It goes almost without saying that film is by no means a solely visual medium. Even the silents were in some way accompanied by music. My very own great grandmother, for instance, played the piano during silent movies at a small theater some place in Pittsburgh. She’d also get real drunk, open up her bedroom window during the wee hours, and scream then close the window and watch to see whose lights came on.
The nut don’t fall far, do it?
Obviously sound has come a long way, so here’s a list of 7 Sadistic Soundscapes. I wanted all “S” words for the alliteration, specifically sibilance (smooth, right?) and chose “sinister.” “Spooky” was too friendly, and “sadistic” goes a little too far for some of these. Hear we go.
Sure, by now everyone knows this pretty much comes down to that whole 28 Hz thing, but still, worth pointing out. I don’t remember feeling nauseated or anything, but it does make me antsy. Oddly enough, it’s even worse knowing it’s there.
#6 Berberian Sound Studio
Here’s a movie that flew well under the radar which is a damn shame. Toby Jones plays a sound engineer working on what turns out to be a giallo film (he was under the impression it was a movie about horses). There’s a film-within-a-film subplot, and lots of footage of Foley artists at work. The movie is as much about sound as it is about story, and the sound design supports this with all its crunching, squelching, largely “wet” sounding effects.
Squishy, squealy, crunchy, grindy, and stuff that makes me wonder “What the fuck was that?”
It’s mostly score here, plus, y’know, the but that score is Bernard Hermann. There’s also a great discussion in 78/52 about stabby noises and casaba melons.
#3 Suspiria (1977)
Goblin, am I right? I’ve seen reviews calling Suspiria’s soundtrack their masterpiece. But along with the musical score is the voice use. Off-kilter lullabies, whispers of “witch,” these help fuel the unease that there’s something more sinister around even when it’s not on screen (and surely a forerunner to Friday The 13th). Incidentally, there are lotsa cool Suspiria posters. I used this one cuz I gots a t-shirt of it.
#2 The Birds
I mean, ain’t a lot new here, but it was just about unheard of at the time of its release. There’s no traditional score here as such. The bird sounds were both real and created on a thing called a Mixtur-Trautonium. The first Trautonium was manufactured by Telefunken, the good folks who brought us the Telefunken U47. But I digress. There’s only a couple instances of music: Tippi Hedron playing piano, and kids singing at school. In my head I always hear shock chords when Jessica Tandy finds the farmer, but no, it’s completely silent which is just eerie.
#1 The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
I really struggled with this one. Ultimately, part of what makes The Birds sound design unnerving is its sheer novelty which, while effective, also makes it intriguing. There is nothing intriguing about the auditory assault Texas Chainsaw inflicts. Every single thing about the film literally screams brutality, from the inside of the van in the Texas heat to the closing chainsaw dance to almost all the underlying sounds. Close your eyes during the dinner scene, and it’s still tough to sit through. The best word I can think of encapsulate Hooper’s use of screams, synths, and strings is sadistic. It’s one of the few examples I can think of where I’d describe even the film’s sound as grimy.
And that’s today’s soundscape. So listen up (heh). As per protocol, head down to the Comments and, well, sound off about what movies upset or traumatized your tympanic membranes.