The Wilhelm Scream—Hollywood’s Inside Joke

I’m in total movie mode this week. We’re six days from the Oscars, and I’m keyed up. I’ll go into exactly why the Oscars excite me so much later in the week, but suffice it to say I’m thinking movies nonstop—making my predictions for Oscar night, reading about upcoming movies (strangely excited to see how Gone Girl turns out when it hits theaters October 3rd), and I came across a gem of a story about how one second of sound became one of the longest-standing traditions in Hollywood.

First, here—listen to this.

What started as a simple sound effect in 1951 has turned out to have a legacy no one could have ever predicted. In the film Distant Drums, a scene was shot where a character is bitten by an alligator and dragged underwater. As is usually the case, the character’s scream was recorded separately and inserted later. In post production, six screams were recorded in a single take. Three of the screams were then used for various scenes in the film and that was that. Then, as future movies were made and screams were needed, sound editors referred back to the ones already in the bank and continued using them in several Warner Brothers films over the years. By 1976 the scream had already been used in some manner in 18 films and a few episodes of TV shows.

Which brings us to 1977. Ben Burtt was the sound editor for Star Wars, and a huge movie buff. He was doing research for the film, looking for sound effects, and stumbled across the original recording  of the screams from Distant Drums. Having already noticed the recurrence of the scream throughout the years as a film student, he decided to make it a cross between an inside joke and signature of sorts. He named the scream the Wilhelm after the earliest character he knew of to utter the cry, and included it in all the Star Wars and Indiana Jones films, Willow, Poltergeist, and several others.

A friend and colleague of Ben’s, Richard Anderson, began using the scream liberally as well, and by the 2000’s they had an impressive number of films peppered with their now-trademark wail, ranging from Planet of the Apes to Madagascar. Future generations of filmmakers also began to use the scream once it was discovered that the classic version was free to use without penalty or fines, and regardless of studio attachment.

In recent years, noted filmmakers to use the Wilhelm in their films include Peter Jackson (2 of the 3 Lord of the Rings movies) and Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill Vol. 1, Inglorious Basterds). Once I realized what the scream was and how often it was used, I realized it was like that road sign you pass a thousand times and don’t notice until someone points it out. I’ve unknowingly heard it probably hundreds of times, and every time I hear it from now on I can’t help but chuckle.

For a much more detailed account of how the Wilhelm came to be the stuff of legend, including a theory of whose voice is actually providing the scream, click here for the full story. And just in case you think I’m exaggerating about how much it’s been used, click here for the most recent list of movies that feature some variation of the scream (last updated in 2010 with over 200 films). There are also some compilations on YouTube, if you’re so inclined. I guarantee you, you’ve heard it before.

Golden Globes Picks and A Few Predictions


I have a somewhat strange fascination with awards shows (except music awards—more on that as we get closer to the Grammys). Especially, but not limited to, The Oscars and The Golden Globes. And while The Oscars are clearly the more prestigious of the two, there’s no denying The Golden Globes are a heck of a lot more fun.

For one, booze is in ample supply, and while most of the attendees manage to keep themselves in line, there’s generally a much looser atmosphere than at other stuffy awards shows. Acceptance speeches tend to be a little more off the cuff, and everyone appears to actually be enjoying themselves.

It’s also the only major awards show (unless you count the SAG Awards) that pairs both Movies and Television. That allows for a lot more interesting combinations, both in terms of presenters and who you might see mingling in the crowd or on the red carpet. The Oscars will always hold a special place in my heart (which I’ll tell you all about as we get closer to the show), but if I had to choose one awards show I’d actually want to attend, I think The Globes would win hands down.

With that, I’m going to offer up a few predictions for the telecast Sunday, January 12, 8ET/5PT, as well as my picks in the major categories. Some will be fairly educated guesses while others will be the equivalent of pinning the tail on the donkey. Okay, away we go!

Prediction: Tina Fey and Amy Poehler will make me (and probably you) laugh.


