In my personal opinion, one of the true hallmarks of a good horror film is great utilization and creation of sound. I’m not just talking about sound quality, I’m talking about tone, pitch, practical sound effects and even the complete absence of sound when it’s necessary. I feel like the element of sound than often goes under appreciated by filmmakers, thus making for some pretty crappy horror, if you ask me. If you get a chance, I highly suggest checking out this short video by David F. Sandberg (creator of Lights Out) talking about the importance of sound in film – seriously interesting!
“The right sound is sometimes really hard to nail down. Sometimes just silence is a beautiful thing.” -David Lynch (Director)
Let’s focus on practical sound effects for now though. This week I was surfing the internets (as I do so often) and I came across a cool article written by Andrea Strong on Refinery29. The article reveals some of the creative ways horror producers create practical sound effects using household items. Each factoid is also accompanied by some absolutely great artwork by Mallory Heyer, whose portfolio you should definitely check out. From pumpkins to whole grain pasta, bags of chips to chocolatey syrups. Everything you need to make a realistic sounding horror film is probably laying around in your own kitchen right now.
I. Casaba Melon
According to the book, Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, by Stephen Rebello, this was the kind of melon that Hitchcock decided to use to produce the sound of Janet Leigh being stabbed over, and over, and over in that scenefrom Psycho. Apparently they tried using a watermelon at first, but it just didn’t cut it for old Alfred. As legend has it, Hitchcock would close his eyes while his prop man hacked away at different kinds of melons. After several messy auditions, Hitchcock decided that the ‘Casaba’ would be his melon of choice.
So, it turns out that watermelons aren’t completely useless on horror movie sets. Apparently, when you smash a watermelon it quite resembles the sound of somebody’s head being split open. Don’t believe me? Scrape together some loose coins and buy a watermelon solely for the purpose of smashing it on the pavement. If you do, compare it to this, then come back and tell me what you think.
Giant pumpkins are often put to use to mimic the sound of someone’s heart and internal organs being ripped out of their stomach. Sound specialists on the set simply cut the top off of a pumpkin and start pulling out pulp and seeds with their hands. Yeah, keep that in mind when you’re carving pumpkins this halloween.
IV. Dried Pasta
THIS one honestly makes me cringe just writing about it. To create the sounds of bones breaking and ankles twisting, sound artists play around with all different kinds of pasta, cracking and smashing them in different ways to get their desired sound. I wonder what kind of noodles they used to create the sound of Paul Sheldon’s foot breaking in this scene from Misery?
V. Potato Chips
I want to start off by saying that smashing potato chips with no intention of eating them is a cardinal sin, it’s just plain EVIL. If I was working on a movie-set and my director told me to step on a bag of salt and vinegar Lays to only create the sound of walking through a forest, I think I might be out of a job. I mean it totally works, but what a waste!
VI. Celery, Lettuce and Bok Choy
Spoiler alert: These are NOT the key ingredients to make a delicious, healthy salad. If you take these veggies and roll them up, twist them and contort their shapes in different ways, you can produce the authentic sound of muscles tearing and skin ripping apart. Don’t believe me!? Let’s take a look at another classic clip then, shall we?
VII. Chocolate Syrup
More deliciousness coming your way. Back in the day when films were still in black and white, chocolate syrup was used as blood because it created a darker contrast on the skin.
“But who would waste perfectly good syrup like that!?”
VIII. Corn Syrup
Today, in the world of color, prop managers and SFX designers prefer to use corn syrup mixed with red and yellow food coloring to create realistic looking blood stains and splatters. For example…
IX. Half-Coconuts, Stuffed with Padding
You can probably already guessed what these are used for. When it’s necessary, hollowed out coconuts are used to recreate the sound of horses galloping. Perfect for a headless horseman chase sequence, or a scene of a black stallion losing it’s head.
Long live practical FX.