police dispatch actress to call upon. This sound has been making the waves on the stock scene since the early '90s.

Popping up in, possibly, every cop show to air since the '90s, it would be easy to not be able to distinguish this sound due to the dispatcher's voice being obscured by louder sounds, but if you've ever played Sim City 2000, or watched Twelve Monkeys, Donnie Darko, Gone in 60 Seconds or Boyz in the Hood, amongst many others, you should recognize it straight away.

5. Castle Thunder

This sound is, rather unsurprisingly, the recreation of a particularly venomous thunderclap that was intentionally recorded for an adaptation of Frankenstein back in 1931.

The sound was in major rotation between 1940 and 1980, appearing in the animations of Hanna-Barbera and Disney, and in various notable movies such as Citizen Kane, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Bambi, Ghostbusters and Rambo: First Blood, to name but a few.

The clap has also been used to embellish other sounds, like the sound of the USS Enterprise entering the warp in Star Trek – The Motion Picture, and the sound of a dam exploding in 1974's Earthquake.

(Sources: Wiki, YouTube, Hollywood Lost and Found)


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