While I love both women just fine on their own, together they really are more than the sum of their parts. They go together like peanut butter and jelly, or honey and mustard, or mayonnaise and sriracha (if you haven’t tried that last one, you’re only hurting yourself). Their timing is impeccable, and they have one of the most important qualities a comedian can have: fearlessness. They will make themselves the butt of the joke at the drop of a hat if it’ll get a laugh, and I’m as excited for whatever they have planned as I am for the a lot of the awards themselves.

Prediction: An acceptance speech I want to hear will be played off while one I don’t care about will be allowed to ramble on ad nauseam.

It never fails. The show’s producers, intent on keeping the show on time, jump the gun and cue the orchestra during an especially amusing or emotional acceptance speech early in the show, while a big star is allowed to ramble on incoherently after the show is already behind schedule.

Prediction: Some of the winners will piss me off.

There are always nominees I root for more than others; that’s only natural. But I have a confession to make—sometimes I’ll start actively rooting against a certain nominee. Petty and childish? Afraid so. Part of the fun? Absolutely. I don’t necessarily have anything against any of the nominees, I just pull so hard for some of them that I get a little caught up in it all.

Prediction: I’ll be upset when I find out someone I was a fan of died during the “In Memoriam” segment.

It happens every year; usually it’s a character actor whose name I don’t know but whose face I recognize instantly. Sometimes it’s a director or even a producer I may know by name only. It usually manifests itself in a gasp of, “Oh no, he/she died? How sad.” While I’m on the topic of the In Memoriam pieces, I also have a problem with applause during the segment. Some of the shows have put a stop to this, and The Globes may be one of the ones that asks the audience to remain silent, but it bothers me when one person’s death is deemed sadder or more important than someone else’s.

Prediction: The show will run out of steam in the last hour (or two).

It’s hard for them not to, honestly. Giving out awards for three hours is boring. There’s always a lull somewhere around the halfway point that lasts until the final few awards. With any luck Amy and Tina have something planned to kickstart the show when it starts to drag, keeping the show’s momentum going to the final Globe being given out.

Okay, on to the awards. I started to give a brief explanation as to my reasoning for picking what I did, but to be honest, does it really matter? Trying to figure out who the Hollywood Foreign Press Association is going to give globes to is like trying to figure out how Nicolas Cage picks his roles; that being said, some of these I feel are pretty good guesses while others are total shots in the dark. On to the list of nominees; my picks are the ones in bold.

Best Motion Picture, Drama

12 Years a Slave
Captain Phillips

Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy

American Hustle
Inside Llewyn Davis
The Wolf of Wall Street

Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Drama

Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave
Idris Elba, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
Tom Hanks, Captain Phillips
Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
Robert Redford, All Is Lost

Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Comedy or Musical

Christian Bale, American Hustle
Bruce Dern, Nebraska
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street
Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis
Joaquin Phoenix, Her

Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Drama

Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Sandra Bullock, Gravity
Judi Dench, Philomena
Emma Thompson, Saving Mr. Banks
Kate Winslet, Labor Day

Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy

Amy Adams, American Hustle
Julia Delpy, Before Midnight
Greta Gerwig, Frances Ha
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Enough Said
Meryl Streep, August: Osage County

Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture

Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips
Daniel Brühl, Rush
Bradley Cooper, American Hustle
Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave
Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club

Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture

Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine
Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave
Julia Roberts, August: Osage County
June Squibb, Nebraska

Best Director
Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity
Paul Greengrass, Captain Phillips
Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave
Alexander Payne, Nebraska
David O. Russell, American Hustle

Best Screenplay, Motion Picture
Bob Nelson, Nebraska
Spike Jonze ,Her
Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope, Philomena
John Ridley, 12 Years A Slave
David O. Russell and Eric Warren Singer, American Hustle

Best Foreign-Language Film

Blue Is the Warmest Colour (France)
The Great Beauty 
The Hunt 
The Past 
The Wind Rises 

Best Animated Feature Film

The Croods
Despicable Me 2

Best Original Song, Motion Picture

“Atlas,” The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
“Let It Go,” Frozen
“Ordinary Love,” Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
“Please, Mr. Kennedy,” Inside Llewyn Davis
“Sweeter Than Fiction,” One Chance

