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Creating Suspense with Sound

Free image via Unsplash

It’s spooky season 👻and what’s Halloween without the scary movies? From psychological thrillers to suspense and horror, it’s that time of the year for all things spine-chilling.

What makes scary movies so frightening? It’s more than the creepy and sometimes gory visuals. Sound plays a vital role in conjuring feelings of fear and suspense during scary movies.

“In addition to the visual and verbal (dialogue) impact of horror, perhaps one of the most significant elements of horror film is auditory.” (G. Neil Martin, 2019)

It is safe to say that sound trumps imagery when it comes to influencing emotions through sensory perceptions. As humans, we associate certain sounds with being scary, and by nature, these sounds stimulate a particular response in the form of feelings of fear, stress, or anxiety. According to research on creating suspense in gaming, “game designers can promote the experience of fear and anxiety through priming cues, such as music, acousmatic sound effects, and visuals, which can encourage “thinking” about the scariness or creepiness of the game.” Auditory cues set the tone of the game to help bring the story to life.

“One of the most successful, and the most common, auditory tropes in horror is the use of a loud sound after a prolonged period of silence – the so-called jump scare.” (G. Neil Martin, 2019)

In scary movies specifically, sound is a vital component in creating a spooky atmosphere. “The creaking door, the scream, the shriek of an owl, the hiss of a cat, the squelching of a head as it meets a sledgehammer, the ringing of a phone, the bang of a falling object, and the crack of a branch in an otherwise quiet forest at night are all auditory devices designed to make viewers and listeners afraid and to create suspense.”

Different sounds have different influences on the human mind. Discordant music is associated with activity in a different part of the brain from those found when listening to harmonious music. According to Professor G. Neil Martin of Regents University London, the right parahippocampal gyrus and precuneus and bilateral orbitofrontal cortex may be involved in regulating human auditory response to some aspect of horror films.

“Horror is primarily a sound-based medium’’ (Kawin, 2012)

We have all experienced the fright of a jump scare and many other auditory devices in horror films that promote fear. Next time you watch a scary movie, try watching with no sound and see if it has the same effect! It is safe to say that without the help of sound, many of our favorite horror films would fail to have the frightening influence that they have had on us over the years. Wishing everyone a Happy Halloween! 🎃



What scary movies have the best spooky sounds? Let us know :) @healthandbass


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