Top Ten Screen Screams
Aaaarghh! Nooooo! But yes - it's the DoG countdown to the most chilling outcries from the silver and small screen
If Darth Vader’s guffaw-generating “Nooooooooo!” in Revenge Of The Sith stands at the comic end of the spectrum of screen ululations, here are ten outcries more likely to raise a hackle than a titter…
10: Muad'Dib – Dune (1984)
David Lynch was reluctant to use the ‘Weirding way’ martial-arts technique as a Bene Gesserit weapon technology in his 1984 adaptation of Frank Herbert’s science-fiction classic, reportedly not wanting to see ‘Kung Fu on sand dunes’, and instead devised a sonic technology that allowed the properly-trained to kill with words, funnelling and shaping the power with modulation and pitch. The ‘Weirding module’ – basically a small microphone that amplifies the destructive utterances - is an unbelievably cool idea, and most impressively demonstrated when Kyle MacLachlan contemptuously splits Sting apart with a cry at the finale. Lovers of good acting have been known to cheer with relief at this point.
9: Rutger Hauer – Blade Runner (1982)
I’m not sure if Rutger himself generated the wolf-like laments of replicant Roy Batty for his murdered lover Pris (Darryl Hannah) at the conclusion of Ridley Scott's SF masterpiece, but the howls are very impressive indeed in the context of Harrison Ford’s broken-fingered flight from death, with rain battering at J.F. Sebastian’s dilapidated apartment and Vangelis’s discordant refrain counterpointing both the danger and the sadness of the scene.
8: Johnny Weissmuller – Tarzan The Ape Man (1932)
So effective was Weissmuller’s ululating clarion call to his animal chums that it survived into the Ron Ely incarnation (US TV 1966), and remains one of the most identifiable sound-clips in movie history. In the 1970s Weissmuller explained on Michael Douglas’s talk show that the cry actually represents the combined talents of three separate performers – an alto, a soprano and a hog caller.
7: Judi Dench – Macbeth (UK TV 1975)
Bah, this could have been Top Ten Movie Screams if it hadn’t been for Judi, but there was no leaving her out. Playing Lady Macbeth in the televised 1976 Royal Shakespeare Company production, she turned Shakespeare’s lament – just the word ‘Oh!’ in the text – into a sustained and apparently endless wail of eviscerating torment. As an ‘O’-level student watching this in English class, I can remember the hairs raising up on the back of my neck, and Dench had a fan for life.
6: Alan Bates – The Shout (1978)
The late Sir Alan Bates was going to have to come up with a pretty good scream at the end of Jerzy Skolimowski’s psychological terror-fest, since the entire movie’s run-time (and its title) was leading up to it. When it finally comes, the ‘terror shout’ - a deadly sonic killing technique taught to Bates’ character by aborigines - is pretty impressive, laying waste to those within earshot for miles around.
5: Mel Gibson – Braveheart (1995)
I could populate this list with the screams of torture victims in movie history, and fill it ten times over with just the torture-porn output of the last two years alone, but I’ll limit myself to two, of which Gibson’s captured William Wallace is the first, crying a blood-curdling ‘Freedom’ as an outro after having been racked, hanged and disembowelled. Nasty.
4: Brooke Adams – Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers (1978)
As if an impressively nude Brooke Adams wasn’t enough to get your attention, she adds a memorable strand to Bodysnatchers lore at the end of Philip Kaufman’s 1978 adaptation of Jack Finney’s novel (the second after Don Siegel’s 1955 version, and two have followed since) by pointing out refugee Donald Sutherland to the other ‘pod-people’ after succumbing to the spore-like alien invaders with a blood-curdling shriek that has since become a signature for the various incarnations of the tale.
3: Fay Wray – King Kong (1933)
"Scream for your life, Ann, Scream!!". Five years into the ‘talkies’ era of motion pictures, Fay Wray made the earliest bid for the title of ‘Scream Queen’ in Merian C. Cooper’s seminal fantasy masterpiece, and remains a hot contender any year for her anti-ape declarations. In the toss-up between her and Marilyn Burns (see below), the latter had to gain place for sheer endurance, but may never topple Wray’s pre-eminence in the hearts of film-lovers worldwide, and Fay Wray ‘screamalike’ contests attest to this.
2: Marilyn Burns – The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
If we were to judge this list purely on endurance, Burns would win it by a (mad yokel’s) country mile for her Herculean vociferations in the closing twenty minutes of Tobe Hooper’s landmark tale of kids at the mercy of cannibal yokels. She never seems to get bored – or hoarse - with her high-pitched outcries throughout the horrific dinner-scene and her desperate flight from Leatherface.
1: Dustin Hoffman – Marathon Man (1975)
Laurence Olivier’s ghastly dental torture of Dustin Hoffman was shortened after people ran out of preview screenings in shock, but the full horror of most people’s worst nightmare – which is almost unbearable in William Goldman’s original novel – was not only realised but exceeded in the first-person POV shot where we see Szell’s drill heading towards us. The sound of the drill becomes deafening, the sterile dentist’s lamp overwhelms us…and Dustin Hoffman (if indeed he did this bit) lets loose the most blood-curdling scream of pain that cinema has ever produced. It’s definitely not safe; I am sweating just thinking about it…
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