Best Original Score, Motion Picture

Alex Ebert, All Is Love
Alex Eves, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
Steven Price, Gravity
John Williams, The Book Thief
Hans Zimmer, 12 Years a Slave

Best TV Movie or Miniseries

American Horror Story: Coven
Behind the Candelabra
Dancing on the Edge
Top of the Lake
The White Queen

Best TV Series, Drama

Breaking Bad
Downton Abbey
The Good Wife
House of Cards
Masters of Sex

Best TV Series, Comedy or Musical

The Big Bang Theory
Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Modern Family
Parks and Recreation

Best Actor in a TV Series, Drama

Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad
Liev Schreiber, Ray Donovan
Michael Sheen, Masters of Sex
Kevin Spacey, House of Cards
James Spader, The Blacklist

Best Actor, TV Series Comedy

Jason Bateman, Arrested Development
Don Cheadle, House of Lies
Michael J. Fox, The Michael J. Fox Show
Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory
Andy Samberg, Brooklyn Nine-Nine

Best Actress in a TV Series, Drama

Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife
Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black
Taylor Schilling, Orange Is the New Black
Kerry Washington, Scandal
Robin Wright, House of Cards

Best Actress in a TV Series, Comedy

Zooey Deschanel, New Girl
Lena Dunham, Girls
Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep
Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation

Best Actor in a Miniseries or TV Movie

Matt Damon, Behind the Candelabra
Michael Douglas, Behind the Candelabra
Chiwetel Ejiofor, Dancing on the Edge
Idris Elba, Luther
Al Pacino, Phil Spector

Best Actress in a Miniseries or TV Movie

Helena Bonham Cater, Burton & Taylor
Rebecca Ferguson, The White Queen
Jessica Lange, American Horror Story: Coven
Helen Mirren, Phil Spector
Elisabeth Moss, Top of the Lake

Best Supporting Actor in a Series, Mini-Series or TV Movie

Josh Charles, The Good Wife
Rob Lowe, Behind the Candelabra
Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad
Corey Stoll, House of Cards
Jon Voight, Ray Donovan

Best Supporting Actress in a Series, Miniseries, or TV Movie

Jacqueline Bisset, Dancing on the Edge
Janet McTeer, The White Queen
Hayden Panettiere, Nashville
Monica Potter, Parenthood
Sofía Vergara, Modern Family

Cecile B. DeMille Award
Woody Allen     

There’s a small chance I may (may) live tweet the awards, so if you don’t already, follow me on Twitter via the button to your right and follow along during the show. Or I may not end up live tweeting, in which case I’ve just tricked you into following me.

Are you making picks? Play along! Disagree with any of my picks? Let me know in the comments below, and enjoy the show!

Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father

I’ve come to the point in my blog where I feel I need to mention something – I’m not a film critic. This is not a movie review blog, I just talk about movies once in a while and give my opinions. I say this because there are so many good blogs out there dedicated to film review, and I feel I’m doing a disservice if I don’t mention them. Just off the top of my head head you have Zany Zach’s Blog, Fandango Groovers Movie Blog, and (with all due respect to the first two) my personal favorite, Hooray for Movies. All these gentlemen do a fantastic job reviewing movies on a regular basis, and I am nowhere near their league. Please visit the above blogs for you normal movie-reviewing needs.

That being said, here’s a half-assed movie review. 🙂


I’m not big on the use of hyperbole. Sure, I have my go-to phrases that I overuse: awesome, hilarious, disgusting all get tossed around pretty liberally. Rarely, though, do I use words that exaggerate what I really think. I tell you that so I can tell you this: over the Labor Day weekend I watched a film that was in turn depressing, heartwarming, shocking, heart-wrenching, infuriating, and inspiring.

