Elly Zulaikha
May 8, 2020
Reading Time: 3 Minutes

The use of sounds in scary movies has long been a fundamental aspect of driving audiences to the edge of their seat. Apart from effective storytelling, what makes the sounds in scary movies that scary? Why and how does it affect us? We’re here to give you the reasons why the sounds in scary movies send chills down your spine.


It’s all in the brain


Image via jixifox


Scary movies are guilty of over-indulging in the use of non-linear sound. A non-linear sound consists of dissonant chords, the rapid repetition of frequencies, and noise, like a child’s cry or piercing animal screams. 


According to research, the reason we have such reactions to hearing those blood-curdling screams is due to our innate biological instincts, where the response to fear as a result of hearing distress signals was also found in animals. 



So that’s what happens in the brain. How does your body react to such nerve-wracking stimuli?


Fight-or-flight response


Image via slashfilm


As you watch Pennywise drawing closer on that big cinema screen, your eyes, upon seeing the information, sends signals to your brain. First, the signal goes through the amygdala, which determines fears or threats. Then, the hippocampus assesses the context from the stimuli (what we’ve seen or heard) before finally, the hypothalamus starts firing the fight-or-flight response. 


So that’s why you cover your face with that pillow whenever a scary scene jump scares you. 



Stressed out


Image via screenrant


If you’re not the only one reporting more stress after watching a horror movie, then you’re not alone. This is because the act of watching scary movies puts you in a heightened state of panic and stress. With your pupils dilating, your heart pumping twice the amount of blood throughout your body and muscles tightened, it’s all a classic tell-tale of stress.


So much so that when you’re stressed out, your immune system recognizes the mess in your body, and suddenly, your white blood cells are all over your body. 




Establishing the mood


Image via popsugar


In any scary movies, sounds help establish the mood the director wants the audience to feel in a particular scene. In fact, some sounds in scary movies were so good and effective, it actually takes away the real “scary” part shown on the screen instead because we’re so focused on the sound itself. 


Enter the recent horror and science fiction movie, A Quiet Place. It’s a fresh take on using purely sounds to convey each gripping scene was brilliant on its own, as it not only captured the main theme of the movie where a deafening silence means you’re safe from the violent creature, it also uses our heightened sense of fright by using sounds. 




Image via collider


However, for the more contemporary route like director James Wan in his movie The Conjuring, you’ll notice how he combines the use of the creaking door of that wardrobe and the gust of wind to signify the up-and-coming evil spirit. Even the sudden jump scare from the horrible, gaping scream of the ghost was enough to set you screaming on the top of your lungs. 




Image via screenrant


Even after all that jump scares and your popcorn spilled all over your floor, you can’t help but ride on the horror roller coaster the next time you try to pick up other scary movies to watch. It’s strangely satisfying, isn’t it?