CATEGORIES 'Fone FindsOn the recently released DVD of Quentin Tarantino's 'Inglourious Basterds,' a soldier falls from a building and, naturally, lets out a scream on the way down to the pavement. Sure, QT could have used the actor's real voice, but instead opted to employ the "Wilhelm Scream," an oft-used stock sound effect from 1951 that's appeared in over 140 movies, including 'The Twilight Saga: New Moon' the 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy, 'Team America: World Police,' 'Toy Story,' and 'Tropic Thunder.'
The name "Wilhelm" probably doesn't mean anything to you, but you've definitely heard the scream:
So how does a sound effect from nearly 60 years ago continue to survive and be used by some of the world's most prominent filmmakers? Originally used in the 1951 Gary Cooper film 'Distant Drums' to portray the sound of a man being bitten by an alligator, the scream re-surfaced, and got its name, two years later in the Western 'The Charge at Feather River,' when the character Private Wilhelm gets shot with an arrow.
While used periodically in the following years, it was sound designer Ben Burtt who, in 1977, re-discovered the scream and added it, as a secret nod and tribute to past purveyors of his profession, to 'Star Wars' (as well as every 'Indiana Jones' film and subsequent 'Star Wars' movie). Since then, the scream has become an in-joke of sorts among sound editors and directors, with everyone from Peter Jackson to Steven Spielberg to Tim Burton employing its effect.
So who's actually responsible for the scream itself? No one knows for sure, but all signs point to character actor and 'Purple People Eater' singer Sheb Wooley for the now-infamous yelp. Thus, with one "Man bitten by alligator" take, a legend was born.
For more on one of Hollywood's most enduring sound effects, check out the full history from Sound Effects Director Steve Lee and watch the video below. Then the next time you see your favorite film, check out the list of movies that have used the effect and see if you can spot it yourself.