When Andrew Bagby was murdered by his ex-girlfriend, his lifelong best friend and filmmaker Kurt Kuenne was devastated. Growing up, Andrew was always a willing participant in Kurt’s movies, even investing in one of Kurt’s projects as they got older. In the wake of Andrew’s death, Kurt decided he wanted to make one last film with Andrew, and set off on an international journey to interview anyone and everyone he could find who knew him.

What starts as an extremely intimate look at people’s fond memories of a lost friend and family member (which are somehow sad and funny at the same time) quickly evolves into something much more complicated when Andrew’s killer reveals she is pregnant with his baby. Andrew’s parents follow the killer to Newfoundland, where she’s fled after committing the murder, to fight for custody of the child. The film chronicles the Bagby’s fight both with the killer and the insanely incompetent legal system.

To say much more would lessen the impact of the movie, so all I’ll say is this: I honestly can’t remember the last time I felt such a wide array of emotions while watching a movie, documentary or otherwise. The connection with the people you’re watching is so deep that as events unfold they come as a punch to the gut.

The film isn’t perfect. In some parts it feels a bit amateurish, but that’s easily forgiven due to the powerful subject matter. There’s a good chance you’ll be left feeling some combination of depressed, heartbroken, or downright pissed off.

Whenever you’re ready, you can watch the movie in its entirety for free here – Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father

Sometimes, The Book Isn’t Better

Over the past month or so I’ve been listening to the audiobook version of Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. I know some people out there don’t like audiobooks, but I really enjoy them. As someone who’s always been fascinated by voice acting, I love hearing a good performance of a good book. I thought Gone Girl was pretty good. Not great, but good. Having already known that David Fincher is attached to direct the film version when it hits theaters in 2015, as soon as the audiobook was over I had one thought – I’ll bet the movie’s better. Which is kind of backwards to popular opinion, isn’t it?

We’ve all heard it before. Most of us have probably said it ourselves, and probably more than once.

“I saw _Insert Movie Title Here_ the other day.”

“Oh yeah? How was it?”

“It was okay. The book was better.”

I used to think (and sometimes still do) that some people would say that no matter how good the movie was, just as a sort of humblebrag to let people know they’ve read a book. But there’s a reason all of us have heard that and most of us have said it – it’s usually true. There are things in books, be they physical descriptions, what characters are thinking, etc. that can be hard to convey on film. Then there’s the matter of the story itself. Some stories just lend themselves to the written word better than any other medium. So the movie that really is better than the book can be a rare bird indeed.

The Ground Rules

First off, as usual with my “list” posts, I’m limiting this to five. Also, I’m keeping it honest by only ranking books I’ve actually read. It would’ve been easy to include books I hadn’t, as the same books populate every other similar list – Jaws, A Clockwork Orange, Blade Runner, The Godfather and many others. And seriously, is there any way humanly possible the book Wise Guy by Nicholas Pileggi could be better than Goodfellas? But I resisted temptation. Finally, I’m limiting the list to just one Stephen King book/movie adaptation. I’ve read his work far and away more than any other author, and could easily devote an entire post solely to films based on his work.

The Honorable Mentions

Manhunter (Michael Mann, 1986) vs Red Dragon (Thomas Harris, 1981)

manhunter                          reddragon

This was a tough call for me, so I decided list it as an honorable mention just to give it some recognition. Although I haven’t read it in several years, the first of the Hannibal Lecter books has long been one of my favorite thrillers. When you take a book that good and adapt it with Michael Mann directing, you’re going to get a good movie. And you do. Manhunter is very good, and it may very well have made my list if it weren’t for one thing: the ending. Some people consider the end of the novel to be a bit cliche, but I liked it. The movie changed it for whatever reason, and it left me disappointed. That being said, Manhunter is still a great movie. Although Anthony Hopkins would eventually claim the character as his own, it’s very interesting to see how Brian Cox plays Dr. Lecter.

