Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Exorcist: Use of Sound Design to Create Fear

     The 1973 film "The Exorcist," directed by William Friedkin, is about a mother who is trying to save her daughter who has been possessed by the devil.  There are many cinematic techniques used to create a feeling of creepiness, but one of the main ones that I will address is the film's use of sound design, because throughout the film there are many instances where the sound design is being used to strike up fear.

     A method used within the film is the implementation of a reoccurring sound to cause us to unknowingly feel a sense of fear from recognition of this very sound.  This is used earlier on in the film when the explorer first holds onto an ancient demon relic.  There is this atmospheric, other-worldly, 'hum'-like sound that occurs which is paired with eerie visuals of the man being seemingly entranced.  When this sound later reoccurs, there is this involuntary reaction of fear that builds up within us due to our previous connection of bad things happening when this sound is heard.

     Another method used within the film was allowing us to hear a noise, but not see the source.  A great example of this is when we constantly hear "rats" (or so the mother thinks) in the attic space.  Because the audience never gets a chance to see these very rats, we can not help but begin to become skeptical about this, thus fearful of what could possibly be in the attic.  Later on, when the mother goes up into the attic space, we have built up a fear for her that is based solely on the sketchiness of the noise coming from the attic- and not on any visuals of what is actually producing the noise in the attic.

     Another method used within the film was implementing a voiceover to be placed within something outside of it's source- in this case the possessed girl.  As we follow along side the mother trying to figure out the source of the daughter's newfound "insanity," the one thing that makes it quite evident and obvious that the daughter is not mentally deranged, but rather possessed, is the use of various voices to be implement and synced up to the girl.  It is quite odd and jarring to hear such a low and sadistic voice coming from the girl, thus furthering our very own fear of the situation at hand.

     All in all, this film uses many sound design methods to bring forth a sense of fear.  The film is able to pull off using sound as a tool of recognition, a tool of suspense, and a tool of furthering the odd feelings that make the film as scary as it is.  We would have to assume that a film that has 38 people in the sound design department must have intricate and effective sound design (yes, IMBD says that). Occasionally the sounds and sound design is paired with creepy visuals, but for the most part, the sound design in this film is strong enough to stand alone.


  1. Good specific examples prove your central idea. I think it was good that you kept your focus small on one element, and were able to bring up several examples and go more in-depth into them. Well written and I got enough of a synopsis to follow the post even if I hadn't seen the movie. The only thing that would have been cool to add to the post, since it is multi-media, would be some of those actual sounds (or video clips with the sounds). The pictures were good, but since your post was focusing on sound that would have been even better. But not as easy to include as stills, I know.

  2. Nice article, thank you! The sound, undoubtedly, adds a lot of scariness to this movie.