Of course you know the Wilhelm Scream, arguably one of the most famous stock sound effects in Hollywood.
The scream has been used in at least 400 movies and television series, usually when a character falls off a building or gets shot. It is a sound of excruciating pain.
According to Sound Effects Wiki, the Warner Bros. studio originally recorded the Wilhelm Scream in 1951 for the film Distant Drums, starring Gary Cooper. The scream we’re familiar with is #4 in a series of six recordings, and it’s named after an ill-fated character in a later film that used the scream, The Charge at Feather River (1953).
People like to make a game – and sometimes a drinking game – of the Wilhelm Scream. You know it to hear it; click HERE to listen.
But that’s not to say the Wilhelm Scream is necessarily cheesy. In fact, it’s used frequently because it’s so dang effective.
Them! (1954) is a sci-fi/horror film about ants who grow to gargantuan sizes (approx. 9-12 feet long, ew) due to radioactivity at an American nuclear testing site.
Scientists discover a nest at the site, but – alas! – they’re Too Late! Eggs have already been laid and hatched, and the new queens have gone searching for other places to build their nests.
Sounds like one of those marvellous over-the-top sci-fi/horror flicks from the 1950s, doesn’t it? But Them! is more than that. This is a thoughtful film that asks “What if?” when it comes to the dangers of nuclear fall-out.
As the film opens, we see a little girl, numb from shock, walking in the New Mexico desert. She’s dressed in pyjamas, clutching a doll with a broken head. She doesn’t blink, and she doesn’t seem to be aware of her surroundings.
She’s had a traumatic experience with one of the giant ants, and she’s not the only one.
A pilot is committed to a psych ward because he saw “flying saucers”, which were queen ants being carried by the wind. No one believes the pilot, of course, and the FBI agent In Charge tells the doctor to keep the man Locked Up. (The agent admits the pilot is telling the truth, but his story could never be told because of the potential for Widespread Panic.)
There’s nothing cheap about this film. The script is science-y with lots of Ant Facts, the acting is terrific, and the tension builds nicely until the climactic scene. Them!, apparently, inspired a slew of big bug flicks where insects grow to incredible sizes thanks to nuclear radiation.
It also set the template for scientists Explaining Things in Movies, wherein scientists display charts and such to illustrate the kind of science Going On Here.
Plus, there are the Wilhelm Screams.
There are four Wilhelm Screams in Them!, most of which occur when the military invades one of the ant colonies. The effect is really good – it’s exactly what you’d imagine being attacked by giant ants would sound like. (And let’s hope none of us ever face that situation.)
Many critics say Them! is one of the best sci-fi/horror films of the 1950s. It was nominated for an Oscar, Best Effects/Special Effects, but lost to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
It was initially to be filmed in colour and 3-D, but Warner Bros. studio balked at the expense and went with Tried-But-True black and white. Even so, Them! was one of the highest-grossing films of the year for the studio.
If you haven’t seen Them!, we urge you to set aside some time for it. It employs some innovative cinematography and lighting, and the story is absorbing.
Besides, who can resist a movie with giant ants?
This post is a part of The Wilhelm Scream Blogathon, hosted by Realweegiemidget Reviews.
Them!: starring James Whitmore, Edmund Gwenn, Joan Weldon. Directed by Gordon Douglas. Written by Ted Sherdeman & Russell Hughes. Warner Bros., 1954, B&W, 94 mins.