Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Wilhelm

You probably don't know it, but you've heard the Wilhelm.

It's pretty likely that you saw Star Wars. If so, you probably remember the scene where Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia are attacked by stormtroopers on a ledge in a big circular shaft on the Death Star. Luke fires at some stormtroopers above him. A stormtrooper is hit and falls. He screams as he falls.

That scream was the Wilhelm.

The Wilhelm scream was first recorded for the 1951 film Distant Drums starring Gary Cooper. In one scene a character is bitten by an alligator and dragged underwater. As he's attacked, he screams. Six screams were recorded. The 5th was used for the alligator attack, but the 4th, 5th and 6th were used elsewhere in the film. Afterward, the recordings were placed in the Warner Brothers sound library.

In 1953, the scream was used in the film The Charge at Feather River, when a character named Private Wilhelm is shot in the leg with an arrow.

The scream showed up in a number of other movies. Film students Ben Burtt, Rick Mitchell and Richard Anderson discovered the sound and tracked it down. In 1977, when Burtt was hired to do sound effects for Star Wars he deliberately chose the Wilhelm scream.

The three students used the scream in such films as Raiders of the Lost Ark, Poltergeist, Batman Returns, Agent Cody Banks, Madagascar, Toy Story, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Fifth Element and a raft of other movies. Quentin Tarantino used the scream in Reservoir Dogs and Kill Bill, Vol. 1.

To read a more detailed account of the scream, and to hear the recordings, check out this site:

I heard about the scream on that motivational poster thread I've been talking about. In decades past this sort of thing would be esoteric knowledge buried in some sci-fi fanzine. Now, thanks to the Internet and its cataloguing, this esoteric knowledge... well, it's still esoteric, but it has the possibility of being disseminated further and faster than ever before. Ain't the Interweb swell?


Steve Lee said...

Thanks for noticing my favorite scream. We just finished dubbing "Flushed Away" and managed to sneek in Wilhelm again - listen for him!

Allan Goodall said...

That's pretty cool!

Flushed Away looks like a fun movie. The cast is wonderful. I'm sure Logan will want to see it. I'll be sure to listen for Wilhelm!