A Tale of Two Screams: Which Stock Horror Scream is Better?

Often, screams in horror movies come from stock files. Chances are, they’re one of two stock screams: the Wilhelm or the Howie


The monster creeps around the corner, unseen to everyone except the audience. It sneaks up behind his victim, and as it consumes the fleshy human, there is a horrified, horrific scream. What does that scream sound like? Often it’s one of two stock screams: the Wilhelm or the Howie. Which is better?

Motherboard has a good roundup of vidoes of each scream. The Wilhelm scream comes first from 1951, in the movie “Distant Drums.” But no one has any idea who the voice actor was for that scream.

Here’s Hollywood Lost and Found on the Wilhelm:

History of the Wilhelm Scream

And On the Media did a great piece on the history of the scream.

They explain that the voice actor who first screamed the Wilhelm is still unknown, but his work is everywhere. In fact, it’s kind of a contest amongst sound designers to get the scream into their work. David Serchuk, from On the Media explains Stephen Altobello’s semi-obsession with sneaking in the scream: “Sound editors like Anderson and Altobello say that often when directors notice The Wilhelm they demand it be pulled.”

Altobello told Serchuk that he most admired whoever put the Wilhelm into the Judy Garland movie A Star is Born:

I’ve even tried to mix it in, like mix it into a track so that it can’t be removed. Like if you want this car sound on that TV set, you gotta have the scream. I can’t even turn – you know – and I act stupid, like, “Well I don’t know! That’s just part of it! You know?” I tried to get it into an HBO after school special about not using drugs but the filmmaker pulled it out. I tried to get it into a film called Chicago Cab, and they were like, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” Whoever put it in the movie in the background for one scene, that’s fine; that was probably expected. But whoever found a way to weasel it into the arrangement of a Judy Garland song, that’s somebody who really pulled off the ultimate, I think, because the movie stops and it’s the only thing that’s happening. I’ll never be able to pull that off.

There’s something kind of creepy about just how persistent the Wilhelm scream has been, Antebello says. ” I always wondered about people who were relatives of, like, the woman whose voice is on “At the Tone the Time Will Be.” I always thought, well what if that’s some guy’s, like, ex-girlfriend or something and he just calls and listens to the time?”

But the Wilhelm isn’t the only scream out there. There’s also the lesser known Howie. Motherboard identifies where they (and I) first heard the Howie.

Derek Mead, managing editor of Motherboard, writes:

One incredibly intrepid internet researcher traced it to the Hollywood Edge “Premiere” sound library, where it’s unceremoniously known as “Screams 3; Man, Gut-wrenching Scream And Fall Into Distance.” You might recognize it fromFace/Off, Last Action Hero, Beethoven’s Second (?) or the intro to “Aaahh!!! Real Monsters,” but it’s also been featured in a ton of video games.

So which one is better? The classic Wilhelm or the under appreciated Howie? Motherboard weighs in:

For Halloween, I think the Howie is just that much more ridiculous and horrifying, especially when it’s got a more hollow sound like at the end of “Real Monsters.” But, hey, the Wilhelm certainly has the better pedigree, there’s no denying that. Still, the Howie is my favorite Hollywood scream. What’s yours?

More from Smithsonian.com:

Where Fear Lives
Fearing the Worst

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