Just the other day, while the husband and I were sitting down watching Lethal Weapon 4, I thought I heard something familiar. No, it wasn’t Mel Gibson going on a racist or sexist rant. Rather, it was the sweet, sweet sound of the Wilhelm scream. Once you hear it you never forget it, and soon you will be watching films wondering if you can spot the scream coming from dying characters. You mean that’s not normal behavior?
The Wilhelm scream is the name of a sound effect that has been used in many films and TV shows to depict somebody getting hurt, dying or a bloody combination of the two. Usually dying does involve getting hurt or you wouldn’t be dying. I mean who dies when something about them isn’t hurt? This of course doesn’t count if it’s only your feelings that are hurt. If everybody dies when their feelings get hurt then humans would be extinct. Right? Anyway! It’s named after a character called Private Wilhelm, who gets shot in the leg with an arrow in the film The Charge At Feather River. Look what I found, the actual clip!
Made in 1953 The Charge At Feather River is actually the third film to use the sound effect. The first movie to ever feature it is called Distant Drums, which was made in 1951. It features a soldier walking through a swamp in the Everglades in which he gets bitten by an alligator. I feel quite sad for that character because his death scream has been hijacked by some guy that only gets shot with an arrow through the leg! The injustice! According to some research, done by people way more patient than I am, the man who performed the song Purple People Eater, Sheb Wooley, is the man behind the original Wilhelm Scream. Neato! Who doesn’t like that song?
The Wilhelm scream has been used in over 200 films and TV shows including 30 Days Of Night, Hellboy, American Dad, and even Toy Story. The sound effect has become so iconic that it is now used by filmmakers as a type of ironic inside joke. You can be smug with the knowledge that now you’re in on the joke too! Below is a clip that a person with a lot of time on their hands cobbled together of instances in films and TV shows in which the Wilhelm scream is used. Enjoy!