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Spooky Sounds To Leave Your Ears Trembling


Now it's time for our regular segment Words You'll Hear. That's where we take a word or phrase we think will be in the news in the coming days and let you know what it's all about. But instead of a word this week, we decided to go with a sound or rather scary sounds.


MARTIN: Yes. That's because Halloween is tomorrow, and for a lot of people, it's not just about the candy. It's also about getting that you-know-what scared out of them either at the movies or at a haunted house and that involves scary sounds which because this is NPR makes us wonder what makes a sound scary? For this, we called an expert. Peter Brown of the Formosa Group in Los Angeles is a sound editor who scares up the magic behind lots of horror films, including much of the blockbuster series "Paranormal Activity."

PETER BROWN: In "Paranormal Activity 2," at the climax of the film when the dad is down in the basement looking for the possessed son, there's a moment of quiet.


BRIAN BOLAND: (As Daniel Rey, screaming).

BROWN: That is immediately followed by a large explosion of sound when he is attacked, and that seemed to sort of set the stage for how a lot of the scares in those films would occur.

MARTIN: OK. So that was pretty scary. What about zombies, especially zombies being chopped to bits?

BROWN: We got a real weed whacker with a big metal blade on it and set about chopping up all of the pumpkins, watermelons, vegetables, sticks, foliage that we could find. And that was pretty crazy.

MARTIN: Yeah. And some heart-stopping sounds are so iconic, they've become almost inside jokes among sound designers. One of the most famous sounds in the film industry is something called the Wilhelm Scream.


MARTIN: The scream first appeared in a movie you probably never heard of called "Distant Drums" from 1951.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) For the only retreat was to cross the wild, steaming swamp-ridden Everglades, the unknown jungle, dark, deadly.

MARTIN: Let's hear the scream again.


MARTIN: That comes from a scene of an alligator dragging a man underwater to his death. The movie was unremarkable, but the sound has made it into more than 200 films - "Star Wars."


MARTIN: "Indiana Jones."


MARTIN: Even "Toy Story."


TIM ALLEN: (As Buzz Lightyear, screaming).

JIM VARNEY: (As Slinky) Buzz.

WALLACE SHAWN: (As Rex, screaming).

TOM HANKS: (As Woody) Buzz.

MARTIN: Of course, it's also in Peter Brown's "Paranormal Activity" movies. But the key to creating a truly terrifying sound is to give it context.

BROWN: If you live alone, you know, me just going (clears throat) is not a very scary sound. But if you heard it outside your bedroom door in the middle of the night (clears throat), it would be about the most terrifying thing in the world.

MARTIN: So next time you hear something a little creepy...


MARTIN: ...Just remember it's the story that's really scaring you.


MARTIN: And to keep the Halloween spirit going, remember yesterday we asked you to post on Twitter your favorite and not so favorite Halloween candies. No doubt about it chocolate came out on top - Kit Kats, Snickers, Heath bars. @Tanesha_hall_ says she will take any chocolate bar. Even Mallo Cups got one vote if you can believe that. I guess some people like coconut. Tweeter at Angela Roquemore said she lost a baby tooth on a Starburst and can't stand them. Ashley Bovi says the worst candy ever is Mary Jane Peanut Butter Kisses. And what about the ever controversial candy corn? Super yuck says at Lee Kris but @VAEllis5 says candy corn is his favorite along with milk duds. Go figure. Either way, enjoy the candy rush and happy Halloween.


MICHAEL JACKSON: (Singing) Thriller, thriller night. And no one's going to save you from the beast about to strike. You know it's thriller... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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