The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980) vs The Shining (Stephen King 1977)

jack                         shiningbook

Like I said, I’ll keep the list limited to one Stephen King adaptation, but if I’m doing honorable mentions I may as well go ahead and mention The Shining. It is my all-time favorite horror movie, and I usually end up watching it every October when channels start running horror marathons leading up to Halloween. Thing is, I really like the book, too. It’s scary in its own right, and I think over the years the movie has overshadowed it, which kind of sucks. But, as much as I hate to disagree with the master, I like the movie better. King purists (which are a rabid bunch) vehemently disagree with me, but I’ll stand my ground. The film is actually much darker and funnier at the same time. The movie is a bit like the book on LSD. So what Stephen King work did I rank higher? Funny you should ask, because that brings us to…

The List

5. The Shawshank Redemption (Frank Darabont, 1994) vs Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption (Stephen King, 1982) *from the book Different Seasons

shawshank                 differentseasons

This is a case where the movie really didn’t change too much; just some small tweaks like combining multiple characters into one, adding the death of a character to heighten the drama, that sort of thing. The story itself was really not altered. It’s just that the movie was that damn good.

As big a fan of movies as I am, I don’t always notice things like cinematography, art direction, lighting, etc. After writing, acting, and directing the other technical aspects of a film can go unnoticed. When I watch Shawshank I may not necessarily recognize exactly what it is that sets it apart from so many other movies, but I know it’s special. It’s a bit like eating a delicious plate of food. You may not be able to pick out each specific ingredient, but when you taste all of it together you know it’s something extraordinary.

This movie is also the very, very rare exception where I wholeheartedly approve of the “Hollywood ending.” Honestly, was there any other way this movie could’ve ended other than with Andy and Red meeting up on the beach?

4. No Country for Old Men (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2007) vs No Country for Old Men (Cormac McCarthy, 2005)

nocountryfilm                   nocountrybook

I have a confession to make: I’m not a huge Cormac McCarthy fan. When The Road came out to such acclaim, I thought I should give it a look to see what all the hubbub was about. I think I made it about 35 pages, then gave up. A couple months later I picked it back up and finished it. It was a challenge, though. I guess his writing style is just not for me. I obviously see the talent Mr. McCarthy has, but it’s lost on me. It’s like listening to Mozart when you’d rather just crank The Ramones.

That being said, even after my experience with The Road I wanted to give him another shot. I had already seen the Coen Brothers film and really liked it a lot, so I decided to try the book. I did like it better than The Road, but something about it just never really grabbed me and pulled me in. Like Shawshank, the movie barely changed a thing story-wise, but it just heightened everything to a new level. I felt a tension and sense of dread watching the movie that I didn’t feel with the book. Maybe reading the book first would have had a different effect on me, but after reading a few pages of Blood Meridian, I think it’s safe to say my Cormac McCarthy collection will never take up much space on my bookshelf.

3. Fight Club (David Fincher, 1999) vs Fight Club (Chuck Palahniuk, 1996)

fightclub                 fightclubbook

Chuck Palahniuk is one of my favorite authors, easily in my top 5. The thing about his books, though, is they don’t necessarily make for an easy transition to the big screen. Which makes Fight Club that much more remarkable. David Fincher took a very complicated story and managed to make it easier to follow without dumbing it down at all. He turned a good book into an excellent movie. The casting and direction were also top notch, and I can’t imagine the book being adapted any better. Palahniuk himself has said that the film is superior to his book, and I have to say, he’s not wrong.

2. Jackie Brown (Quentin Tarantino, 1997) vs Rum Punch (Elmore Leonard, 1992)

jackiebrown                 rumpunch

Again, an author in my top 5. Elmore Leonard has a gift for writing dialogue that sets him apart from most other writers. I got a box full of Leonard paperbacks for Christmas a few years ago and tore through most of them in no time flat. Writing this reminds me I need to go back and read the rest to remind myself why he’s a master.

At this point in the list we reach movies that really made some changes. In the case of Jackie Brown, some pretty significant changes. For one, the ethnicity of the main character. In Rum Punch, Jackie is white. Casting Pam Grier, changing the character’s last name to Brown, all the awesome music, creating an homage to ’70’s Blaxploitation films? All Quentin Tarantino.

