The Wild (and possibly Sheb Wooley) Origins of the Wilhelm Scream

Based on the news we read this weekend, there was absolutely no reason we were not going to share the glorious discovery of the original recording session that gave the work The Wilhelm Scream.

You can learn a great background of the Wilhelm Scream on Mental Floss from 2018, recently updated with this latest news. Jim Vorel has a good article on the news for Paste, an article also referenced by Luke Plunkett for Kotaku (which also has a video game compilation of Wilhelm Screams).

Bjorn Munson loves this sound effect. If, for some reason, it wasn’t already fixed in the tapestry of movie geekery, he has stated that he would still find ways to use it in his productions. It’s plaintive yet comical. Even though it wasn’t created for a ’50s monster movie, it somehow encompasses every hapless monster victim. You can almost hear them swear to the main characters, “I’ll be fine watching the strange obelisk with this here faulty flashlight that will cut out at the wrong moment. Don’t worry. I’m definitely not about to be stung/eviscerated/devoured by an ancient evil/incomprehensible alien/radioactive monstronsity. Nosiree!”

Give it a listen. You’ve heard it before, but here’s a compilation. The scream is a thing of beauty:

One of the lovely aspects of it being called the “Wilhelm Scream” is the eponymous Private Wilhelm is not the first victim nor in the first movie to use the scream. That honor goes to Distant Drums. However, once you see the clip from the later The Charge at Feather River, Private Wilhelm and his strange prioritization of pipe maintenance is just a wonderful version.

The big news is the full, 39 seconds of the recording session where they did six takes of the scream and you hear some of the direction. Because this is the sort of additional recording you do all the time in sessions (we do it all the time with Jabberwocky Audio Theater), they don’t have solid notes on who was the screamer now immortalized across all sorts of media. The current thought is that it’s character actor and singer Sheb Wooley, which feels appropriate. I mean, someone attacked by the giant Purple People Eater would surely cry out with a Wilhelm Scream while being eaten.

Speaking of Jabberwocky Audio, avid listeners will note that we’ve used the Wilhelm Scream in each of the two seasons of Rogue Tyger. It works great mixed in with the sound design for fight sequences. And yes, it will be featured in season three later this year. Bjorn vows to make sure it makes it into every season… because the spirit of Wilhelm must live on (even as the victims perish).

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