BBC - Mark Kermode's film blog

« Previous | Main | Next »

Sound Advice

Post categories:

Mark Kermode | 11:57 UK time, Thursday, 5 June 2008

What you see is only half the story.

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions


  • Comment number 1.

    It's not just horror movies, either: after watching "Lost In Translation", I realized how important the soundtrack was in subtly creating the claustrophobic atmosphere of the hotel, and it was a relief for the characters to escape in to Tokyo.

  • Comment number 2.

    You're absolutely right that sound is a vital aspect of horror. But I think some horror soundtracks cross the line between legitimately building tension and mood, and being aggressively manipulative. Whilst I certainly don't subscribe to some dogme style notion of film realism, I have seen some mediocre horror films where the soundtrack seemed to be trying too hard to tell me what was happening was scary. After a while it just started to grate on me. When you where a child and afraid of the dark, it wasn't just the strange noises that were frightening, but the dead silence as well, and film-makers shouldn't forget that.

  • Comment number 3.

    Lack of a score is important too.

    Take the opening 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan, I think that would be spoiled if there was a big orchestral score in the background. Just the sounds of the battle made the experience more intense.

  • Comment number 4.

    Whenever my girlfriend and I watch a horror film, I'll look away, or hide my face when I'm scared, but she'll always put her hands over her ears! It's very funny, but it reinforces exactly what you're saying.

  • Comment number 5.

    I would agree with reservations. Sound design is incredibly important in creating atmosphere, but the most effective moments are the 'clever' use of sound design in films like Suspiria or the original version of The Haunting (which, unlike the CG heavy remake, depends almost entirely on sound for creating the unease).

    Unfortunately subtletly does not *BANG* seem to be held in much *SCREECH* regard these days in filmmaking, and nowhere is that truer than in horror films which constantly *SCREEEAMMM!* feel the need to shock through *BOO!* audio scares - perhaps this shows a lack of confidence on the filmmaker's part for their film actually being scary if they do not have over the top music cues and sound effects over them?

    The most egregious example of this would have to be the audio jump scares in The Eye (both the original and the remake) - didn't the main character have her eyes replaced, not her ears?

  • Comment number 6.

    I agree with Mr Rimmer above. Too often in modern horror, sound is used for a cheap scare. Effective atmospheric soundtracks are far more memorable, or, as was pointed out above, a lack of a 'soundtrack'.

    While not necessarily a horror flick, last years 'No Country...' managed ok, without a score, and relying on ambiance alone.

  • Comment number 7.

    I have vivid memories of being too scared to watch The Shining at age 12, and going to another part of the house to read. I soon found that the thrumming sounds of the film followed me to where I was and left me with no feelings of comfort or safety, even though I had no context for what I was hearing.

  • Comment number 8.

    I completely agree, sound is everything in horror movies, but it can be used as a cheap trick to make the audience jump.
    The Birds, the wheels on Danny's tricycle in The Shining, the sound of the light flickering off and on in Nightwatch, the hiss of the lighter in The Vanishing, the snapping of pegs around Cole's tent in The Sixth Sense all spring to mind. Then there's the all-time Hammer favourite, wolves howling at the moon.


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.