He still could have made a good movie without making those changes, but it’s those changes that make the movie what it is. Following the blockbuster success of Pulp Fiction, I think this movie let some fans down who were perhaps looking for something a little more violent. That’s really a shame, because I think Jackie Brown is nearly flawless. Robert Forster was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his work here, but lost to Robin Williams for his performance in Good Will Hunting. Robin Williams was great in that, but part of me feels Robert Forster was robbed.

1. The Prestige (Christopher Nolan, 2006) vs The Prestige (Christopher Priest, 1995)

prestigefilm                        prestigebook

This film tops my list for two reasons: it’s my favorite film of the five, and it changed the source material the most. Christopher Priest’s novel is intriguing to say the least, but Christopher Nolan took that novel and made something truly awesome.

I should mention here that I really can’t stand period pieces. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a dude, or because I’m American, maybe both; all I know is if a story is set before, say, the 1950’s I’m generally not interested. So when I heard the plot of The Prestige – two rival magicians in nineteenth century London feud while trying to one-up each other performing the ultimate illusion – I was less than thrilled. But given Nolan’s track record (Memento is another one of my favorites) I decided to check it out.

I loved this movie, and I feel it’s one that practically demands repeat viewings. The way elements of Priest’s novel are taken and tweaked are so masterful that I felt like it made the book seem vastly inferior. The way the film unfolds in the same manner as a magic trick blew me away, and I think is something that may be lost on a lot of people, which is why the film asks you, “Are you watching closely?”

Like with No Country for Old Men, I read the book after seeing the film; reading the book first may have changed my opinion.

Well, there you have it. As always, these are just the subjective opinions of some geek on the internet. Feel free to agree or disagree as you please by leaving a comment below. If you’ve read one of the books but not seen the movie, or the other way around, do so and see what you think, and please, let me know.

The Usual Suspects – Use Of Red Herrings and Twist Endings

*Ridiculous spoiler alert! If you haven’t seen this 18 year-old movie, you decide whether or not to keep reading.

animated suspects

This is one of my favorite movies. Maybe not in my top five, but definitely my top ten. From what I gather when talking about the movie with people, your enjoyment of this movie will largely depend on what you think of the twist ending. Some people say the ending is all that makes the movie, and therefore it’s just a gimmick movie. I don’t know if I’d go that far. In my opinion, gimmick twist endings are ones you see coming. You may not necessarily be able to call it, but you know a twist ending is coming, and when it finally comes, it invariably sucks.

Obviously, the best twist endings are the ones you don’t see coming. You have to be invested in the characters and the story enough that you’re not looking for a twist. I think that gets lost on people sometimes. It seems like people use them as a sort of crutch or a safety net to save a lesser quality book/movie, not realizing you can’t…polish a turd (sorry, it’s the best I can do off the top of my head).

For those who don’t know, a ‘Red Herring‘ is a term to describe a plot device that serves to mislead the audience, and facilitate plot twists.  Since I started writing again, all the TV procedurals I used to watch with one eye open are now more interesting as I watch them with a more discerning eye, looking to see who they frame as the killer,  who they show as the plausible suspect, and who ends up being the actual killer.

My wife can call these shows like a psychic. 10 minutes in, the cops will be interviewing someone, and she’ll call out, “he did it!” and I’ll think, really? Eh, maybe. Then 45 minutes later I look over at her like, Holy crap! How did you do that?

In the past 15 (or so) years, when you mention a twist ending most people will think of The Sixth Sense. This relates to what I was talking about earlier; the foundation has to be solid, so people aren’t necessarily looking for a twist ending. That movie is perfectly plausible and interesting all the way to said twist, so when it’s revealed it’s especially surprising.

Which leads me back to The Usual Suspects. It leads you along a very believable trail before letting you know it was a huge  smokescreen and that you, along with the interrogating officer, have been duped. But depending on how invested you are in what you’re watching, you’re either left with your jaw hanging open, or you sigh and let out a disgusted pfft!

I’m curious, what are some of your favorite plot twists in books/movies?

Or, perhaps more interestingly, what are some of your least favorite plot twists?